Friday, October 29, 2010

Boy Scouts of America Nuclear Merit Badge

Back in the late 1960s, I was a proud member of Troop 210, Boy Scouts of America. On Wednesday evenings, my friend Stan and I would don our green uniforms and walk over to the old San Jacinto Baptist Church, then on 6th Street in Amarillo, Texas. There in the church’s basement was where our troop would meet. We spent a tremendous amount of time in earning, and arranging to earn, merit badges.

Merit badges have been an integral part of the Scouting program since the start of the movement in the United Kingdom in 1907. Scouting came to the United States in 1910. The BSA quickly issued an initial list of just 14 merit badges, but did not produce or award them. In 1911, the BSA manufactured the first official 57 merit badges and began awarding them. The number of badges available has been as high as 140 and, as of late 2010, is 126.

Merit badges exist to encourage Scouts to explore areas of interest and to teach valuable skills. The award of merit badges sometimes leads to careers and lifelong hobbies. Scouts earn merit badges by satisfying specified criteria. A Court of Honor is then held to present the badge.

With many parents in Amarillo working at the local Pantex Plant, one of the more popular merit badges was the Atomic Energy Badge. Approved by the BSA in 1963, it was the 104th in their series of merit badges. In 2005, the badge was renamed the nuclear science energy badge.

The badge has seven main criteria. Scouts are asked to describe the biological effects and hazards of radiation to humankind, the environment, and wildlife. The scout must be able to describe the radiation hazard symbol and explain where it should be used. He must be able to define appropriate scientific terms, name five individuals important to the field of atomic energy, and use models to explain the difference between atomic number and mass number.

The fifth criteria allows the scout to choose three projects from a list of ten, including possibly building an electroscope, a cloud chamber, or learning to detect radon. He also learns about current nuclear power plants, nuclear medicine, space exploration, and radiation therapy. The scout is also asked to investigate career opportunities in the nuclear science field.

 For those desiring more information about the nuclear science energy badge, a detailed pamphlet, Stock Number 33275A, can be obtained from the Boy Scouts of America.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Civil Defense Collection

I still remember it attached to one of the exterior walls of my elementary school, the yellow and black fallout shelter sign. Once inside there were other signs directing people to the basement. Once I was able to go down into the basement to help my teacher move some easels and there they were. Stacked neatly were big green barrels and boxes of supplies, some marked crackers, others marked medical kit.

When my teacher told me what they were for, I remember asking, "How is everyone going to fit in here?" I never got an answer. I thought that maybe the well behaved students got to the basement and the others would have to make due by hiding under their desks.

Most of those supplies were certainly placed in my school during the early 1960s, the zenith of the civil defense program during the John F. Kennedy administration. Prior to his Presidency, the Truman and Eisenhower administrations were less enthusiastic about Civil Defense. Survivability was the key issue. Would it be worth all that money for civil defense, when few if any would survive, even within the shelters?

It was the Kennedy administration which made civil defense a priority. Kennedy urged Americans "without delay" to build backyard shelters. He requested and got $207.6 million dollars in civil defense funds to identify and mark fallout shelters and to stock them with food, water, first-aid kits and other essentials. Civil Defense would now be the responsibility of the Department of Defense, Office of Civil Defense.

There was much opposition to any civil defense program. It was thought by some that no one in or out of shelters could survive an all out thermo-nuclear war, making shelters a waste of tax payer's money. Others noted that civil defense publications seemed addressed to the suburban upper classes and less for inner city populations or the poor who may not own a home. Still others argued that it would only encourage the start of nuclear war by undermining the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine.

In light of the opposition in November 1961 a decision was made that the federal shelter program would now only apply to communities or groups, not individual shelters. A decision was also made to restrict all future civil defense activity to completing the OCD shelter survey that had been funded in 1961. Eventually, this survey would identify and place shelter signs on designated buildings

In order to be designated a public shelter, a facility had to have enough space for at least 50 people, include one cubic foot of storage space per person, and have a radiation protection factor of 100. The materials division of DOD, called the Defense Supply Agency, furnished shelter supplies to local governments, which were then responsible for stocking all shelters in their regions. By 1963, 104 million individual shelters had been identified; and of those 47 million had been licensed, 46 million marked, and 9 million individual spaces had been stocked with supplies.

The museum's collection of civil defense supplies are as varied as the places and individuals they came from. There are survey instruments, water containers, medical kits, dosimeters, sanitation kits, food supplements, generators, crackers, flashlights, radios, etc. Some of the best examples are currently on permanent exhibit.

Many of these supplies still sit in shelters undisturbed all these years. You can still see yellow and black signs when driving around town. I am sure all those supplies I saw in the basement of my old elementary school are still sitting there waiting.

 Handbook for living in a fallout shelter

 Fallout Shelter Sign

Civil Defence artifacts found in the collection.