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Nevada Nuclear Test Site

Located only 65 miles north of Las Vegas, the Nevada Test Site is a 1,375 square-mile area used by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as an “outdoor laboratory” to conduct top-secret nuclear experiments. The actual fenced-off area is larger than the state of Rhode Island, and is surrounded by 5,470 square miles of unpopulated land designated as a protected wildlife refuge, giving the Nevada Test Site absolute privacy in all of its activities. This area is owned and operated by the DOE.

Testing began at the site in 1950, with experimentation of nuclear weaponry. This left the landscaped littered with massive impact craters. Over the next four decades, new designs were planned, existing weapons were updated, and other tests were conducted to research the effects of nuclear explosions upon the physical environment and man-made constructions, such as buildings and cars. Testing was first conducted above ground, but soon moved underground for added security and concealment.

The conclusion of the Cold War brought an end to full-scale nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site, and experimentation was completely abandoned in September 1992. During the course of its existence, the site was subjected to a staggering 1,054 tests, including several explosions far more powerful than the ones that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since the end of nuclear testing, the site has continued to be used as a testing ground for other homeland security experiments. Although tours of the Nevada Test Site are given on a monthly basis, most of the area is still closed to the public due to health hazards and government concealment.

Although health risks were mostly contained to on-site casualties during the site’s operation as a nuclear proving ground, the government has admitted to numerous “containment failures” that resulted in the accidental, yet potentially dangerous, release of hazardous radioactive material. One of the more severe breaches of containment occurred in 1970, when a cloud of radioactive dust rose over 3 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. In the 1950s, early ground testing caused disastrous health effects among “Down Winders” northeast of the site in Nevada and Utah, ranging from incidental radioactive burning to latent cancer-inducing conditions. Although the testing was moved underground for the remainder of the site’s history, these “containment failures” raise significant doubts concerning the declared safety of nuclear testing in the area.

Selected Bibliography

“History of the Nevada Test Site.” Shundahai Network. 19 October 2004. Weblink.

“DOE - Nevada Test Site.” U.S. Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration. Weblink.

“Nevada Test Site Summary.” U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management. 3 April 1997. Weblink.

“United States Nuclear Tests: July 1945 through September 1992.” U.S. Department of Energy, Nevada Operations Office. December 2000. Weblink.

Nevada Nuclear Test Site Pictures in the Gallery