Before I get into the details you should know that the majority of the radiation that fell across the Mojave is gone by now. However that does not mean there are not still pockets of it left and of course uranium mines and so on.
Post WWII the US wanted to test as many bombs as possible to see what the effects were in all sorts of conditions, depths, heights and so on. At the time the most sparsely populated place in the US was in Southern Nevada. This was when Las Vegas was just beginning to come into it’s own and I-15 to Los Angeles had not even been constructed yet.
Here is a map of the Nevada Test Range
And here is what the most heavily cratered part of it looks like
The majority of those detonations were underground however the site had been used for above ground and aerial detonation also.
All of the material blasted into the atmosphere had to go somewhere and one of the biggest air currents in the area goes from the ocean through Los Angeles and into central Utah. It covers the majority of the Mojave desert and of course that material was blown directly into it.
Here is a map of the three heaviest effected regions in the states of Nevada, Utah and Arizona
My Grandfather was living in St George Utah at the time having retired from the Army post WWII and he, with his wife and five kids were all subjected to the fallout from Nuclear blasts in Nevada. My mother and uncles did not develop problems from it but my Grandmother had lung cancer in her later years and my Grandfather had a variety of health problems from a weak immune system in his 50′s until his death in his 80′s. What they experienced was a very real concern that many people in the area experienced and it was not until the late 1980′s that a real solid investigation on the effects of being down wind of the blasts had.
The Radioactive Fallout lost the majority of its Radioactivity within a few years but there are hot spots dotting the Mojave where sediment has collected since the testing being washed down river or through floods and they measure a higher radiation than normal. None of them are particularly lethal, you’d have to spend a few months on them to get a high enough dose to matter but it is a concern for the smaller species in the area that do have to deal with it.
The other problem we face out here are the hundreds of Uranium Mines all over the desert. I’ve talked a lot about them before but many of these mines had no regulation on them and people just dug wherever they could and contaminated the surrounding area. Uranium itself does not have too much Radioactivity unless you detonate it and those fine fallout particles settle however it’s a heavy metal and will leech into the soil and water table like mercury will. I was poisoned by Uranium when I inhaled a lot of fine ore dust over the period of a few hours as I napped on a fine tailings pile of sand. I had to be treated with Iodine and have my system flushed and it took a bit before I was back to normal. I had a representative from Utah’s Mining Regulation tell me that for every known Uranium mine there are probably two they don’t know about. The ones that are particularly dangerous have been sealed off like the one in the photo below.
It’s just a fact of life out here in the Mojave. The mutation rate from what I have seen is no higher than normal. We do get mutations in animals every so often but you get that all across the US.
So when people say I am only playing at Fallout and I’m obsessed with it they don’t really get that I actually live it. I live in the most heavily nuclear bombed area in the world. At one point just about everyone living down here in the 50′s was exposed to high levels of fallout. I’ve been exposed to Uranium. I also scrap, scavenge, spelunk, hunt, trap and survive off the land. I was doing this long before the Fallout games even existed and They just over exaggerated a part of my life. New Vegas in particular since it takes place in my home region.
Sometimes reality is just as messed up as fiction.