Nevada Test Site

Nevada Test Site

Wikimedia CommonsMilitary personnel watch a 1951 detonation at the Nevada Test Site.

In December 1950 President Truman established the Nye County, Nevada site for the sole purpose of conducting nuclear testing. The government ultimately tested 928 nuclear bombs there, mostly underground — although some reported seeing mushroom clouds from above-ground tests up to 100 miles away.

Site authorities nicknamed one particularly devastating bomb “Dirty Harry” due to the tremendous amount of fallout that resulted from its detonation. Residents reported that the explosion turned the sky “a beautiful red” and left an “oddly metallic sort of taste in the air.” Another explosion, named “Sedan,” created a 1,280-foot wide, 330-foot deep crater and contaminated more U.S. residents than any other test in history.

Sedan Crater

Wikimedia CommonsThe Sedan crater.

Despite the fact that southern Utah reported increases in cancer into the 1980s, the site continued to test nuclear bombs until 1992. This extended testing prompted more than 500 anti-nuclear weapons protests to take place at the Nevada Test Site, some of which included some high-profile celebrities. Indeed, police arrested celebrities such as Martin Sheen and Carl Sagan during these demonstrations.

While the site is now open for tourists, some secrecy still remains. For instance, visitors cannot bring their cameras or cell phones — perhaps because people still conduct tests there. As recently as December 2012, scientists conducted an explosion to test the properties of plutonium.

Elisabeth Sherman
Elisabeth Sherman is a writer living in Jersey City, New Jersey.
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