Not-so-secret atomic tests: Why the photographic film industry knew what the American public didn’t

It's one of the dark marks of the U.S. Government in the 20th century — a complete willingness to expose unwitting citizens to dangerous substances in the name of scientific advancement. It happened with the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, with the MKUltra mind control project and with the atomic bomb testing of the 1940s and 50s. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) knew that dangerous levels of fallout were being pumped into the atmosphere, but didn't bother to tell anyone. Well, anyone except the photographic film industry, that is.

Photographic film is particularly radiosensitive -- that's the reason why you see dosimeters made from the stuff, as they can be used to detect gamma, X-ray and beta particles. But in 1946, Kodak customers started complaining about film they had bought coming out fogged.

Eastman Kodak investigated, and found something mighty peculiar: the corn husks from Indiana they were using as packing materials were contaminated with the radioactive isotope iodine-131 (I-131). Eastman Kodak at the time had some of the best researchers in the country on its team (the company even had its own nuclear reactor in the 1970s), and they discovered something that was not public knowledge: those farms in Indiana had been exposed to fallout from the 1945 Trinity Test in New Mexico -- the world's first atmospheric nuclear bomb explosions which ushered in the atomic age. Kodak kept this exposure silent...


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