NSA: "Clean" Nukes and the Ecology of Nuclear War

30 August 2017 — National Security Archive

Officials in 1960s  Sought Studies of “Longer-term Consequences of Nuclear Attacks on the Health of People or on Their Living Environment”

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 602

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Washington D.C., August 30, 2017 – The Atomic Energy Commission initiated studies to consider the ecological impact of nuclear war in the early 1960s, a time when the writings of natural scientist Rachel Carson were starting to inspire the modern environmental movement.  The studies grew out of a belief that U.S. national security required a better understanding of the biological and environmental impacts of a nuclear conflict.  Documents published today for the first time by the National Security Archive detail the creation of the AEC’s Technical Analysis Branch (TAB), which conducted the studies, and its early efforts at exploring the long-term consequences of nuclear war.

Reflecting a grim awareness of the horrific second-order impact anticipated from a nuclear conflict, AEC Chairman Glenn Seaborg directed that the study take a broader approach by considering the “indirect effects on people” resulting from “fallout and fire on wildlife, birds, insects, domestic stock, forests, and other factors of ecological importance.” He also wanted a better understanding of “the possible effects of large numbers of nuclear explosions on local and global weather.” 

The AEC’s new project built on the work during the 1950s and early 1960s of a National Security Council subcommittee that had been conducting “net evaluations” http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/nukevault/ebb480/ of the effect of a nuclear war on the United States and the Soviet Union.  As the Defense Department and other agencies declassify more documents, future postings will document the development and eventual termination of the Technical Analysis Branch. 

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THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Archive collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A tax-exempt public charity, the Archive receives no U.S. government funding; its budget is supported by publication royalties and donations from foundations and individuals.

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