After the bomb, can you still drink the beer?

In the 1950s, the U.S. government placed bottles and cans of beer next to a nuclear explosion. Taste tests were conducted.

In the 1950s, the U.S. government conducted a study called “The Effect of Nuclear Explosions on Commercially Packaged Beverages," part of series of 14 nuclear weapons tests called Operation Teapot.

Cans and bottles were placed next to an actual atomic explosion. Subsequent radioactivity was measured, and taste tests were conducted.

Science historian Alex Wellerstein explains in his blog, Restricted Data.

The Atomic Energy Commission exploded 2 bombs -- one equivalent to 20 kilotons of TNT and the other 30 kilotons -- at a test site in Nevada. Bottles and cans of soda and beer were carefully placed at various distances from ground zero.

The closest containers were placed less than a quarter-mile away, “a mere 1,056 feet," Wellerstein explains. The furthest ones were about 2 miles away. Some were buried, some left in batches, and others were placed side by side.

The cans survived. A surprising number of bottles stayed intact too.

These beverages could be used as potable water sources for immediate emergency purposes as soon as the storage area is safe to enter after a nuclear explosion.

So in other words, drink! The results:

  • The bottles closest to ground zero were radioactive, but only mildly so. Exposure, the study says, didn’t carry over to the contents.
  • The sodas and beer were well within the permissible limits for emergency use (which means, Wellerstein says, it won't hurt you in the short term).
  • Examination made immediately upon recovery showed no observable gross changes in the appearance of the beverages.
  • Immediate taste tests indicated that the beer and sodas were still of “commercial quality,” although there was evidence of a slight flavor change in the products exposed at 1,270 feet from ground zero. Those farther away showed no change.
  • Representative samples of the various exposed packaged beers -- as well as unexposed control samples -- were sent to 5 labs for controlled taste-testing. The cumulative opinions on the various beers indicated a range from “commercial quality” on through “aged” and “definitely off.”
  • All agreed, however, that the beer could unquestionably be used as an emergency source of potable beverages.
  • However, the beer may or may not be good enough to return to commercial distribution. (Further review would be needed.)

The study was written by 3 executives from Can Manufacturers Institute and the Glass Container Manufacturers Institute for the Federal Civil Defense Administration. You can read the government papers [pdf].

[From Restricted Data, via NPR]

Image via Alex Wellerstein

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