Monday, November 22, 2010

The 2,053 Nuclear Explosions of the 20th Century

Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto created this video timeline that shows the dates and locations of each of the 20th century's 2,053 nuclear explosions, 2,051 of which were detonated during "peacetime" as weapons tests.

When I was a college dilettante, I spent a semester's worth of evenings in training to become a NRC-certified operator of the chemistry department's research reactor. I dropped out of the effort when my economics coursework led me to balance the benefits of the effort - namely bragging rights - against the costs. It is justifiably difficult to pass the NRC's operator exam. But I did get a chance to power up the reactor under supervision in the control room, and it was a pretty great extracurricular lesson in nuclear physics and chemistry.

This video reminded me of one of the fascinating things I learned from that experience. All over the globe, undisturbed layers of topsoil that date from the early 1950s (when the Soviet Union detonated its first nuclear weapons and set off a rapid acceleration of tests worldwide) to October 1963 (when the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty went into effect and sent subsequent tests underground) are substantially more radioactive than surrounding layers of soil - and will remain so for thousands of years.

The 20th century's close brush with self-annihilation is therefore a part of the geologic record. Future archaeologists, if there are any, will find it just beneath the chemical traces of the global suicide pact we're writing now - the rapid spike in atmospheric carbon dioxide.


Neil said...

And it's not just topsoil of course. Teeth and trees and deep sea corals and lichen and thereby reindeer piss all show bomb spikes.

Dan said...

Really nothing better than a warm glass of radioactive reindeer piss. Happy Thanksgiving!