Atmospheric nuclear bomb tests in Nevada from 1951 to 1962 exposed millions of American children to large amounts of radioactive iodine, a component of fallout that can affect the thyroid gland, the National Cancer Institute said today.
The releases were larger than earlier estimates, and at least 10 times larger than those caused by the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine. Under Federal rules implemented in 1992 to deal with accidents at nuclear power plants, some of the tests would require protective actions like moving cows to shelter, or dumping their milk that would tend to have high concentrations of radioactive iodine. But no such precautions were taken at the time of the Nevada tests.
The cancer institute could not say whether any cases of thyroid cancer were caused by the fallout. But several experts said the levels of exposure could justify special monitoring for some people -- particularly those who were children in the 1950's and 1960's.