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Scientists Are Studying Radiation Exposure From The 1945 Trinity Blast

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Better late than never? Nearly 70 years after the Manhattan Project conducted the world's first atomic bomb test, the National Cancer Institute will soon begin a new investigation into the effects of the radioactive fallout on communities in New Mexico.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, this will be be the most detailed examination yet of the health effects of the Trinity Test, with investigators interviewing people who lived in the state in 1945, and assessing the extent to which food, milk and water were contaminated:

The study will invariably explore the darker side of the Manhattan Project, which has played a storied role in New Mexico's economy and history. It also potentially could lead to residents' receiving compensation under a federal program for people who became ill after being exposed to radiation from nuclear testing, which currently doesn't include individuals who lived near the Trinity site.

"It's pretty clear that if you are downwind of a release of radioactive material, you have the potential to be exposed. And it's pretty clear that if you are exposed, you are at some increased risk," said Steve Simon, a government physicist who is leading the study and specializes in radiation dosages. "But to quantify it, I'm not there yet."

It is still unclear how much radiation was absorbed by New Mexicans due to fallout from the explosion, which coated backyards with ash and singed cattle. Earlier studies didn't fully consider the entire spectrum of exposure from the Trinity test.

Still, a 2009 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that because people living near the Trinity site typically consumed homegrown vegetables and local livestock products, their internal radiation dosages could have posed significant health risks.

The physicist, Joe Shonka, said he was surprised during his research at how close residents lived to the Trinity blast—in some cases within 20 miles. Moreover, the subsistence diets of locals, including using cistern water that was likely to be heavily contaminated by the blast, made the Trinity test unique compared with other nuclear tests on U.S. soil, he said."Trinity created a lot more extensive fallout than had been encountered at other nuclear tests," he said. "There is no question the exposures for some people are going to be higher than at the Nevada test site."