Nuclear Fallout: The Silent Killer

For years, the U.S. military claimed atmospheric fallout from bomb tests wasn't particularly dangerous, but as a 1959 Post article made clear, that notion was dead wrong.


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Clouds of radioactive particles, invisible but potentially harmful and even lethal, have been blown into the air by the explosion of nuclear bombs, which drift back down upon us as fallout. It contaminates the air, the sea, and the soil. It lies twice as thick over the Northern Hemisphere as the Southern, and is more heavily concentrated in the United States than anywhere else on the earth’s surface. And every living creature, man included, has in its body a few particles of radioactive strontium 90, some of which will remain for life.

Moreover, the fallout will get worse before it gets better, even if bomb tests are never resumed. The spring of 1959, contrary to some of the forecasts, was radioactively the “hottest” yet, due in large part to the Russian tests of last fall. Scientists estimate that the burden of accumulated bomb debris now floating in the stratosphere, 7 to 10 miles up, is so great that “drip-out” to the ground will actually increase for seven years before it begins to taper off.

—“Fallout: The Silent Killer” by Stephen M. Spencer, August 29, 1959

Read “Fallout: The Silent Killer” by Stephen M. Spencer from the August 29, 1959, issue of the Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

This article is featured in the September/October 2019 issue of The Saturday Evening PostSubscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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