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The Nevada Test Site (NTS) is a United States Department of Energy reservation located in southeastern Nye Countymarker, Nevadamarker, about northwest of the city of Las Vegasmarker. Formerly known as the Nevada Proving Ground, the site, established on January 11, 1951, for the testing of nuclear devices, is composed of approximately of desert and mountainous terrain. Nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site began with a one-kiloton (4 terajoule) bomb dropped on Frenchman Flat on January 27, 1951. Many of the iconic images of the nuclear era come from NTS.

Quick facts

The Nevada Test Site has:
  • 28 Areas
  • 1,100 buildings
  • 400 miles (643 km) paved roads
  • 300 miles (482 km) unpaved roads
  • 10 heliports
  • 2 airstrips



Between 1951 and 1992, there were a total of 928 announced nuclear tests at Nevada Test Site. Of those, 828 were underground. (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.) The site is covered with subsidence craters from the testing. The Nevada Test Site was the primary testing location of American nuclear devices; 126 tests were conducted elsewhere (many at the Pacific Proving Grounds in the Marshall Islandsmarker).

During the 1950s, the mushroom cloud from these tests could be seen for almost in either direction, including the city of Las Vegasmarker, where the tests became tourist attractions. Americans headed for Las Vegas to witness the distant mushroom clouds that could be seen from the downtown hotels.

On July 17, 1962, the test shot "Little Feller I" of Operation Sunbeam became the last atmospheric test detonation at the Nevada Test Site. Underground testing of weapons continued until September 23, 1992, and although the United States did not ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the articles of the treaty are nevertheless honored and further tests have not occurred. Subcritical testing, tests not involving the full creation of a critical mass, continue.

Plaque at the viewing platform at Sedan
One notable test shot was the "Sedanmarker" shot of Operation Storax on July 6, 1962, a 104 kiloton 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 cratermarker 1,280 feet (390 m) wide and 320 feet (100 m) deep that can still be seen today. While most of the larger tests were conducted elsewhere, NTS was home to tests in the 500 kiloton to 1 megaton (2 to 4 petajoule) range, which caused noticeable seismic effects in Las Vegas.


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. However, after objection from Nevada and Utah members of Congress, the operation was postponed until 2007. On February 22, 2007 the Defense Threat Reduction Agencymarker (DTRA) officially canceled the experiment.

Destruction and Survivability testing

Typical Survivability Structure
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 NATOmarker 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.

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 underground 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 above the water table.

When testing ended in 1992, the Energy Department estimated that more than 300 million curies of radiation remained, making the site one of the most radioactively contaminated places in the United States. In the worst affected zones, radioactivity in the tainted water reaches millions of picocuries per liter. (The federal standard for drinking water is 20 picocuries per liter.) Although radiation levels in the water have declined over time, the longer-lived isotopes will continue to pose risks for tens of thousands of years.

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.

Protests and demonstrations

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.

American Peace Test (APT) and Nevada Desert Experience (NDE) held most of these. 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 Mountainmarker, northwest of Las Vegas.

NTS today

The test site offers quarterly public tours, often fully booked months in advance. Visitors are not allowed to bring in cameras, binoculars, cell phones, or pick up rocks for souvenirs.

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 of no greater than 20 years. Bechtel ran this complex until 2006. Several other companies won the latest bid for the contract. They then combined (formed) a new company called National Security Technologies. The new company has AECOM as part of the team. AECOM, known earlier as Holmes and Narver, held the Nevada Test Site contract for many years before Bechtel had it.

Located at the ground zero for the Operation Teapot nuclear test is the Transportation Incident Exercise Site, which replicates multiple terrorist radiological incidents with train, plane, automobile, truck, and helicopter props.

Landmarks and geography

The town of Mercury, Nevadamarker, is located on the grounds of the NTS, and at one time housed contingents from Los Alamos National Laboratorymarker, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratorymarker, and Sandia National Laboratoriesmarker. Area 51marker is north of NTS and the proposed high-level nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountainmarker is at the southwest corner. The BREN Towermarker, a -high tower is located in the NTS at Jackass Flats.

Cancer and test site

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.

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 1950's, which they said had caused leukemia and other cancers. Dr. Karl Z. Morgan testified that radiation protection measures in the tests were substandard.

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 January 21, 1951 – October 31, 1958 or June 30, 1962 – July 31, 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". 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.

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

Area 10

Location of the Sedan Cratermarker.

Area 12

As of 2008, Area 12 was being used by the Office of Secure Transportation as a secure training facility.


