Nuclear Weapons Effects
For Monitor Training
Office of Civil Defense
For the most part, civil defense productions fall into one of two categories. The first category is comprised of propaganda pieces meant to promote the idea of civil defense and encourage volunteer participation. These films are often colorful and humorous, shot with the intent of appealing to the widest possible audience. The majority of American civil defense films from the 1950's fit this description. The second category is made up of what can broadly be described as "training films". These motion pictures are often very short and educate specific audiences on very specific topics. They lack the theatrics of propaganda type films and present their information in a straight-forward manner. Nuclear Weapons Effects for Monitor Training, released by the Office of Civil Defense in 1963, provides an excellent example of this second category. A no-nonsense host describes how the detonation of nuclear weapons creates fallout radiation, how fallout can harm humans who are exposed to it, and how fallout can be measured before and after it falls to the earth.
In the opening moments, the camera slowly pans across the wooden homes, symmetrical streets and meticulous infrastructure of a detailed model city. Standing above this tiny metropolis, the film's host sprinkles salt indiscriminately over neighborhoods. Radioactive fallout particles will descend and accumulate in much the same way and the remainder of the film discusses how such particles are created and how they can be measured. Nuclear Weapons Effects for Monitor Training differentiates itself from the many other films which address the same topic in the way it thoroughly explains the separate stages of radiation. The thermal heat wave, the initial radiation which falls in the immediate area of a blast and the residual radiation which would spread across the country in the hours following an attack comprise the first three stages. Global or delayed fallout is the final stage of radiation. Characterized onscreen by a spinning globe, the term refers to lighter fallout particles which do not fall to earth in the weeks or months after a detonation, but instead remain suspended in the atmosphere swirling around the world. Civil defense productions and publications very rarely address this long-term consequence of nuclear detonations. Perhaps because the immediate survival concerns of populations on the ground, dealing with residual fallout and myriad other disruptions caused by a nuclear attack, would supersede the problem of radioactive particles high above the earth not causing immediate death. As the film wraps up, the host features charts showing the projected decay rates for radiation but also tosses in the stark line "in plain language, nuclear radiation will kill your if your get too much of it!"