Tag Archives: history

Cold War Calculator for Radiation Contaminated Food

A rare British Cold War calculator. Presumably intended for use  by civil defence after a nuclear attack.





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When the USA military ‘dirty bombed’ Americans

Between 1951 and 1992 928  nuclear tests took place at the Nevada Test Site [NTS]. One hundred of these were above ground. The last atmospheric test detonation at the Nevada Test Site was “Little Feller” of Operation Sunbeam, on 17 July 1962.


The NTS is only 65 miles [105 km] from Las Vegas and the mushroom clouds from the above ground detonations were clearly visible from the city. However, above ground tests were only conducted when the wind was from the west and fallout would not affect LV or California.  Cities to the east of the NTS were not so protected. The city of St. George, Utah was the worse affected by fallout from the NTS.

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From the mid-1950s through 1980 the city and southern Utah reported marked increases in cancers, such as leukaemia, lymphoma, thyroid cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, bone cancer, brain tumours, and gastrointestinal tract cancers. The 1953 detonation of the  32 kiloton “Dirty Harry” bomb generated a tremendous amount of fallout.  Winds carried fallout 135 miles (217 km) to St. George, where residents reported “an oddly metallic sort of taste in the air.” ”

Claudia Peterson has a vivid memory from her 1950s childhood in southern Utah. She remembers watching a glowing orange ball move off the western horizon while she rocked back and forth in her swing set the summer she was four, and walking past piles of dead lambs during lambing season. Some had two heads, and others had no legs. Peterson remembers men in tidy, black suits visiting her classroom at East Elementary School in Cedar City with Geiger counters—and feeling a sense of pride that she lit up the counter when they waved it in front of her face. They told her it was from dental x-rays, but she knew she had never had one. She recalls sixth grade when one of her schoolmates died of leukemia, and eighth grade when bone cancer took first her friend’s leg and then his life.”              National Geographic

In a 1997 report  it was determined that ninety atmospheric tests at the NTS had deposited high levels of radioactive iodine-131  across a large portion of the contiguous United States, especially in the years 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1957—doses large enough to produce tens of thousands of cases of thyroid cancer. By 2014  28,880 claims for compensation had been approved for a total compensation of $1.9 billion.

nevada test fallout

Iodine-131 Fallout From the Nevada Test Site ”

Rain, wind, and the food supply spread Iodine 131 from these tests across the United States, with the largest deposits immediately downwind of the test site and the lowest on the West Coast, upwind of the site. Exposure to released iodine occurred mainly during the first two months following a test. After that I 131 disintegrated to harmless levels. Because I 131 accumulates in the thyroid gland, the National Cancer Institute estimates that the fallout may have caused up to 212,000 cases of thyroid cancer in people who were exposed. The average cumulative thyroid dose to approximately 160 million people who lived in the country during testing was about two rads, about five times the radiation dose emitted by a mammogram. A rad is the measurement unit for the amount of radiation the body absorbs. The federal government recommends medical monitoring for people who have been exposed to ten rads or more.

Americans were exposed to varying levels depending on their residence, age, and food consumption. People who lived in Western states to the north and east of the site, such as Colorado, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, and Utah, had the highest per capita thyroid doses, ranging from 9 to 16 rads. And children between three months to five years old in these high fallout areas probably received three to seven times the average dose for the population in their county because they had smaller thyroids and tended to drink more milk than adults.  Milk was a major exposure vehicle because I 131 fell on pasture grasses and then was consumed by cows. But an estimated 20,000 people who drank goats’ milk during testing were at an even greater risk because it concentrates Iodine 131 more than cows’ milk. Thyroid doses to these individuals could be 10 to 20 times greater than to residents of the same county, who were the same age and gender, and drank an equal amount of cows’ milk. Other pathways included inhaling contaminated air or ingesting tainted leafy vegetables, cottage cheese, and eggs.National Geographic

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Atomic Train

By the late 1970s satellite surveillance had improved targeting and strategic missiles had become more accurate. This made missile silos vulnerable and mobile launchers [sea, road and rail] more attractive. Both the USA and the USSR began developing rail based launch systems.

USSR RT-23 system



Missile train in St Petersburg museum

In 1987 the USSR deployed rail mounted launchers for the RT-23 missile [NATO name SS-24 Scalpel]. This solid fuel missile carried ten MIRV 550 kt warheads and had a range of 6,000 miles. The missile had a circular error of probability of 150-250 metres.

A missile launch train was composed of three locomotives, a generating power car, a command car, a support car, and three missile launch vehicles. The trains were difficult to distinguish from ordinary rail traffic. The trains were based in sidings in Bershet, Kostroma, and Krasnoyarsk and dispersed when things got tense.

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Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 20.01.33The trains could cover up to 600 miles per day and be dispersed over more than 50,000 miles of track.  It is clear that the trains, if given the chance to disperse from their bases, would have been very hard to find. It is also clear that if only one of the twelve trains was able to fire its missiles the resulting 30 half megaton bursts could have seriously damaged an enemy.

After 2000 the 36 rail-based missiles were also gradually withdrawn from service, with the last 15 decommissioned in August 2005. One train remains in a museum [see above].

In the 1950s the USA had had plans for 30 trains, each with three Minuteman missiles but the plan was scrapped on the grounds of cost.

1960 Boeing minutemen model

1960s Boeing Minuteman model

US Peacekeeper system

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Hitler the tax dodger

“Adolf Hitler spent years dodging taxes, accumulating enormous debts as he led his Nazi party to power, a German tax expert has revealed.   He owed the authorities 405,500 Reichsmarks (6m euros; £4m in today’s money) by 1934, when as German chancellor his debts were forgiven. ”

Reading this made me turn to Surviving Hitler by Lebor  Boyes.  This excellent book gives much more detail on Hitler’s financial affairs.

Once he became Chancellor the sales of Mein Kampf increased enormously. Copies of the book were given away at official ceremonies.  For example, newlyweds were given a copy of Mein Kampf as bedtime reading. In 1925 Hitler sold less than 10,000 copies; by 1933 annual sales were over 800,000 copies and continued at this rate until 1944. He used to earn 2 million marks a year from publishers royalties and had 7 million marks awaiting collection from his publishers at the time he died.

Whenever Hitler’s image was used on a postage stamp he received a payment. Albert Speer saw Hitler get a royalty cheque for 50 million marks [worth about £100 million or almost $200 million at current prices]. There may have been several such payments. Hitler also made money from selling copies of his collected speeches and reproduction rights to his paintings.

A final source of income was backhanders from German industrialists.  Lebor and Boyes estimate this was worth 100 million marks a year to Hitler. Martin Bormann acted as his bagman.

It’s sad when you cannot even trust an homicidal tyrant to be honest.

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RAND Damage Probability Computer for Point Targets with P and Q Vulnerability Numbers


The Damage Probability Computer for Point Targets with P & Q vulnerability numbers was created to provide military planners with a quick way of estimating the outcome of nuclear bomb attacks on overpressure-sensitive targets (PVNs) and  dynamic pressure-sensitive targets  (QVNs).  PVN targets are destroyed by crushing [vertical blast pressure], QVN targets are destroyed by being knocked over [horizontal blast pressure].  A tank might be resistant to overpressure but capable of being tipped over by dynamic pressure effects. A hardened missile silo might be immune to dynamic pressure and have to be destroyed by overpressure.

The computer  was first issued in 1974. A modified version,  with an additional scale for calculating optimum air burst heights, was issued in 1977. The computer shown is the 1977 version.  It is approximately 7 inches in diameter [18 cm] and is made of plastic. It was manufactured by Perrygraf.

At the time the US and the UK had a Single Integrated Operational Plan [SIOP] which listed all potential targets in the Warsaw Pact countries [and some other countries].  Each target was given a vulnerability number [see this post for an explanation of vulnerability numbers] and a desired probability of destruction. The desired probabilty was usually 0.75 but some targets were seen as more important and had higher probability numbers. What constituted ‘destruction’ was also defined for each target. For example, steel surface storage tanks had to be ruptured to be considered destroyed.

A point target is a small target which needs an accurate strike to destroy it. A city would not be a point target, a missile silo would.

Also, at this time the US and UK were introducing multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles [MIRVs] to replace unitary warheads [a single, usually large, warhead].  The increase in the number of warheads allowed military planners to add a large number of targets to the SIOP.   MIRVs carried more warheads but smaller ones.


The Poseidon Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile [SLBM], introduced in 1972, carried 10 or 14 W68 40 kiloton warheads [the Hiroshima bomb yielded 16 kilotons and the Nagasaki bomb 21 kilotons]. The Minuteman III had three 170 kiloton warheads.  Such warheads could be used for point targets as well as city busting.

The computer only calculates blast effects. Thermal, cratering, ground shock and fallout [or other radiation] effects are not taken into account.

Performing Calculations

Damage Probability Computer noexif  3

The red side of the computer is used for P targets (PVN) and the blue side for Q targets (QVN).

Inputs to the computer are – Continue reading

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Map of Cold War targets in the UK

In 1972 the UK government prepared a list of 106 “probable nuclear targets in the United Kingdom”. The list included 38 towns, cities and centres of government, 37 air bases [US and UK], 25 control, communications and radar facilities and six naval sites.

Cold War targets in the UK

The list assumes the Soviets would attack 24 British cities [with no military value] and 14 centres of government [some of which were in or near cities]. For example, Edinburgh and York are targets because they are ‘centres of government’.  Both had bunkers which were intended to be Regional Seats of Government. The Edinburgh bunker was in Barton Quarry. The York bunker is in Monument Close and approximately 2 miles from York city centre. It is administered by English Heritage and is open to the public. The map does not show the bunker near Anstruther in Fife, though this would have been the main seat of government in Scotland in the event of a nuclear war.

There are also some cities which were targets because they had naval bases [e.g. Plymouth and Portsmouth]

The military warned that the list might not include all possible targets since the Soviet Union could launch a nuclear strike against Britain with 150 land-based missiles, plus an unknown number of submarine-launched missiles. Continue reading


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Nuclear Targeting and Vulnerability Numbers

In 1960 the US created a Single Integrated Operational Plan [SIOP] for nuclear targeting. The plan listed 3,729 targets in the Soviet Union, North Korea, China and Eastern Europe. These targets would not only be attacked by US land based missiles, sea launched missiles and bombers but also by Britain’s Royal Air Force. The RAF was scheduled to destroy three air bases, six air defence targets and forty eight cities.

It was anticipated that if the SIOP was put into full effect it would result in the death of about 54% of the population of the Soviet Union and about 16% of the Chinese population; a total of 220 million people.  That was in the first three days. Many tens of millions would die later from injuries, fallout and social collapse.

Vulnerability Numbers

Later [late 1960s?] vulnerability numbers [VN] were calculated for SIOP targets. For example, the 1969 Defense Intelligence Agency Physical Vulnerability Handbook for Nuclear Weapons assigned a VN of 11Q9 to road-mobile strategic missiles and a VN of 46P8 to a nuclear weapon storage bunker.

Vulnerability Numbers 2 Continue reading

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