Though we know a lot about how dangerous nuclear radiation is today, back in the earliest days of the Atomic Age, people were simply oblivious to the cancer risks. Ignorance is really the only excuse for this July 1957 footage showing a group of five Air Force volunteers standing directly below a detonating nuclear bomb.
Ludicrous as it may sound, this video was actually made for propaganda purposes to show the U.S. public how safe air-to-air nuclear weapons were to use in normal military operations. And apparently, this test was rather safe, or so NPR was told by Alex Wellerstein, a science historian at the American Institute of Physics. "The bomb itself was a small one (by nuclear standards — 2 kilotons) and it was way, way above their heads. They weren't in a zone to be too affected by the immediate radiation. The bomb was small enough and high enough that it wouldn't have sucked up dust to produce much fallout. The remaining cloud would have been full of (nasty) fission products, but it would have been extremely hot and most of it would have stayed aloft until it cooled down, by which point it probably would have been spread more diffusely."
Most of the men in the video have died at relatively old ages (youngest 63; oldest 86). A number of others who participated in similar nuclear tests weren't so lucky — the federal government has since paid out over $150 million in compensation to 2,000 cancer-suffering test subjects via the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, and another $813 million to those downwind of such fallout-generating tests.
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