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IRSN, Institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire

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Enhancing Nuclear Safety


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Atmospheric nuclear tests: Nuclear fallout

Between 1945 and 1980, Russia, the United States, Britain, France and China carried out more than 500 atmospheric nuclear tests. Each explosion released large amounts of radioactivity into the environment. And then a test that went amiss – being three times more powerful than expected – made the world headlines.

In March 1954, United States conducted a new atmospheric test of a hydrogen bomb. The radioactive cloud passed over a number of inhabited islands and radioactive ash fell on the Lucky Dragon, a Japanese tuna fishing boat in an authorized area. The public was suddenly aware of the risk of massive contamination of the planet by radioactive pollutants. Radiation protection, so far limited to workers and their laboratory, now concerned man and his environment.


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