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Cold War–Era Science Shows Beer Will Survive a Nuclear Apocalypse

In 1955, scientists dropped nukes on beer and soda to see how they held up

In a world that had seen the potential of nuclear weaponry and that faced the threat of disaster as America and the U.S.S.R descended into the Cold War, a hierarchy developed around facts society might need to know about nuclear explosions. Number 32.2a on that list, apparently, was understanding “The Effect of Nuclear Explosions on Commercially Packaged Beverages.” Specifically, beer. And soft drinks.

At the Nuclear Secrecy blog, Alex Wellerstein describes the results of Project 32.2a, one aspect of the United States’ Nuclear Defence Agency’s Operation Teapot:

One of the many lines of investigation during these Civil Defense tests, Project 32.2a, sought to answer a simple question: What will the survivors drink in the post-apocalyptic world? If the water supply is contaminated or otherwise dodgy, what about all of those cans and bottles that capitalist society churns out by the billions of gallons? The introduction to the final report explains that while lots of attention had been given towards the effects of nukes on food, beverages had been largely ignored.

The obvious way to understand whether canned and bottled beverages will be safe to drink, says Wellerstein, was to drop nukes on soda and beer and see what happened. That’s exactly what the Atomic Energy Commission did. The scientists found that if the drinks weren’t hit by flying debris or smashed by falling refuse, they actually stood up pretty well to the nuclear blast. What’s more, the beer and other beverages weren’t even that radioactive—they were pretty much safe to drink.

More importantly, the report says:

Immediate taste tests indicated that the beverages, both beer and soft drinks, were still of commercial quality, although there was evidence of a slight flavor change in some of the products exposed at 1270 ft from GZ . Those farther away showed no change.

More from Smithsonian.com:
Six Guys Stood At Nuclear Ground Zero And Lived To Tell The Tale

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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