Bombast.

Author:Shakely, Jack
Position:Book review

Michon Mackedon (author); BOMBAST; Black Rock Institute Press (Nonfiction: History) $30.00 ISBN: 9780984101436

Byline: Jack Shakely

The 1950s signaled the last Age of Innocence in America. Curiously, one of the things we were the most innocent about was also the most deadly -- the atomic bomb.

As Michon Mackedon reveals in meticulous detail, our innocence about the atomic bomb is understandable. The atom bomb was something entirely new, and even the scientists who detonated the first Trinity bomb in 1945 couldn't agree on its power. Oppenheimer thought the blast might be ten kilotons, Enrique Fermi thought it might be 25 kilotons, and Edward Teller thought it might destroy the world. As late as 1952 an Atomic Energy Commission scientist told a group of anxious Alaska residents not to worry about fallout: "The half-life of the radioactive elements that are produced will be so short that some will be gone in a matter of hours; some will take longer." Quite a bit longer, as it turned out -- about a thousand years.

Although scientists struggled to understand the bomb, that didn't stop them from testing it more than a thousand times, nine hundred times just an hour's drive from Las Vegas. Some of the testing reported by Mackedon was so crude that it wouldn't pass muster in a school science fair. Researchers strung rats along a rope to test the effect of radiation in the Trinity tests, but they forgot to give the rats water and they died of thirst. It wasn't until 1953 that radiation effects started showing up in the wild. In Utah, where open-range sheep herding was common, "ewes began giving birth to lambs with missing legs and extended bellies,"...

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