Harold Knapp and the Geography of Normal Controversy: Radioiodine in the Historical Environment

  • Kirsch S
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In 1962, after high levels of the isotope Iodine-131 were detected in Utah milk supplies, Dr. Harold Knapp, a mathematician working for the AEC's Division of Biology and Medicine, developed a new model for estimating, first, the relation between a single deposition of radioactive fallout on pasturage and the levels of Iodine-131 in fresh milk and, second, the total dose to human thyroids resulting from daily intake of the contaminated milk. The implications of Knapp's findings were enormous. They suggested that short-living radioiodine, rather than long-living nuclides such as radiostrontium, posed the greatest hazard from nuclear test fallout and that children raised in Nevada and Utah during the 1950s had been exposed to internal radiation doses far in excess of recommended guidelines. This paper explores the explicit historical revisionism of Knapp's study, his refusal, contra normal AEC practices of knowledge production and spatial representation, to distance himself from the people and places downwind from the Nevada Test Site, and the reactions his work provoked among his AEC colleagues.

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  • Scott Kirsch

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