It’s 1954 and Americans are hearing about fallout

In November 1954, Ralph Lapp, a former Manhattan Project nuclear physicist, now a journalist, penned an article titled “Civil defense faces new perils.” The article was informative for me but peripheral to my book, but I think it’s worth noting here its effect. The American public, let alone the rest of the world, knew so little of any precision about the effect of radioactivity and in particular how fallout, from the constant nuclear bomb testing by the United States and the Soviet Union, might affect humanity. Lapp’s article is about the now-arcane subject of “civil defense” against a nuclear attack, but the numbers he presented were of more general application. Lapp proved to play a part in a growing movement against nuclear weapons testing. Indeed Albert Schweitzer, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize two years earlier, can also be found in the same magazine issue as Lapp, appealing for sanity.

And I think Lapp knew precisely what his seemingly technical article really addressed. Consider the final words of his article:

However, the new peril from radioactive fall-out is more than just a threat to civil defense – it is a peril to humanity.


Lapp, Ralph E. 1954. “Civil defense faces new perils.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 10, Nov., pp. 349-351.