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"Forget the Rest" blog

Nevada National Security Site
Accessed: 28 Apr 2015

Photo of NTS

Following the Trinity test and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, military officials still knew very little about the effects, especially on naval targets, of nuclear weapons. Accordingly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff requested and received Presidential approval to conduct a test series during the summer of 1946. The test series, named Crossroads, was conducted at Bikini atoll in the Marshall Islands, which was far from population centers in the middle of the Pacific. Pacific testing offered ample protected anchorage for both a target fleet and support ships, but as a test site, it held two drawbacks: the distance from the continental United States made extraordinary logistical demands; and the humid climate created numerous problems for sophisticated electronic and photographic equipment.

The Nevada National Security Site story begins in 1948 after the atomic test series Operation Sandstone in the Enewetak atoll. Although Sandstone was successful, logistics, weather, security and safety concerns during the operation illustrated the need for a continental test site. The logistical problems associated with transporting, supplying and housing a nuclear testing task force in the middle of the Pacific were self-evident. Combined with the communist insurgency in Korea, the need for a continental test site had become urgent. As a result, the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project conducted a top secret feasibility study, named Nutmeg, to search for a continental test site. The study concluded that the arid-Southwest section of the United States was an ideal location.

During the initial study in 1948, several site were surveyed and considered for the establishment of an atomic testing ground, including: Alamogordo-White Sands, New Mexico; Dugway Proving Ground, Utah; Las Vegas Bombing and Gunnery Range, Nevada; Central Nevada and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. A subsequent study concluded that two general areas in Nevada, designated as the north site and the south site, met the criteria for a proving ground. In 1950, a more complete survey of the south site, amid the Las Vegas Bombing and Gunnery Range, was conducted and resulted in test officials’ endorsements. In December, the United States Air Force, landlord of the site, approved the plan to allow the Atomic Energy Commission to use the range for a proposed series of continental tests, code named Ranger. On December 18, President Harry Truman approved the choice. Following the Ranger series, the Atomic Energy Commission swiftly moved to turn the Nevada National Security Site into a permanent proving ground for nuclear weapons.

(A total of 928 nuclear tests (100 atmospheric, 828 underground) were conducted at the Nevada Test Site.)

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