Back in the 1950s, when American scientists and military advisors were regularly test-detonating new nuclear devices to see whether they should be added to America’s nuclear arsenal, scientists decided it made sense to conduct a special experiment — and “Operation Teapot” was born. Its purpose was to determine the “civil effects” of an atomic blast on commercially packaged food items, including bottled and canned beer.
The Operation Teapot researchers reasoned that, if the United States and the Soviet Union started hurling nuclear bombs at each other, the American water supply would quickly become contaminated by fallout, and determining an alternative source for fluids therefore was important. The report on Operation Teapot explained: “Consideration of the problems of food supply show the needs of humans for water, especially under disaster conditions, could be immediate and urgent.” The report added: “At various times some consideration has been given to special packaging of potable water, but since packaged beverages, both beer and soft drinks, are so ubiquitous and already uniformly available in urban areas, it is obvious that they could serve as important sources of fluids.” In short, since American households already had ample supplies of beer and Coke, why not see if the U.S. could rely on those to supply post-bomb blast refreshment?
So, in 1955, researchers at the Nevada Proving Grounds put bottled and canned beer and soda at three locations, ranging from 0.2 to 2 miles from ground zero, and then set off a bomb. Some of the bottles and cans at the location closest to the blast were obliterated, but others survived and, after testing, were found to be largely unaffected in the taste department and “within the permissible limits for emergency use” from a radiation standpoint. The canned and bottled beers that were positioned farther away from the blast site showed no signs of change whatsoever and even retained their carbonation and airtight seal.
Some of the two-fisted scientists working on Operation Teapot, no doubt thirsty after witnessing the blast, apparently cracked open some of the beers and soft drinks and downed a few swigs to conduct an “immediate taste test.” The report on Operation Teapot noted: “Immediate taste tests indicated that the beverages, both beer and soft drinks, were still of commercial quality, although there was evidence of a slight flavour change in some of the products exposed at 1270 ft from GZ [Ground Zero]. Those farther away showed no change.” The remaining bottles and cans were sent to several commercial laboratories for further taste testing, and the consensus was that the beer could unquestionably be used as an emergency source of potable beverages.
So there you have it! After following “duck and cover” techniques to weather the initial atomic blast, Americans of the ’50s would be able to crack open a cold bottle of suds and quaff a few without concern about their beer supply going flat or having a skunky taste. It would make the post-apocalyptic landscape and the clumps of hair falling out of your scalp a little bit easier to take.