The Cartoon Guide to Surviving a Nuclear Bomb Test

During atomic tests in Nevada, the Atomic Energy Commission attempted to placate nervous citizens with ridiculous cartoons

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Between 1951 and 1992, the Atomic Energy Commission tested nearly a thousand nuclear weapons at the Nevada Test Site, a 1,360-square mile patch of desert barely 65 miles north of Las Vegas. Between 1951 and 1992, there were a total of 928 announced nuclear tests, 828 of which were underground.


As the AEC prepared for a Operation Teapot, a series of fourteen nuclear tests, in the first half of 1955, the commission and other government agencies began receiving substantial push-back from local communities. Residents in Nevada, Utah, and California expressed discomfort with atomic weapons being detonated in such close proximity to populated areas, i.e. themselves.

In response to widespread complaints, the AEC distributed an extensive booklet outlining the procedures and dangers to those who might be affected by the atmospheric nuclear weapon tests scheduled for the spring.

John Walker, founder of AutoDesk Inc, scanned and uploaded the document to his personal site after his brother bought a copy at a yard sale. As a U.S. government publication, it is in the public domain. "As you may know, as early as 1953 there was a comprehensive cover-up by the AEC of fallout risk and damages from Nevada atmospheric tests," says Walker, citing Richard A. Miller's 1986 book Under The Cloud. "If you read through the booklet, the document is clearly written to placate them and assure those in the vicinity that they were at no risk."

While the document extensively outlines -- and underplays -- the risks associated with proximity to a nuclear test, the accompanying illustrations are worth reviewing on their own. The drawings, resembling a cross between "School-House Rock" and airplane safety pamphlets, seem designed to project a sense of comfort on rural Nevadans, appealing to the cowboy heritage of Western states and reminding readers that, by risking their lives, they were contributing greatly to "building the defenses of our country and of the free world."

Whether these manuals actually reassured any citizen of Nevada is unknown, but the juxtaposition of unsettling post-detonation instructions and calm, smiling ranchers is bizarre. One has to wonder: what were they thinking?




Image: Atomic Energy Commission/U.S. Government
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Jared Keller is a former associate editor for The Atlantic and The Atlantic Wire and has also written for Lapham's Quarterly's Deja Vu blog, National Journal's The Hotline, Boston's Weekly Dig, and Preservation magazine. 

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