Image:Wfm area51 map en.png|Map showing the NTS and other federal territories in southern NevadaImage:House 1953 Nevada Nuclear Test 5 psi.jpg|Frame House destroyed by nuclear blast on March 17, 1953, Annie shot of Operation Upshot- Knothole, 16 kilotons. Overpressure at house location 5 psi.Image:US fallout exposure.png|Per capita thyroid doses in the continental United States of Iodine-131 resulting from all exposure routes from all atmospheric nuclear tests conducted at the Nevada Test SiteImage:Nevada Test Site craters.jpg|The Yucca Flat area of the Nevada Test Site is scarred with subsidence craters from underground nuclear testingImage:NVDOE-UndergroundTesting.jpg|Preparing for an underground test. The emplacement tower lowers the nuclear device into the drilled shaft; the cables run to instruments that record information from the experimentImage:Operation Plumbbob - Hood 2.jpg|Detonated on July 5, 1957, the "Hood" event of Operation Plumbbob was the largest atmospheric nuclear test to occur on the continent, with a yield of 74 kilotons. It was later revealed by the AEC, that Hood was in fact a thermonuclear test, not a fission device as had been originally stated.Image:Operation Plumbbob - Hood 3.jpg|Hood's radioactive cloud tops off at nearly 49,000 feet above Yucca flats, as seen from 14 miles away. The detonation sent an above normal thermal pulse across the desert, igniting bushes and other growth up to 3 miles away on nearby foothills, as seen to the right of the dust cloud on the desert floor.Image:Operation Plumbbob - Whitney.jpg|Shot "Whitney" 19 kilotons, the 21st full scale nuclear test of Operation Plumbbob 1957. The fireball can be seen glowing at the top due to the ionization and cooling of radioactive isotopes at high altitude.Image:Operation Plumbbob - Priscilla 2.jpg|Shot "Priscilla" 37 kilotons. The 5th detonation and 3rd largest test of the Plumbbob series. Over 700 pigs where incorperated in various nuclear effects studies during the test. The blast was felt strongly and heard as a sharp bang at the control point 14 miles away, shattering windows and blowing swinging door from hinges.Image:Operation Teapot - Unidentified.jpg|Fireball from the MET tower shot of Operation Teapot, 22 kilotons.File:Operation Teapot - Wasp.jpg|Operation Teapot - WaspFile:Operation Teapot - Wasp 2.jpg|Another view of the Wasp shotFile:Operation Teapot - Moth.jpg|Operation Teapot - MothFile:Teapot Tesla.jpg| Operation Teapot - Tesla.jpgFile:Operation Teapot - Telsa.jpg|Another view of the Telsa shotFile:Operation Teapot - Turk.jpg|Operation Teapot - TurkFile:Operation Teapot - Bee.jpg|Operation Teapot - BeeFile:Operation Teapot - Ess.jpg|Operation Teapot - EssFile:Operation Teapot - Ess 2.jpg|Another view of the Ess shotFile:Operation Teapot - Wasp Prime.jpg|Operation Teapot - Wasp PrimeFile:Operation Teapot - HA.jpg|Operation Teapot - HAFile:Operation TEAPOT.jpg|Teapot MET (Military Effects Test), 22 kilotonsFile:Operation Teapot - MET (Military Effects Test).jpg|Another view of the MET shot.File:Operation Teapot - Apple-2.jpg|Operation Teapot - Apple-2File:Operation Teapot - Zucchini.jpg|The 28 kiloton May 15, 1955 nuclear detonation at Nevada Test Site, final test of the Operation Teapot series. Code named Zucchini.File:Operation Teapot - Desert Rock VI.jpg|Operation Tumbler-Snapper, shot Dog, 19 kilotons, May 25, 1952.File:Operation Teapot - Tower.jpg|One of the 500 foot towers being usedFile:Operation Teapot - Tower remains.jpg|The remains of the tower after the explosion of the Bee device

See also


  1. United States Nuclear Tests; July 1945 through September 1992, DOE/NV--209-REV 15 December 2000, p. xv.[1]
  2. One multiple test took place in Colorado; the other 62 were at NTS.[2]
  3. Pentagon to Test a Huge Conventional Bomb
  4. Ralph Vartabedian. Nuclear scars: Tainted water runs beneath Nevada desert Los Angeles Times, November 13, 2009.
  5. Western Shoshone spiritual leader dies
  6. Political protest and cultural revolution By Barbara Epstein p. 165.
  7. U.S. DOE/NNSA - Nevada Site Office, Nevada Test Site Tours
  8. 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.
  9. Karl Z. Morgan, 91, Founder of the Field Of Health Physics, Dies in Tennessee
  10. Radiation Exposure Compensation System: Claims to Date Summary of Claims Received by 06/11/2009
  11. Office of Compensation Analysis and Support. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
  12. United States Geologic Survey. Nevada Test Site. Geologic Surface Effects of Underground Nuclear Testing. Accessed on April 18, 2009.

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