I grew up in the direct shadow of Nukes. As a kid, I lived in a lot of places in the world where nuclear research and testing took place, all because of my dad's still-mysterious job.
One nuclear facility's effect on the local population that is especially well documented is the Hanford Project which directly adjoined Richland, part of the Tri-Cities area of Washington State.
From 1961-63, as an 8/9 year old, my dad worked at Hanford, and we lived in Richland. Summers were spent swimming daily in the Columbia River, just barely downstream from Hanford. Hanford was in the business of producing weapons grade plutonium, and was at its peak production between 1956 and 1963. U.S. Government documents have since confirmed that during that period, Hanford released significant amounts of radioactive materials into the air and the Columbia River, causing distress and dis-ease in the residents and ecosystem of the area.
One clear memory I have is of seeing all the little white boxes sitting on most front porches as my bus went to school and back. The boxes were for the Government to collect urine sample from the Hanford workers, in order to measure their exposure.
I also vividly remember the terrible sadness all the kids in our grade school felt when two different boys lost their fathers to cancer, and the tight fear that gripped my stomach when my mother found a lump in her breast that same year. Breast cancer eventually killed my mother, but not for another 37 years. Dad fished and hunted (pheasant and quail, primarily) all the time in the area of Hanford, and we ate everything he brought home with great appreciation.
So I swam in radioactive material, drank radioactive water, and ate the "irradiated" wildlife of the area. Over the years, my immune system began to show multiple signs of malfunction, and by the end of 1999, I finally discovered a very specific ailment linked to my days of Radio-Active living; a thyroid gland that was slowly shutting down.
My sister read in the newspaper that thyroid disorders are predicted to be the single largest ailment of my generation...the cause? Above-ground nuclear testing. Yep, I'm radioactive...
Life-threatening at it's worst, though fairly easily controlled through a daily dose of the hormone produced by the thyroid (the synthetic form isn't NEARLY as effective for me as the natural dessicated variety, btw), our thyroid glands are treacherous components in our wonderfully complex systems. Without the proper level of thyroid hormone in my system my hair became dry and broke off, my skin suddenly (as in, almost overnight) wrinkled and made me look older, and a general sense of malaise overtook my life. I didn't sleep well, had what I thought were hot flashes, and simply didn't want to get out of bed. When my thyroid levels were brought back up to a healthy level, the wrinkles went away, my hair regained it softness, and life looked good again.
Yep. It seems that dad was radioactive, too. Guess I wasn't hallucinating all those times that I thought I noticed us glowing in the dark.