Sensibly, U.S. tested drinkability of beer after atom bomb test

The "Atomic Age" of the 1950s saw the nuke-armed U.S. and U.S.S.R facing off. During the creation of the bomb, the U.S. didn't give much thought about what would happen if one headed our way. It seemed like a good idea to the government to a thorough testing as to what would happen in that event.

Faux towns were created, mannequins installed and packaged foods stocked the shelves — including beer, an American's undeniable right to relaxation — for a few little nuclear experiments.

Among other things, scientists wanted to know if the beer would be radioactive, and if it would taste okay. These are all need to know questions survivors would need to know for their post apocalyptic kegger.

The test was called Operation Teapot, and documents uncovered by Alex Wellerstein at Restricted Data shows 14 nuclear weapon detonations occurred in the Nevada desert beginning in 1955. Since we didn't get the briefing on the safety of our beer after a nuclear attack in our schoolbooks, he has kindly shared it with the world.

After placing bottles and cans in different proximity to two blasts (one equivalent to 20 kilotons of TNT, the other 30), there was plenty of data about the beer, and the reports were readied. The big takeaway? Go ahead and crack one open because that beer is "potable" and drinkable for emergency use in the short term.

Personally, I can't think of a bigger emergency that would require the calming effects of a beer. I'll think about those long-term effects tomorrow.

But of course you can't just drop a bomb and expect no effect on your beer. Both cans and bottles were tested and the first lesson was the cans were more resilient to the blast — some glass bottles were broken due to flying debris and such. Some test cans and bottles were as close as 1,270 feet from the detonation.

Sure, there were some radiation effects, but how bad? The reports concluded that even the effects to the samples closest to the blast "did not carry over to the contents" and were just fine for emergency use — so in short, all you Homer Simpson types better not don't overdo it.

Surprisingly, the testing also measured taste. Yes, someone had to taste that post-bomb brew as the nation's thirsts relied upon it. Though it seems no one knows who that heroic person was, they reported the beer closest to the blast did taste "definitely off" but lab testing deemed it "acceptable."

The one thing missing from this story is whether the radiation affected alcohol levels. I'd think it would be a pretty important distinction to know whether the acceptably skunky beer is going to dull the pain of a survivor's world or just be hoppy water. If the radiation affected alcohol content, then I might as well go for the "definitely off" soda they tested as well, right?

After consideration, boozy, skunky or not, I'm going to keep a can or two of beer on hand in case of a nuclear emergency. After all it has been deemed "acceptable" by my government, and in a strategy they couldn't have foreseen back then. If I don't drink it I can always use it to trade with, or lob it at any zombies that might stop by.

All humor aside, it's worth a visit to Alex Wellerstein's site where he's collected a wealth of pictures and reports that depict the strange world of nuclear testing post World War II.

Restricted Data, via NPR, via PopSci

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