Location: 65 miles North of Las Vegas, just East of I-95 in the Mojave Desert.
The Official Story: Reacting to high costs to test weapons of mass destruction in the Pacific, President Truman established this Rhode Island-sized test site in 1950. Between 1951 and 1962, 126 weapons tests were conducted.
The Terrible Truth: Routinely, large atomic clouds from the Nevada Test Site blew over nearby communities. For the residents of these towns – now known as “downwinders” – the tests left a legacy of disease, sterility, and death. During the Operation Upshot-Knothole tests held in the spring and early summer of 1953, about 17,000 military personnel took part in a total of 11 nuclear test detonations. Thousands were stationed in trenches within two miles of ground zero, and were ordered to move toward the blast center within an hour of the blast. Soldiers were even ordered to charge ground zero immediately after detonation.
Fun With Atoms: A four-lane road was built to foster tourism at the site, which is also home to Area 51.
While You’re There: You can take a walk through “Survival Town”, realistic sets constructed by the Atomic Energy Commission to measure effects of atomic weapons on animals and various types of buildings. Tours are given quarterly, the next one is May 21, 2003. The site is currently operated by Bechtel Nevada. A Nevada Test Site museum is scheduled to open in Las Vegas in October. Part of the funding for the $12 million project was to come from special Nevada license plates featuring a mushroom cloud. The state cancelled plans for the plate last year.
Quote: “As far as we knew, why, it was really going to help us out, it was really something that our government was doing and it would be for our own good.” – ‘Downwinder’ Rose Mackelprang, from the 1982 book “Killing Our Own”