Every breath you take holds a piece of a nuclear bomb.

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If an old bottle of wine has no cesium-137, it’s probably from before the first nuclear reactor was built in 1942. (image source)

Today, it’s possible for wine experts to tell just how old a bottle of wine is by measuring the amount of radioactive material in the bottle. Traces of all the atomic bombs ever detonated still linger, scattered everywhere on Earth.

The atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 wiped out whole sections of two major cities and poisoned the area for decades.

Those bombs produced an isotope called cesium-137, which had never existed on Earth before. Today, there’s a little bit of cesium-137 everywhere. Most of the cesium comes from the more than 2,000 nuclear bombs that have been detonated in the years since the bombing of Japan. The tiny traces that are now everywhere aren’t enough to be harmful, but in high concentrations cesium-137 can do awful things to you and your children.

So far 8 countries have detonated nuclear bombs to test different designs and also because they like to watch stuff go boom. One American test in 1962 was undertaken to see if we could use a thermonuclear bomb to blow a big hole in the ground. Success! Mildly poisonous Sedan Crater is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

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It’s hard to get a sense of the scale of Sedan Crater, but looking at the roads in the lower right gives an idea of its size. (image source)

The point of the test was to see if nuclear bombs could be used to excavate large areas of land to aid in mining efforts. Unfortunately, it was useless for mining and it also blasted radiation across the United States and exposed 13 million people to its effects (which were luckily fairly mild). That was the end of Operation Plowshare, America’s alternative-uses-for-nukes program.

The USSR had more stick-to-it-iveness and continued blowing nuclear holes in the ground until its demise. The Soviet program was called Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy, or NENE (an acronym which I’m sure is pronounced “ninny.”)

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