The Reckless History Of U.S. Nuclear Testing, In 55 Unbelievable Photos

Published October 5, 2017
Updated October 13, 2017

The U.S. has detonated more than 1,000 bombs, killing more than 2 million of its own people — and for what?

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The Reckless History Of U.S. Nuclear Testing, In 55 Unbelievable Photos
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The United States has been hit by more nuclear weapons than any other nation in the world. It’s a fact we try our best not to acknowledge – but thanks to nuclear testing, we’ve "attacked" ourselves more than anyone else.

The numbers are staggering. Over the course of fewer than 50 years, the U.S. conducted at least 1,054 nuclear weapons tests. The U.S. Army alone detonated at least 1,149 atomic devices, nearly every one of them on American soil, and nine out of 10 of them specifically in the deserts of Nevada.

The effects of nuclear testing have been staggering. Through atmospheric tests alone, the United States has endured more nuclear force and been covered in more radiation than Hiroshima would have gone through if it had been hit an extra 29,000 times.

From the beginning, the very first nuclear bomb ever detonated exploded in America, in a New Mexico desert a mere 30 miles away from the nearest town. It was, in a sense, a total success – but the light of the blast was so bright that it was hard to keep this top-secret test a secret.

One witness said, “The whole sky was suddenly full of white light like the end of the world.” And, 150 miles away, a legally blind woman looked up and asked, “What’s that brilliant light?”

Worse, though, was the white, radioactive mist that drifted out from the blast and landed on a nearby ranch. The farmers nearby saw the white dust descend onto their crops and their homes. One rancher living only 12 miles away from ground zero saw his cattle, who’d been covered in the dust, become discolored and suffer radioactive burns and deformities.

Nobody was evacuated. The explosion was so vicious that it fused the sand together into a radioactive green glass. The people nearby were doused with 10,000 times the normal recommend levels of radiation, and an estimated 30,000 of them are believed to have contracted cancer because of the test.

But this was just the beginning. From 1945 to 1992, nuclear testing ramped up with the Cold War. The U.S. and the Soviet Union built up their arsenals, shouting empty threats at one another — but only ever detonating nuclear weapons on their own land and irradiating their own people.

In time, the military started inviting the public to come out and watch. Just to prove a point, they placed five men in the desert and made them stand under ground zero of one atmospheric nuclear test in 1957. They let Las Vegas became a hotspot to party and watch nuclear bombs explode in the desert.

However, so far, atmospheric nuclear testing alone is believed to have caused 2.4 million deaths through cancer. This is the legacy of the Nuclear Age. The U.S. has blasted itself more than 1,000 times and killed more than a million of its own people — and only ever launched two nuclear bombs at its enemies.

Next, learn more about the five men who voluntarily stood directly under a nuclear blast. Then, see creepy photos from Operation Doorstep, during which the U.S. built a fake town and nuked it to test the results.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer and teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.