STRANGE MYTHS ABOUT THE ATOMIC BOMB
The “Atomic Age” began in earnest after World War II. Popular perception about the atomic bomb has centered on the image of the mushroom cloud, radioactive fallout, and the end of civilization. There are serious dangers indeed, but there are also many myths and half true stories that can cloud people’s perceptions. Here are three such myths. While all are untrue, many continue to believe them.
In 1980, a rumor began circulating that during the 1954 filming of the “The Conqueror,” a movie about Genghis Khan, a larger-than-average percent of the cast and crew developed cancer; and more than half of these had died. The production company of 220 people was on location near St. George, Utah, which is downwind from the U.S. military’s Nevada Test Site that had been conducting above ground nuclear detonations. Many believed that the cast and crew received significant doses of radioactive fallout which was responsible for their demise. By 1980, 91 people had contracted some type of cancer, and 46 died of the disease. Among them were director Dick Powell, John Wayne, Susan Hayward, and Agnes Moorehead.
People Magazine and The Star tabloid first reported on the story, followed closely by newspapers in New York and Los Angeles. An academic here and there also noted that such a thing might be possible but none would attempt to quantify it. Dr. Robert Pendleton of the University of Utah said, “With these numbers, this case could qualify as an epidemic.” The media accounts told the story of 700 lawsuits brought about by residents living around St. George during the 1970’s.
But this is where speculation and hysteria stops and common sense takes over. All of the facts given to date had been true but the conclusions were inaccurate. It was true that the test range was only 137 miles away but no detonations had been performed there for over a year before the film crew arrived. According to the National Cancer Institute, the chances of being diagnosed with cancer are 41% during a lifetime, and mortality is 21.7%. An assessment of the film cast and crew indicated that their disease rate was 41.4% and their mortality was 20.7%. These numbers vary only minimally from the population as a whole. The crew had been on location for just a few weeks whereas most of the locals were lifelong residents.
Upon deeper investigation, details about the crew were found to be unavailable - their age at diagnosis, the type of cancer they developed, their risk factors (such as smoking), and other predictors. And obviously between 1954 and 1980, these people had grown much older. Most forms of cancer are long in developing. Results of later investigation indicated that the cast and crew received no more than 4.0 millirems of radiation which is less than background radiation levels.
HITLER’S ATOMIC BOMB
By the beginning of WWII, the international scientific community was well aware of the early German lead in nuclear physics, estimated at two years ahead of Britain, France, and the United States. Among the countless stories associated with the NAZI led war machine, one continues to be accepted as true. That Hitler’s operatives had developed an atomic bomb which was just weeks or even day away from being used on the Allies, when the war ended.
Some accounts indicate that they tested three nuclear bombs in late 1944 and early 1945. They were small “dirty” bombs that combined both conventional and nuclear explosives. The detonations produced a blinding light flash and intense heat. Allegedly in one burst, hundreds of Russian POW’s were used as test subjects by being placed near the detonation point. All were killed and their bodies were demolished by the blast. It was believed that Soviet intelligence reported that the Germans detonated large explosions that were called “fission bombs.” They were constructed using uranium 235 and were highly radioactive. One eyewitness said that protective suits had to be worn to avoid exposure. It was also reported that large stores of nuclear waste material were found in German salt mines by the Allies.
But all of this “evidence” was greatly exaggerated. After spectacular early success, the German nuclear research efforts failed miserably. They were never able to get a reactor up and running, and were never able to develop a device to trigger a bomb if one was produced. The German scientists were incorrectly working on the theory that using deuterium oxide (“heavy water”) was the only acceptable control method. Water obtained from Norway was at such a slow rate that there was never enough to allow a large enough chain reaction to be controlled.
American physicist Samuel Goudsmit, thought that sloppy mathematics by German team leader Werner Heisenberg had miscalculated the design of their reactor as well. Some German project scientists thought that the German high command just lacked the motivation to build the bomb. Especially after its budget skyrocketed (they spent 50% more on developing an atomic bomb than the U.S. spent on the Manhattan Project).
One partially completed reactor, located in the cellar of a Catholic Church in Hechingen, Bavaria, was seized in April of 1945 by the American “Alsos Mission” but it was far from being functional. They captured the German scientists at the scene, dismantled the reactor, and removed the low grade uranium blocks at the site. No large store of nuclear material or waste was found.
And finally, 1,402 V2 rockets were launched toward London resulting in 2,754 people killed; against Antwerp, Belgium, 1,664 launches killed 1,736. The average number of deaths per V2 rocket hitting London was 2; the average number of deaths per V2 in Antwerp was 1. In a campaign of terror designed to break the spirit of the British and Belgian people, wouldn’t Hitler have used an atomic bomb, launched aboard a V2, if such a weapon was available?
THE SILENT ZONE
There is a patch of desert a few miles outside of San Ignacio, Mexico, which many compare to the Bermuda Triangle. Locals call it “La Zona del Silencio” or “Trino Vertex.” The Silent Zone is located along the same parallel as the Bermuda Triangle and has similar legends attached to it.
The primary manifestation in The Silent Zone is the allegation that radios, compasses, and other electronic devices do not work because the area is one of several poles where “Earth energy” is concentrated. The zone is said to attract meteorites (which causes disorientation in visitors). It is also believed by some that one cannot hear the conversation of people only a few feet from them. Plants and animals are claimed to have been mutated. And more to the extreme, light spheres fly over the area and UFO’s have been seen landing here.
Claims have been made that the first phenomena were reported as early as the 1930’s, but oddly NOTHING ever surfaced until after July 11, 1970, when a specific event occurred. On that day, a military Athena test missile was launched from near Green River, Utah, toward the White Sands Missile Range. Control of it was lost and it accidently crossed into Mexican air space, crashing into the desert, later called The Silent Zone. The missile carried two containers of radioactive material on board. After a three week search by air, the missile was found. U.S. military and scientific personnel descended on the site and prepared to remove the wreckage, as well as some soil made radioactive by the cobalt spilling out. The recovery was done under security which probably added to the rumors surrounding the operation.
Here’s the reality of this alleged phenomena. A local man named Jaime was hired be the U.S. to guard the area during the recovery. After several weeks on duty, he grew kind of fond of the attention and the money he received. Together with local landowners and potential hotel builders, Jaime began to spin some bizarre tales about the area. They claimed that scientists confirmed these events (although none ever came forward). People were only too happy to believe the stories. Visitors began to arrive, and the local economy was benefited. Everything said about The Silent Zone was fabricated by Jaime and his friends. But even Jaime’s plans were cut short when he was killed in bar fight. But the legends that started with him grew and grew.
As more people arrived to “experience” the zone, they had trouble finding any place where the phenomena existed. Guides simply reminded the visitors that the zone shifts some from time to time, and that they just needed to look a little harder. No problem.