The Neglected Vets From Those Famous Nuclear Test Videos

Aug 15, 2020

These nuclear test videos are used in stock footage, but there’s a disturbing story behind them. The 20,000 soldiers ordered to participate were told to walk toward the blast zone with no protective gear, and no understanding of the long-term health risks.

For decades, the Veterans Administration denied them healthcare coverage for leukemia and other cancers linked to the tests for two reasons: (1) many couldn’t prove they attended because records were lost in a fire and (2) their superiors did not hand out enough dosimeters to accurately track ionizing radiation exposure for each soldier.

They were also not given breathing protection, and the Department of Defense did not account for the radioactive dust breathed in by the soldiers (on the desert floor of the Nevada Test Site) despite there being a clear linkage in scientific literature by the 1940s.

Today, academic research has proven a link between the tests and rates of cancer, plus additional risks to children and grandchildren of the soldiers due to genetic changes from the exposure. Yet in the U.S., the only legislation to cover (some) healthcare costs, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), does not cover descendants.

“Atomic veterans,” as they are known, are also pushing for a medal for their service and a national holiday. But the Pentagon claims medals cannot be given because their risks taken were not in a combat setting. Likewise, the only “National Atomic Veterans Day” came on July 16th, 1983 and was not scheduled to repeat in annual fashion.

Sources in order of mention 

DOD looking at increased leukemia rates in the 70s:

DTRA sponsored study in 2003 says radiation doses were underestimated, not all participants had dosimeters.

History of Nevada test site:

Priscilla test 550 yards:

George test 500 yards

The Dazzle effect test, p405:

All fact sheets mention psychological tests, but not physiological:

USAF to Congressmen, sent to AEC; not worried about exposure, says a thorough review would be expensive, take a lot of time, and would cause issues related to security classification when including necessary scientists to study:

AEC saying only a minority of soldiers exposed to above safe limits, but never explains how it’s even measured on a per soldier basis, since most didn’t have proper monitoring devices (film badges) on them

1944 radioactivity and lung cancer

ORNL accident and lung hazards 1948

Autopsies’ burden on lungs

1970s, DOD and Army acknowledges CDC finding that leukemia rates for participants in Smokey test were way higher than population average:

Law journal: 99% of VA claims by early 80s were denied, a fire destroyed the records and made it difficult to prove service

IOM says veterans in Nevada had: 50% higher risk of fatal leukemia; 20% higher risk of fatal prostate cancer; 160% higher risk of nasal cancer

RECA policies:

Genetic changes detected as early as 1957, p942:

One veteran talks about his daughter died of rare cancer, son had rare disease, and granddaughter had disorder:

UK study says descendants face higher risks of birth defects, miscarriage, stillbirths, congenital defects, infant mortality, cancer

US study (funded by VA) determined offspring couldn’t be studied

Still to this day haven’t received a medal:

Man’s wife has cancer, AEC memo seems more concerned with legal risks than health of woman:

Video credits

Desert Rock 6 Creative Commons footage, via Jeff Quitney:

Reagan White House video, Creative Commons:,_January_20,_1981.webm

Desert Rock exercise footage, public domain:

Operation Crossroads/Pacific public domain footage: