Nuclear America: Military and Civilian Nuclear Power in the United States, 1940-1980

By Gerard H. Clarfield; William M. Wiecek | Go to book overview

8
"Sunshine Units"

THE FALLOUT CONTROVERSY, 1953-1963

THOUGH ANTINUCLEAR ACTIVISM seems a phenomenon of the 1970s, its roots go back much further than that. Originating with popular worry over atmospheric weapons testing, the basis for later antinuclear activism was laid in the 1950s, as Americans gradually became aware that American and Soviet fallout was raining strange and invisible poisons down on them.

From 1946 through 194 9, the AEC conducted five nuclear weapons tests at the remote Bikini and Eniwetok island chains in the South Pacific. Protection for military personnel was inadequate from the beginning. Radiological safety officers at the 1946 navy Bikini tests complained that ships' commanders permitted their crews to be exposed to radioactive fallout without protection. The Pentagon's Defense Nuclear Agency today shrugs off criticism of those procedures, contending that the test procedures were "generally within established radiation exposure limits." 1 The South Pacific sites soon proved to be undesirable from the viewpoint of the military and the AEC, however. Extended lines of supply, the accessibility of the test sites to Soviet surveillance, and emergent opposition to nuclear testing among the nations of the Pacific basin all stimulated the AEC to seek potential locations within the continental United States for nuclear weapons testing. After exploring five candidate sites, the Commission settled on the Las Vegas-Tonopah Bombing and Gunnery Range, a vast, roadless, uninhabited tract of some 1,350

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