The process of nuclear fission, which was discovered in 1938, opened the door to the production of nuclear weapons, which were used in 1945 by the United States against Japan in World War II, and to the detonation of >500 nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere by the United States, the former Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, China, and France from 1946–1980. Hundreds of radionuclides, most of them short-lived, were produced in the atmospheric tests. The radioactive clouds produced by the explosions were usually partitioned between the troposphere and the stratosphere: the activity that remained in the troposphere resulted in local and regional fallout, consisting mainly of short-lived radionuclides and in relatively high doses for the populations residing in the vicinity of the test site, whereas the activity that reached the stratosphere returned to the ground with a half-life of ~1 y and was composed of long-lived radionuclides that contaminated all uncovered materials on Earth to a small extent and led to low-level irradiation of the world population for decades or more. The health effects resulting from exposure to radioactive fallout constitute, in most cases, small excesses over baseline rates for thyroid cancer and leukemia. An extra 49,000 cases of thyroid cancer would be expected to occur among the US population from exposure to radioactive fallout from the atmospheric nuclear weapons tests that were conducted at the Nevada Test Site in the 1950s. In addition, there could be as many as 11,000 deaths from non-thyroid cancers related to fallout from all atmospheric tests that were conducted at all sites in the world, with leukemia making up 10% of the total. Public concern arose in part from the secrecy that surrounded the nuclear testing programs and, for a long time, the poor communication regarding the consequences of the tests, both in terms of radiation doses and of health effects. Sociological and political pressures contributed to the establishment of programs of compensation for radiation exposures and evidence of radiation-induced diseases in countries that incurred significant fallout from nuclear weapons testing.