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The first nuclear test was carried out by the United States in July 1945, followed by the Soviet Union in 1949, the United Kingdom in 1952, France in 1960, and China in 1964. The production, testing, and use of nuclear weapons can affect the social and natural world in a wide range of ways. “Nuclear weapons are the greatest environmental danger to the planet from humans, not global warming or ozone depletion.”
The ozone layer, that protects the surface of the Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation, would be depleted by 40% over many inhabited areas and up to 70% at the poles, tens of millions of people would die, global temperatures would crash and most of the world would be unable to grow crops for more than five years after a conflict.
Nuclear weapons testing, which is responsible for the radioactive contamination of a large number of sites worldwide. The amount of radioactivity generated by a nuclear explosion can vary the size of the weapon and the location of the burst. An explosion at ground level may be expected to generate more dust and other radioactive particulate matters than an air burst. This dispersion of radioactive material is also dependent upon weather conditions. The explosive components of nuclear weapons are made either from uranium or plutonium, both of which are radioactive elements. Radioactive waste emits ionizing radiation through the process of radioactive decay, and is hazardous to the environment and most forms of life. On the nuclear level, ionizing radiation can cause induced radioactivity and nuclear transmutation. ionization can lead to the destruction of chemical bonds, and materials contaminated with radioactivity continue to react chemically with other elements after the original ionizing radiation has ceased. Exposure to high levels of radiation can cause acute radiation syndrome, a constellation of health effects defined by cellular degradation and damage to the DNA structure. In the immediate term, radiation exposure causes the immune system to fail, and can damage the bone marrow, and the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and central nervous systems.
The main contribution to the exposure of the world’s population [to radiation] has come from the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, from 1945 to 1980. Each nuclear test resulted in unrestrained release into the environment of substantial quantities of radioactive materials, which were widely dispersed in the atmosphere and deposited everywhere on the Earth’s surface.”
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