19 July 1957 - Five at Ground Zero

19 July 1957 - Five at Ground Zero

On 19 July 1957, the United States conducted the 'John' nuclear test at the Nevada Test Site. An aircraft fired an air-to-air rocket designed to defend air attacks with nuclear weapons. These were deployed from the 1950s by the United States to counter Soviet bomber attacks and only decommissioned in 1986. The nuclear-tipped missile used in the test had an explosive power of 2 kilotons and detonated after a flight of a few seconds at an altitude of around 5 kilometres.

I was busy behind the camera. Then I could see the flash go off out of the corner of my eye. There was this huge, doughnut-shaped cloud in the sky where the blast went off.George Yoshitake, U. S. army cameraman

As part of a public advertisement campaign to show that nuclear air defense posed minimal risk to those on the ground, five U.S. servicemen volunteered to observe the effects right underneath the blast at a distance considered as safe. One of the five, Col. Sidney Bruce, said in an interview after the event: "Four of my friends and I stood directly underneath the burst" and experienced "absolutely no ill effects". The cameraman, George Yoshitake, had been ordered there as part of his military duty. He survived to give an interview to the German news magazine SPIEGEL in 2010.

A few of the animals were still alive... The animals were squealing, crying. It smelled of burned flesh. It was just terrible.

George Yoshitake, U.S. army cameraman

The test was part of the 'Operation Plumbbob' - a test series of 24 nuclear detonations and 6 safety tests carried out between April and October 1957. Around 18,000 members of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy and Marines participated. The military's main interest was how the average soldier would deal physically and psychologically with nuclear effects on the battle field (see chapter effects of U.S. nuclear testing).

In 1990, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act required the U.S. government to compensate individuals who suffered health consequences from exposure to radiation released by the nuclear testing programme.

External links:


Background on the 1957 'Operation Plumbbob' test series: