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Nevada Test Site
Exercise Desert Rock I (Buster-Jangle Dog) 002.jpg
November 1951 nuclear test at Nevada Test Site. Test is shot "Dog" from Operation Buster, with a yield of 21 kilotons of TNT (88 TJ). It was the first U.S. nuclear field exercise conducted on land; troops shown are 6 mi (9.7 km) from the blast.
Type Nuclear Weapons Research Complex
Location 37°07′N 116°03′W / 37.117°N 116.05°W / 37.117; -116.05Coordinates: 37°07′N 116°03′W / 37.117°N 116.05°W / 37.117; -116.05 near Las Vegas in the United States
Area ~1,350 sq mi (3,500 km2)
Operator United States Department of Energy
Status Active
In use 1951–present

Map showing location of the site

The Nevada National Security Site[1] (NNSS), previously the Nevada Test Site (NTS), is a United States Department of Energy reservation located in southeastern Nye County, Nevada, about 65 miles (105 km) northwest of the city of Las Vegas. Formerly known as the Nevada Proving Grounds,[2] the site was established on 11 January 1951 for the testing of nuclear devices, covering approximately 1,360 square miles (3,500 km2) of desert and mountainous terrain. Nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site began with a 1-kiloton-of-TNT (4.2 TJ) bomb dropped on Frenchman Flat on 27 January 1951. Many of the iconic images of the nuclear era come from the NTS.

During the 1950s, the mushroom clouds from atmospheric tests could be seen for almost 100 mi (160 km). The city of Las Vegas experienced noticeable seismic effects, and the distant mushroom clouds, which could be seen from the downtown hotels, became tourist attractions. St. George, Utah, received the brunt of the fallout of above-ground nuclear testing in the Yucca Flats/Nevada Test Site. Winds routinely carried the fallout of these tests directly through St. George and southern Utah. Marked increases in cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, thyroid cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, bone cancer, brain tumors, and gastrointestinal tract cancers, were reported from the mid-1950s through 1980.[3][4]

From 1986 through 1994, two years after the United States put a hold on full-scale nuclear weapons testing, 536 anti-nuclear protests were held at the Nevada Test Site involving 37,488 participants and 15,740 arrests, according to government records.[5] Those arrested included the astronomer Carl Sagan and the actors Kris Kristofferson, Martin Sheen, and Robert Blake.

The Nevada Test Site contains 28 areas, 1,100 buildings, 400 miles (640 km) of paved roads, 300 miles of unpaved roads, ten heliports, and two airstrips. The most-recent test was a sub-critical test of the properties of plutonium, conducted underground on December 7, 2012.


It was established as a 680-square-mile (1,800 km2) area by President Harry Truman on December 18, 1950, within the Nellis Air Force Gunnery and Bombing Range.[2]


This handbill was distributed 16 days before the first nuclear device was detonated at the Nevada Test Site.

The Nevada Test Site was the primary testing location of American nuclear devices from 1951 to 1992; 928 announced nuclear tests occurred there. Of those, 828 were underground.[6] (Sixty-two of the underground tests included multiple, simultaneous nuclear detonations, adding 93 detonations and bringing the total number of NTS nuclear detonations to 1,021, of which 921 were underground.)[7] The site is covered with subsidence craters from the testing.

The NTS was the United States' primary location for tests in the 500-to-1,000 kt (2,100-to-4,200 TJ) range. 126 tests were conducted elsewhere, including most larger tests. Many of these occurred at the Pacific Proving Grounds in the Marshall Islands.

Mushroom cloud seen from downtown Las Vegas.

During the 1950s, the mushroom clouds from atmospheric tests could be seen for almost 100 mi (160 km). The city of Las Vegas experienced noticeable seismic effects, and the distant mushroom clouds, which could be seen from the downtown hotels, became tourist attractions. The last atmospheric test detonation at the Nevada Test Site was "Little Feller I" of Operation Sunbeam, on 17 July 1962.

Although the United States did not ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, it nevertheless honors the articles of the treaty, and underground testing of weapons ended as of 23 September 1992. Subcritical tests not involving a critical mass continue.

Sedan crater.

One notable test shot was the "Sedan" shot of Operation Storax on 6 July 1962, a 104-kiloton-of-TNT (440 TJ) shot for the Operation Plowshare, which sought to prove that nuclear weapons could be used for peaceful means in creating bays or canals. It created a crater 1,280 feet (390 m) wide and 320 feet (100 m) deep that can still be seen today.


The site was scheduled to be used to conduct the testing of a 1,100-ton conventional explosive in an operation known as Divine Strake in June 2006. The bomb is a possible alternative to nuclear bunker busters. From 1986 through 1994, two years after the United States put a hold on full-scale nuclear weapons testing, 536 demonstrations were held at the Nevada Test Site involving 37,488 participants and 15,740 arrests, according to government records.[5]

On February 5, 1987, more than 400 people were arrested, when they tried to enter the nation's nuclear proving grounds after nearly 2,000 demonstrators held a rally to protest nuclear weapons testing. Those arrested included the astronomer Carl Sagan and the actors Kris Kristofferson, Martin Sheen, and Robert Blake.[8] However, after objections from Nevada and Utah's members of Congress, the operation was postponed until 2007. On 22 February 2007, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) officially canceled the experiment.

Destruction and survivability testing

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This house was located 10,500 feet (3,200 m) from the Apple-2 ground zero.

NTS also performed "piggyback" testing of effects of nuclear detonation during the above-ground tests. Vehicles, shelters, utility stations, and other structures were placed at various distances from the "Ground Zero" detonation point of each weapon.

Homes and commercial buildings were built to standards typical of American and European cities. Other structures included military fortifications (of types used by both NATO and the Warsaw Pact), civil defense, and "backyard" shelters. In a typical test several buildings might be built using the same plan with different types of paint, landscaping, cleanliness of yards, wall angles, or distances from Ground Zero. Mannequins were placed in and around vehicles and buildings.

High-speed cameras were placed in protected locations to capture effects of radiation and shock waves. Typical imagery from these cameras shows paint boiling off of the buildings, which then are pushed away from Ground Zero by the shock wave before being drawn toward the detonation by the suction caused by the climbing mushroom cloud. Footage from these cameras has become iconic, used in various media and available in the public domain and on DVD.

This testing allowed the development of guidelines, distributed to the public, to increase the likelihood of survival in case of air- or spaceborne nuclear attack.

Environmental impact

Each of the below ground explosions—some as deep as 5,000 feet—vaporized a large chamber, leaving a cavity filled with radioactive rubble. About a third of the tests were conducted directly in aquifers, and others were hundreds or thousands of feet below the water table.[9]

When testing ended in 1992, the Department of Energy estimated that more than 300 megacuries (11 EBq) of radioactivity remained in the environment at that time, making the site one of the most radioactively contaminated locations in the United States. In the most seriously affected zones, the concentration of radioactivity in affected groundwater reaches millions of picocuries per liter. (The federal standard for drinking water is 20 picocuries per liter (0.74 Bq/l).) Although radioactivity levels in the water continue to decline over time, the longer-lived isotopes could pose risks to workers or future settlers on the NNSS for tens of thousands of years.[9]

The Energy Department has 48 monitoring wells at the site and recently began drilling nine deep wells. Because the contaminated water poses no immediate health threat, the Department has ranked Nevada as a low priority for cleaning up major nuclear weapons sites, and it operates far fewer wells than at most other contaminated sites.[9]

Protests and demonstrations

Members of Desert Lenten Experience hold a prayer vigil during the Easter period of 1982 at the entrance to the Nevada Test Site.

From 1986 through 1994, two years after the United States put a hold on full-scale nuclear weapons testing, 536 demonstrations were held at the Nevada Test Site involving 37,488 participants and 15,740 arrests, according to government records.[5]

On February 5, 1987, more than 400 people were arrested, when they tried to enter the nation's nuclear proving grounds after nearly 2,000 demonstrators held a rally to protest nuclear weapons testing. Those arrested included the astronomer Carl Sagan and the actors Kris Kristofferson, Martin Sheen, and Robert Blake. Five Democratic members of Congress attended the rally: Thomas J. Downey, Mike Lowry, Jim Bates, Leon E. Panetta, and Barbara Boxer.[10][11]

American Peace Test (APT) and Nevada Desert Experience (NDE) held most of these.[12] In March 1988, APT held an event where more than 8,000 people attended a ten-day action to "Reclaim the Test Site", where nearly 3,000 people were arrested with more than 1,200 in one day. This set a record for most civil disobedience arrests in a single protest. American Peace Test was collectively run by a group of individuals residing in Las Vegas, but leadership for the group was national. It originated with a small group of people who were active in the National Nuclear Weapons Freeze. APT was a breakaway organization beginning in 1986, with first public events held in 1987.

In the years that followed 1994, Shundahai Network in cooperation with Nevada Desert Experience and Corbin Harney continued the protests of the government's continued nuclear weapons work and also staged efforts to stop a repository for highly radioactive waste adjacent to the test site at Yucca Mountain, 100 mi (160 km) northwest of Las Vegas.

NTS today

The test site offers monthly public tours, often fully booked months in advance. Visitors are not allowed to bring in cameras, binoculars, or cell phones, nor are they permitted to pick up rocks for souvenirs.[13]

While there are no longer any explosive tests of nuclear weapons at the site, there is still subcritical testing, used to determine the viability of the United States' aging nuclear arsenal. Additionally, the site is the location of the Area 5 Radioactive Waste Management Complex, which sorts and stores low-level radioactive waste that is not transuranic and has a half life not longer than 20 years. Bechtel Nevada Corporation (a joint venture of Lockheed Martin, Bechtel, and Johnson Controls) ran this complex until 2006. Several other companies won the latest bid for the contract. They then combined to form a new company called National Security Technologies, LLC (a joint venture of Northrop Grumman, AECOM, CH2M Hill, and Nuclear Fuel Services[14]). AECOM, known earlier as Holmes and Narver, held the Nevada Test Site contract for many years before Bechtel Nevada Corp. had it.[citation needed]

WMD/Counter terrorism training exercise at the Nevada Test Site.

The Radiological/Nuclear WMD Incident Exercise Site (T-1), which replicates multiple terrorist radiological incidents with train, plane, automobile, truck, and helicopter props is located in Area 1, at the former site of tests EASY, SIMON, APPLE-2, and GALILEO.[15]

Landmarks and geography

A table of interesting places in and around the NNSS is presented here. It corresponds with many of the descriptions in the Nevada Test Site Guide,[16] which includes many beautiful photos of items up close.

Interesting locations in the NNSS
Name Location Notes
Mercury Area 23 36°39′34″N 115°59′47″W / 36.6594°N 115.99642°W / 36.6594; -115.99642 (Mercury) The base housing and office area for the NTS.
U1a Area 1 37°00′29″N 116°03′32″W / 37.00819°N 116.05894°W / 37.00819; -116.05894 (U1a) Main entrance to Low Yield Nuclear Explosive Research (LYNER) Complex, named after the shaft location: U1a. In an expanding web of locations at ~300 metres (980 ft), destructive, but not critical, experiments continue to explore plutonium and update science. U1h and U1g, shafts which add data access, ventilation and other utilities to LYNER, are just north of this entrance.
Industrial area Area 1 37°03′56″N 116°08′03″W / 37.06561°N 116.13411°W / 37.06561; -116.13411 (Industrial area) Houses $20 million worth of mining tools; contains an area for creating site grout and stemming mixes.
Doomtown Area 5 36°47′53″N 115°56′03″W / 36.79805°N 115.93416°W / 36.79805; -115.93416 (Doomtown) The original effects test area and close cousin to Survival City in Area 1.
EPA's NTS Dairy Area 15 37°12′30″N 116°02′25″W / 37.20829°N 116.04037°W / 37.20829; -116.04037 (EPA Dairy) A dairy and pig farm maintained from 1964 to 1984 by the EPA, mainly to provide experimental data for uptake of milk contamination, following Operation Schooner.
Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository Area 25 36°51′10″N 116°25′36″W / 36.85282°N 116.42672°W / 36.85282; -116.42672 (Yucca Mountain) Yucca Mountain radioactive disposal site. This is the north entrance; the south entrance is about 1.7 miles (2.7 km) SSW.
A Tunnel Area 16 37°00′45″N 116°11′44″W / 37.01245°N 116.19565°W / 37.01245; -116.19565 (A tunnel entrance) Shoshone Mountain, Tunnel A Entrance.
B Tunnel Area 12 37°11′36″N 116°11′56″W / 37.19345°N 116.19887°W / 37.19345; -116.19887 (B tunnel entrance) Rainier Mesa, Tunnel B Entrance.
C, D, and F Tunnels Area 12 37°11′36″N 116°12′00″W / 37.19322°N 116.19999°W / 37.19322; -116.19999 (C, D and F tunnel entrances) Rainier Mesa, tunnels C, D, and F Entrances - separate, but very close together.
E Tunnel Area 12 37°11′17″N 116°11′41″W / 37.18816°N 116.19477°W / 37.18816; -116.19477 (E tunnel entrance) Rainier Mesa, Tunnel E Entrance.
G Tunnel Area 12 37°10′10″N 116°11′41″W / 37.1694°N 116.1947°W / 37.1694; -116.1947 (G tunnel entrance) Rainier Mesa, Tunnel G Entrance.
I Tunnel Area 12 37°13′08″N 116°09′37″W / 37.21876°N 116.16036°W / 37.21876; -116.16036 (I tunnel entrance) Rainier Mesa, Tunnel I Entrance.
J Tunnel Area 12 37°13′08″N 116°09′47″W / 37.21884°N 116.16319°W / 37.21884; -116.16319 (J tunnel entrance) Rainier Mesa, Tunnel J Entrance.
K Tunnel Area 12 37°13′08″N 116°09′32″W / 37.21878°N 116.15891°W / 37.21878; -116.15891 (K tunnel entrance) Rainier Mesa, Tunnel K Entrance.
N Tunnel Area 12 37°12′06″N 116°11′31″W / 37.20169°N 116.19187°W / 37.20169; -116.19187 (N tunnel entrance) Rainier Mesa, Tunnel N Entrance.
P Tunnel Area 12 37°13′45″N 116°09′13″W / 37.22906°N 116.1535°W / 37.22906; -116.1535 (P tunnel entrance) Rainier Mesa, Tunnel P Entrance.
T Tunnel Area 12 37°12′57″N 116°10′02″W / 37.21589°N 116.16711°W / 37.21589; -116.16711 (T tunnel entrance) Rainier Mesa, Tunnel T Entrance.
X Tunnel Area 25 36°44′44″N 116°19′41″W / 36.74542°N 116.32816°W / 36.74542; -116.32816 (X tunnel entrance) Two tunnel entrances, used by the U.S. Army Ballistic Research Laboratory for depleted uranium testing.
Operation Icecap Area 7 37°04′51″N 116°02′44″W / 37.0808°N 116.04558°W / 37.0808; -116.04558 (Icecap) Operation Icecap was being built up when the 1992 Comprehensive Test Ban was signed. The equipment was left in place, including the .5 million pounds (230,000 kg) instrumentation payload, the crane, the wiring, and many of the recording trailers.
Operation Gabbs Area 2 37°08′17″N 116°04′25″W / 37.13796°N 116.07353°W / 37.13796; -116.07353 (Gabbs) Operation Gabbs was another shaft detonation scheduled for 1993 that was laid to rest by the '92 test ban treaty.
Operation Greenwater Area 20 37°13′51″N 116°26′50″W / 37.23086°N 116.44725°W / 37.23086; -116.44725 (Greenwater) The third suspended test was Operation Greenwater, the test of the space X-Ray laser system, a part of the Star Wars concept. The 45 metres (148 ft) tower remains on the site. It is supposed to be in Area 19, but actually is in 20.
Survival City Area 1 37°03′11″N 116°06′12″W / 37.05305°N 116.10339°W / 37.05305; -116.10339 (Survival City) The alternative to Doomtown. Used in the Teapot Desert/Rock exercises, and the Civil Defence/PR effort Operation Cue. Name taken from "News of the Day" newsreel about the Apple 2 test.
Fortune Training Area Area 1 36°59′13″N 116°02′38″W / 36.98689°N 116.04384°W / 36.98689; -116.04384 (Fortune Training Area) Fortune was a training facility for building bomb test sites. Site reused for Unicorn subcritical test in 2005-2006.
Divine Strake Area 16 37°01′21″N 116°10′55″W / 37.02245°N 116.18203°W / 37.02245; -116.18203 (U16b tunnel, "Divine Strake") U16b tunnel entrance complex, including Divine Strake proposed 700t chemical blast tunnel on the north, the latter heavily protested, delayed, and eventually abandoned.
Plutonium Valley Area 11 36°58′36″N 115°57′44″W / 36.97659°N 115.96228°W / 36.97659; -115.96228 (Plutonium Valley) Area contains scattered raw plutonium from plutonium dispersal safety tests.
Original BREN Tower Area 4 37°05′55″N 116°05′49″W / 37.09869°N 116.09685°W / 37.09869; -116.09685 (BREN original placement) Original site of the Bare Reactor Experiment in Nevada (BREN), a reactor on a tower which emulated bomb explosions for medical studies. A Japanese village was constructed around it because it focused on war bomb injuries. BREN was later moved to Area 25.
BREN Tower Area 25 36°46′50″N 116°14′37″W / 36.78062°N 116.24358°W / 36.78062; -116.24358 (BREN move here) The BREN (Bare Reactor Experiment, Nevada) is a 453 m (1,486 ft) tall tower originally in Yucca Flat, used to experimentally irradiate ground targets with gamma and neutrons. Moved to Jackass Flat, for HENRE (High Energy Neutrons Action Experiment). Demolished 23 May 2012.
Nerva Test Stand Area 25 36°49′54″N 116°16′41″W / 36.83162°N 116.27809°W / 36.83162; -116.27809 (Nerva test stand) Test stand for the nuclear rocket "Nerva".
KIWI-TNT Area 25 36°49′58″N 116°16′45″W / 36.83285°N 116.27914°W / 36.83285; -116.27914 (KIWI-TNT) Test of the Nerva engine to destruction, to determine worst case scenario for runaway reactor. 1.6 Mci released.
DAF Area 6 36°53′54″N 116°02′53″W / 36.89827°N 116.04814°W / 36.89827; -116.04814 (DAF) Device Assembly Facility: bombs and components are made ready for testing here.
RWMS-5 Area 5 36°51′27″N 115°57′18″W / 36.85758°N 115.9551°W / 36.85758; -115.9551 (RWMS-5) Radioactive Waste Management Facility, Area 5
E-MAD Building Area 25 36°48′23″N 116°18′17″W / 36.80646°N 116.30476°W / 36.80646; -116.30476 (E-MAD) Engine Maintenance and Disassembly Building, used for handling radioactive NERVA engines; site being dismantled.
R-MAD Building Area 25 36°48′58″N 116°14′22″W / 36.8161°N 116.23936°W / 36.8161; -116.23936 (R-MAD) Reactor Maintenance and Disassembly Building, maintained radioactive NERVA reactors. Also used in the MX program; site being dismantled.
ETS-1 Test Stand Area 25 36°49′56″N 116°18′44″W / 36.8321°N 116.31217°W / 36.8321; -116.31217 (ETS-1 test stand) Engineering Test Stand 1, a stand for testing nuclear rockets in a standard upright position.
MX Testing Area Area 25 36°41′58″N 116°22′46″W / 36.69946°N 116.37952°W / 36.69946; -116.37952 (MX test area) MX missile test track and silo
JASPER Area 27 36°46′30″N 116°07′01″W / 36.77496°N 116.11703°W / 36.77496; -116.11703 (JASPER) Houses the Joint Actinide Shock Physics Experimental Research, a two stage light gas gun for shock experiments.
Camp 12 Area 12 37°11′46″N 116°09′22″W / 37.19598°N 116.15624°W / 37.19598; -116.15624 (Camp 12) Camp for miners and others working on the Rainier Mesa in the '70s.
BEEF Area 4 37°05′46″N 116°05′33″W / 37.09611°N 116.09262°W / 37.09611; -116.09262 (BEEF) Big Explosives Experimental Facility
Area 3 RWMS Area 3 37°02′40″N 116°01′27″W / 37.04445°N 116.02425°W / 37.04445; -116.02425 (RWMS) Low level Radioactive Waste Management Facility. Waste (mostly dirt) is buried in a selection of old subsidence craters.
Atlas Pulse Power Area 6 36°58′46″N 116°02′23″W / 36.97946°N 116.03965°W / 36.97946; -116.03965 (Atlas Pulse Power) The Atlas Pulse Power Facility
Apple-2 houses Area 1 37°02′40″N 116°04′26″W / 37.04434°N 116.07397°W / 37.04434; -116.07397 (Apple-2 houses) Three "typical American" houses built for the Apple-2 civil defense event. The one on the left is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the 29kt blast, the right one 2 miles (3.2 km). The left one is on the monthly tour bus route. The two towers are from later seismic studies.
News Nob Area 6 36°56′42″N 116°03′00″W / 36.945°N 116.05°W / 36.945; -116.05 (News Nob) The location from which VIPs and news people would watch nuclear tests.
Annie Emplacement Area 5 36°42′15″N 115°58′26″W / 36.70428°N 115.97387°W / 36.70428; -115.97387 (Annie emplacement) Location of Atomic Annie emplacement for Upshot/Knothole-Grable test. (Kudos to makerm for finding this; his overlay download is amazing.)
BACHUS Site Area 12 37°11′44″N 116°09′30″W / 37.19569°N 116.1584°W / 37.19569; -116.1584 (BACHUS) Biotechnology Activity Characterization by Unconventional Signatures, a secret biowarfare simulation facility.
Rad/NucCTEC Area 6 36°53′25″N 116°01′51″W / 36.89026°N 116.03093°W / 36.89026; -116.03093 (Rad/NucTEC) Radiological/Nuclear Countermeasures Test and Evaluation Complex Homeland Security operational nuclear test and training center
Project Pluto Area 26 36°49′03″N 116°08′57″W / 36.81744°N 116.14906°W / 36.81744; -116.14906 (Project Pluto) Ram-jet nuclear-powered cruise missile engine development project; site being dismantled.
Lockheed-Martin AOF Area 6 36°55′37″N 116°00′27″W / 36.92692°N 116.00755°W / 36.92692; -116.00755 (AOF - UAV test area) Aerial Operations Facility; a testing area for UAVs.
Groom Lake - Area 51 Area 51! 37°14′23″N 115°48′49″W / 37.23986°N 115.81363°W / 37.23986; -115.81363 (Groom Lake, Area 51) The famed Air Force base used for testing secret aircraft, and accused of all sorts of mopery and dopery by UFOlogists.
Camp Desert Rock Area 22 36°37′33″N 116°01′10″W / 36.62593°N 116.01937°W / 36.62593; -116.01937 (Camp Desert Rock) The Army Camp that housed the participants in Operations Desert Rock I-VIII. Across the road is the Pig Hilton, where test subjects were housed in barnyard splendor.
Test Control Point Area 6 36°56′04″N 116°03′17″W / 36.93453°N 116.05482°W / 36.93453; -116.05482 (Test Control Point) NTS Test control center (CP-1). These two buildings controlled the tests performed at the NTS.
NNSS-CTOS Area 1 37°03′09″N 116°06′11″W / 37.05263°N 116.10308°W / 37.05263; -116.10308 (CTOS) Counter Terrorism Operations Support, a location for training in emergency preparedness in radiological emergencies.
Super Kukla Area 27 36°46′45″N 116°06′37″W / 36.77907°N 116.11041°W / 36.77907; -116.11041 (Super Kukla) A naked reactor test area designed to test equipment under a hostile radioactive environment, 1965-78.
Bleachers Area 5 36°42′30″N 115°58′27″W / 36.70843°N 115.97412°W / 36.70843; -115.97412 (VIP Bleachers) Bleacher area for viewing of Frenchman Flat events.
BODF Area 4 37°04′50″N 116°05′13″W / 37.08068°N 116.08697°W / 37.08068; -116.08697 (BODF) Buried Objects Detection Facility, area to test and calibrate mine sweeping equipment against buried objects.
Gun Turret Area 2 37°08′22″N 116°06′33″W / 37.13945°N 116.10904°W / 37.13945; -116.10904 (Gun Turret) Used in calibration of Whitney, Shasta, Diablo and Smoky tests. Made of "old" steel from 1940s heavy cruiser; it was "aimed" at the shot cab to get radiation data.
Hazmat Spill Facility Area 5 36°48′05″N 115°57′03″W / 36.80138°N 115.95075°W / 36.80138; -115.95075 (Hazmat Spill Facility) Hazmat Spill Test Facility - used to test Hazmat strategies and tactics. Became the Nonproliferation Test and Evaluation Complex in 2005.
RBIFF Area 26 36°48′59″N 116°09′53″W / 36.81645°N 116.16486°W / 36.81645; -116.16486 (RBIFF) Re-entry Body Impact Fuze Flights
Ship of the Desert Area 5 36°52′29″N 115°55′46″W / 36.87486°N 115.92957°W / 36.87486; -115.92957 (Ship of the Deserte) A massive tracked structure designed to capture neutrons from the Diagional Line experiment.
Rock Valley Study Area 25 36°41′03″N 116°11′38″W / 36.68406°N 116.19397°W / 36.68406; -116.19397 (Rock Valley Study) The circles are the Rock Valley Study Area, environmental research area for studying radiation in the desert ecosystem.
Climax Mine Area 15 37°13′25″N 116°03′32″W / 37.22352°N 116.05895°W / 37.22352; -116.05895 (Climax Mine) Location of an old silver mine, recycled for three nuclear tests and the Spent Fuel Test in which spent nuclear fuel was stored in a mine drift to study the effects on the granite walls.
The Forest Area 5 36°45′33″N 115°57′05″W / 36.75907°N 115.95138°W / 36.75907; -115.95138 (The Forest) The famous forest on the desert, swept by the blasts of Encore and Grable.

Cancer and test site

I-131 Fallout Exposure in Rads

St. George, Utah received the brunt of the fallout of above-ground nuclear testing in the Yucca Flats/Nevada Test Site. Winds routinely carried the fallout of these tests directly through St. George and southern Utah. Marked increases in cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, thyroid cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, bone cancer, brain tumors, and gastrointestinal tract cancers were reported from the mid-1950s through 1980.[3][4]

On May 19, 1953, the United States government detonated the 32-kiloton (130 TJ) atomic bomb (nicknamed "Harry") at the Nevada Test Site. The bomb later gained the name "Dirty Harry" because of the tremendous amount of off-site fallout generated by the bomb.[17] Winds carried fallout 135 miles (217 km) to St. George, where residents reported "an oddly metallic sort of taste in the air."[18]

The Howard Hughes motion picture, The Conqueror, was being filmed in the area of St. George at the time of the detonation. The fallout is often blamed for the unusually high percentage of cancer deaths among the cast and crew.

A 1962 United States Atomic Energy Commission report found that "children living in St. George, Utah may have received doses to the thyroid of radioiodine as high as 120 to 440 rads" (1.2 to 4.4 Gy).[19] A 1979 study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that:

A significant excess of leukemia deaths occurred in children up to 14 years of age living in Utah between 1959 and 1967. This excess was concentrated in the cohort of children born between 1951 and 1958, and was most pronounced in those residing in counties receiving high fallout.[20]

In 1982, a lawsuit brought by nearly 1,200 people accused the government of negligence in atomic and/or nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site in the 1950s, which they said had caused leukemia and other cancers. Dr. Karl Z. Morgan, Director of Health Physics at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, testified that radiation protection measures in the tests were substandard to what was becoming known of best practices at the time.[21]

In a report by the National Cancer Institute, released in 1997, it was determined that ninety atmospheric tests at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) deposited high levels of radioactive iodine-131 (5.5 exabecquerels) across a large portion of the contiguous United States, especially in the years 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1957—doses large enough, they determined, to produce 10,000 to 75,000 cases of thyroid cancer. The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990 allowed for people living downwind of NTS for at least two years in particular Nevada, Arizona, or Utah counties, between 21 January 1951 and 31 October 1958, or 30 June and 31 July 1962, and suffering from certain cancers or other serious illnesses deemed to have been caused by fallout exposure to receive compensation of $50,000. By January 2006, over 10,500 claims had been approved, and around 3,000 denied, for a total amount of over $525 million in compensation dispensed to "downwinders".[22] Additionally, the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000 provides compensation and medical benefits for nuclear weapons workers who may have developed certain work-related illnesses.[23]

Uranium miners, mill workers, and ore transporters are also eligible for $100,000 compassionate payment under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program, while $75,000 is the fixed payment amount for workers who were participants in the above-ground nuclear weapons tests.

Nuclear test series carried out at the Nevada Test Site


Nuclear explosions in various areas of NTS[24]

The Test Site is broken down into areas. Some of the areas and their uses include the following:

Area 1

Area 1 held 8 nuclear tests for a total of 9 detonations.[6] Four early atmospheric tests were conducted above Area 1 in the early 1950s, as well as three underground tests in 1971 and 1990. In 1955, a Civil Defense experiment (called Operation Cue in the press) studied nuclear blast effects on various building types; a few structures still stand.

Heavy drilling equipment and concrete construction facilities are sited in Area 1. Non-destructive X-ray, gamma ray, and subcritical detonation tests continue to be conducted in Area 1.

The radioactivity present on the ground in Area 1 provides a radiologically-contaminated environment for the training of first responders.[25]

Area 2

Area 2 is a division of the Nevada Test Site in the Mojave Desert. The area is located 18 miles south-west of Area 51.

Area 2 was the site of 144 tests comprising 169 detonations.[6] Shot "Gabbs", intended for 1993, was abandoned in place.[26]

Area 3

Area 3 held 266 nuclear tests for a total of 288 detonations, more than in any other area of the NTS.[6]

As part of Operation Tinderbox, on 24 June 1980, a small satellite prototype (DSCS III) was subjected to radioactivity from the "Huron King" shot in a vertical line-of-sight (VLOS) test undertaken in Area 3. This was a program to improve the database on nuclear hardening design techniques for defense satellites.

The final nuclear test detonation at Nevada Test Site was Operation Julin's "Divider" on 23 September 1992, just prior to the moratorium temporarily ending all nuclear testing. Divider was a safety experiment test shot that was detonated at the bottom of a shaft sunk into Area 3.

In 1995 and 1997, plutonium-contaminated soil from "Double Tracks" and "Clean Slate 1" of Operation Roller Coaster (1963) was picked up from the Tonopah Test Range and brought to the Area 3 Radioactive Waste Management Site as a first step in eventually returning Tonopah Test Range to an environmentally neutral state. Corrective action regarding the contaminated material from the "Clean Slate 2" and "Clean Slate 3" tests has yet to be agreed upon.[27]

Area 4

Big Explosives Experimental Facility (BEEF) in Area 4

Area 4 held 40 nuclear tests for a total of 44 detonations.[6]

It is home to the Big Explosives Experimental Facility (BEEF).[26]

Area 5

Area 5 held 19 nuclear tests.[6] Five atmospheric tests were detonated, starting on 27 January 1951 at Area 5 as part of Operation Ranger. These were the first nuclear tests at NTS. Further tower detonations were studied at Area 5, and the Grable shot which was fired from a M65 Atomic Cannon located in Area 11 exploded in Area 5. The Priscilla test was conducted at Area 5 on 24 June 1957.

Five underground tests were set up at Area 5; four of those suffered accidental release of radioactive materials. On 16 March 1968, physicist Glenn T. Seaborg toured the upcoming Milk Shake shot of Operation Crosstie.[28] Milk Shake's radioactive release was not detected outside of NTS boundaries.

Area 6

Device Assembly Facility in Area 6

Control Point in Area 6

Area 6 held 4 nuclear tests for a total of 6 detonations.[6] The only two towns to be established within the boundaries of NTS prior to 1947, BJ Wye and Mule Lick, are located in Yucca Flats, in Area 6.

The Device Assembly Facility (DAF)[26] was originally built to consolidate nuclear explosives assembly operations. It now serves as the Criticality Experiments Facility (CEF).

The Control Point[26] is the communication hub of the NTS. It was used by controllers to trigger and monitor nuclear test explosions.

Area 7

Area 7 held 92 nuclear tests.[6]

During Operation Buster, four successful tests were conducted via airdrop, with bomber aircraft releasing nuclear weapons over Area 7.

It is also the site of Matthew Reilly's book called Area 7.

Shot "Icecap" planned for 1993 was abandoned in Area 7 following 1992's testing moratorium. The tower, shaft and wiring remain in place, along with a crane intended to lower the nuclear test package into the shaft.[29]

Area 8

Radioactive materials were accidentally released from the 1970 Baneberry shot in Area 8.

Area 8 held 13 nuclear tests for a total of 15 detonations.[6]

Area 8 hosted the "Baneberry" shot of Operation Emery on 18 December 1970. The Baneberry 10 kt (42 TJ) test detonated 900 feet (270 m) below the surface but its energy cracked the soil in unexpected ways, causing a fissure near ground zero and the failure of the shaft stemming and cap.[30] A plume of fire and dust was released, raining fallout on workers in different locations within NTS. The radioactive plume released 6.7 megacuries (250 PBq) of radioactive material, including 80 kCi (3.0 PBq) of 131I.[31]

Area 9

Area 9 held 115 nuclear tests for a total of 133 detonations.[6]

In Area 9, the 74 kt (310 TJ) "Hood" test on 5 July 1957, part of Operation Plumbbob, was the largest atmospheric test ever conducted within the continental United States; nearly five times larger in yield than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. A balloon carried Hood up to 460 meters above the ground where it was detonated. Over 2,000 troops took part in the test in order to train them in conducting operations on the nuclear battlefield. 11 megacuries (410 PBq) of iodine-131 (131I) were released into the air.[31]

Area 10

Area 10 held 57 nuclear tests for a total of 71 detonations.[6]

The first underground test at NTS was the "Uncle" shot of Operation Jangle. Uncle detonated on 29 November 1951 within a shaft sunk into Area 10.

The "John" shot of Plumbbob, on 19 July 1957, was the first test firing of the nuclear-tipped AIR-2 Genie air-to-air rocket designed to destroy incoming enemy bombers with a nuclear explosion. The 2 kt (8.4 TJ) warhead exploded approximately three miles above five volunteers and a photographer who stood unprotected at "ground zero" in Area 10 to show the apparent safety of battlefield nuclear weapons to personnel on the ground.[32] The test also demonstrated the ability of a fighter aircraft to deliver a nuclear-tipped rocket and avoid being destroyed in the process. A Northrop F-89J fired the rocket.

The "Sedan" test of Operation Storax on 6 July 1962, a 104 kt (440 TJ) shot for the Operation Plowshare which sought to discover whether nuclear weapons could be used for peaceful means in creating lakes, bays or canals. The explosion displaced twelve million tons of earth, creating the Sedan crater which is 1,280 feet (390 m) wide and 320 feet (100 m) deep.

Area 11

Area 11 held 9 nuclear tests.[6] Four of the tests were weapons safety experiments conducted as Project 56; they spread so much harmful radioactive material around the test sites that Area 11 has been called "Plutonium Valley". As is the case with Area 1, background radiation levels make Area 11 suitable for realistic training in methods of radiation detection.[27]

Area 12

Area 12 held 61 nuclear tests between 1957 and 1992, one of which involved two detonations. All tests were conducted below Rainier and Aqueduct mesas.

Area 12 was the primary location for tunnel tests and used almost exclusively for that purpose. The tunnel complexes mined into Rainier and Aqueduct Mesa include the B-, C-, D-, E-, F-, G-, I-, J-, K-, N-, P-, and T-Tunnel complexes, and the R- and S- shafts.

Area 13

There is no Area 13 within NNSS, though such a name is attached to a section of Nellis Air Force Range which abuts the northeastern corner of Area 15.[33] Project 57's weapons safety test was conducted here on 24 April 1957, spreading particles emitting alpha radiation over a large area.[34]

Area 14

Area 14 occupies approximately 26 square miles (67 km2) in the central portion of the NNSS. Various outdoor experiments are conducted in this area.[35] No atmospheric or underground nuclear tests were conducted in Area 14.[6]

Area 15

EPA Farm in Area 15

Three underground detonations took place in area 15 in the 1960s.[6]

Pile Driver was a notable Department of Defense test. A massive underground installation was built to study the survivability of hardened underground bunkers undergoing a nuclear attack. Information from the test was used in designing hardened missile silos and the North American Aerospace Defense Command facility in Colorado Springs.[26]

The abandoned Crystal and Climax mines are found in Area 15. Storage tanks hold contaminated materials.[26]

From 1964 to 1981, the Environmental Protection Agency operated a 36-acre (150,000 m2) experimental farm in Area 15. Extensive plant and soil studies evaluated the uptake of pollutants in farm-grown vegetables and from the forage eaten by a dairy herd of some 30 Holstein cows. Scientists also studied horses, pigs, goats, and chickens.[26]

Area 16

Area 16 held 6 nuclear tests.[6]

Area 17

No nuclear tests took place in Area 17.[6]

Area 18

Area 18 held 5 nuclear tests.[6] and includes the Pahute Mesa Airstrip.[24]

Area 19

Pahute Mesa is one of four major nuclear test regions within the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). It occupies 243 square miles (630 km2) in the northwest corner of the NNSS. The eastern section is known as Area 19 and the western section as Area 20.

A total of 85 nuclear tests were conducted in Pahute Mesa between 1965 and 1992. Three of them—Boxcar, Benham and Handley—had a yield of over one megaton. Three tests were conducted as part of Operation Plowshare and one as part of Vela Uniform.

Area 20

Area 22

No nuclear tests took place in Area 22.[6] Area 22 once held Camp Desert Rock, a staging base for troops undergoing atmospheric nuclear blast training; as many as 9,000 troops were camped there in 1955. Desert Rock Airport's runway was enlarged to a 7,500 ft (2,300 m) length in 1969 by the Atomic Energy Commission. It is a transport hub for personnel and supplies going to NNSS and also serves as an emergency landing strip.

Area 23

No nuclear tests took place in Area 23.[6] The town of Mercury, Nevada lies within Area 23. The area is the main pathway to and from NNSS test locations by way of U.S. Route 95. An open sanitary landfill is located to the west of Mercury, and a closed hazardous waste site abuts the landfill. Mercury is also the main management area for the site which includes a bar and large cafeteria, printing plant, medical center, warehousing, fleet management, liquidation and recycling center, engineering offices, dormitories, and other administrative areas for both the O&M contractors, LLNL, LANL, and SNL personnel. At its height in the 1950s and '60s it also held several restaurants, a bowling alley, a movie theater, and a motel.

Area 25

Area 26

No nuclear tests took place in Area 26.[6] Area 26 is the most arid section of NNSS. An old abandoned mine, the Horn Silver Mine, was used for waste disposal between 1959 and the 1970s; some of the waste is radioactive. Water flow past the shaft could pose a human health risk, so corrective action has been planned.[36]

An eight square miles complex was constructed in Area 26 in support of Project Pluto.[35] It consisted of six miles of roads, the critical assembly building, the control building, the assembly and shop buildings, and utilities.[37] Those buildings have been used recently as mock reactor facilities in the training of first responders.

Area 27

Area 28

Area 28 no longer exists; it was absorbed into Areas 25 and 27.[26]

Area 29

No nuclear tests took place in Area 29.[6] The rugged terrain of Area 29 serves as a buffer between other areas of NNSS. A helipad is present at Shoshone Peak.

Area 30

The Crosstie Buggy test.

Area 30 occupies approximately 59 square miles (150 km2) at the center of the western edge of the NNSS. Area 30 has rugged terrain and includes the northern reaches of Fortymile Canyon. It is used primarily for military training and exercises.[35]

Area 30 was the site of a single nuclear test, the Crosstie Buggy row charge experiment, part of Operation Plowshare, which involved 5 simultaneous detonations.[6]

See also


  1. "Nevada nuclear bomb site given new name". August 23, 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office (January 2011). "Miss Atom Bomb". Fact Sheets. Retrieved 2011-12-02. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Johnson, Carl (1984). "Cancer Incidence in an Area of Radioactive Fallout Downwind From the Nevada Test Site". p. 230. Digital object identifier:10.1001/jama.1984.03340260034023. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Falk, Jim (1982). Gobal Fission:The Battle Over Nuclear Power, p. 134.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Western Shoshone spiritual leader dies
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 6.14 6.15 6.16 6.17 6.18 6.19 6.20 6.21 U.S. Department of Energy / Nevada Operations Office, United States Nuclear Tests - July 1945 through September 1992, December 2000, DOE/NV-209 Rev 15
  7. One multiple test took place in Colorado; the other 62 were at NTS
  8. "Pentagon to Test a Huge Conventional Bomb". The Washington Post. 31 March 2006. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Ralph Vartabedian. Nuclear scars: Tainted water runs beneath Nevada desert Los Angeles Times, 13 November 2009.
  10. Robert Lindsey. 438 Protesters are Arrested at Nevada Nuclear Test Site New York Times, February 6, 1987.
  11. Biggest Demonstration Yet at Test Site
  12. Political protest and cultural revolution By Barbara Epstein p. 165.
  13. U.S. DOE/NNSA - Nevada Site Office, Nevada Test Site Tours
  14. National Security Technologies "About" Page
  15. Counter Terrorism Operations Support - WMD Incident Site
  16. "Nevada Test Site Guide". National Nuclear Security Administration. 2005. Retrieved 2013-12-25. 
  17. Meeting Dirty Harry in 1953. Chester McQueary,
  18. "Chapter 3: Bringing the Bombs Home, "KILLING OUR OWN"". Retrieved 2011-01-02. 
  19. Pat Ortmeyer and Arjun Makhijani. "Let Them Drink Milk," The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, November/December 1997, via IEER. Retrieved October 31, 2007.
  20. Gerald H. Clarfield and William M. Wiecek (1984). Nuclear America: Military and Civilian Nuclear Power in the United States 1940-1980, Harper & Row, New York, p. 215.
  21. Karl Z. Morgan, 91, Founder of the Field Of Health Physics, Dies in Tennessee
  22. Radiation Exposure Compensation System: Claims to Date Summary of Claims Received by 06/11/2009
  23. Office of Compensation Analysis and Support. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
  24. 24.0 24.1 United States Geologic Survey. Nevada Test Site. Geologic Surface Effects of Underground Nuclear Testing. Accessed on 18 April 2009.
  25. First Responder Training. US Department of Energy. Nevada Operations Office. National Security. Homeland Security
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 26.4 26.5 26.6 26.7 Nevada Test Site Guide, National Nuclear Security Administration, DOE/NV-715
  27. 27.0 27.1 National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office (April 2010). "Plutonium Dispersal Tests at the Nevada Test Site". Fact Sheets. Retrieved 2011-12-02. 
  28. History. Nuke tests. Nevada Test Site Images (cdrom 3; PDF file)
  29. National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office (January 2011). "Icecap". Fact Sheets. Retrieved 2011-12-02. 
  30. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. News Archive. Tarabay H. Antoun. Three Dimensional Simulation of the Baneberry Nuclear Event
  31. 31.0 31.1 National Cancer Institute. National Institute of Health. History of the Nevada Test Site and Nuclear Testing Background
  32. California Literary Review. Peter Kuran. Images from How To Photograph an Atomic Bomb. (22 October 2007)
  33. Nevada Division of Environmental Protection. Bureau of Federal Facilities. Federal Facility Agreement & Consent Order. FFACO Description of Facilities
  34. "Operation PLUMBBOB. Summary Report, Test Group 57, Nevada Test Site". DEFENSE NUCLEAR AGENCY. 1958-10-10. Retrieved 2010-12-18. 
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office, Draft Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement Nevada, ch.2, July 2011, DOE/EIS-246-D
  36. DOE Scientific and Technical Information. Corrective Action Investigation Plan for Corrective Action Unit 527: Horn Silver Mine, Nevada Test Site, Nevada: Revision 1 (Including Records of Technical Change No.1, 2, 3, and 4) (6 December 2002) doi:10.2172/818649
  37. National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office (April 2010). "Project Pluto". Fact Sheets. Retrieved 2011-12-02. 

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