The Nevada Test Site (NTS) is a place that witnessed some of the most dramatic and influential events in America’s nuclear history. From 1951 to 1992, the NTS was the primary testing location of American nuclear devices, where 928 announced nuclear tests occurred. But the NTS was more than just a place to make things go boom. It was a living laboratory where scientists learned not only about the awesome power of the atom, but also its potential to benefit humanity.
The NTS was established in 1950 as a place to test nuclear weapons in the continental United States, after the Pacific Proving Grounds became too remote and costly. The site, located 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was originally intended for quick experiments with small-scale nuclear bombs, but later expanded to include large-scale atmospheric and underground tests. The tests served various purposes, such as developing new weapons, studying the effects of nuclear fallout, and exploring peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
The NTS was divided into several areas, each with different purposes and features. Some of the most notable areas were Area 51, which was used for testing spy planes and other secret projects; Area 5, which was used for studying the effects of nuclear fallout on animals and plants; and Area 12, which was the site of the largest underground test, codenamed Cannikin, which had a yield of 5 megatons and created a crater 1,280 feet wide and 320 feet deep.
The NTS was also a source of controversy and protest, as many people were concerned about the environmental and health impacts of the tests, as well as the ethical and political implications of nuclear weapons. Several groups and individuals, such as Native Americans, downwinders, anti-nuclear activists, and whistleblowers, challenged the NTS and its activities in various ways. Some of the most famous protests were the Women’s Peace Camp in 1983, the American Peace Test in 1986, and the Nevada Desert Experience in 1987.
The NTS is not a relic of the past, but a vital part of our nation’s security and energy future. The site is now called the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) and is used for other activities, such as training, restoration, and waste management. The NNSS is also a place of paradox. It is a place of destruction and creation, of fear and hope, of secrecy and publicity, of war and peace. As one of the articles states, “The Nevada Test Site is a unique historical and cultural landscape that tells the story of America’s nuclear age, from its origins in the Cold War to its consequences in the present and future.”
– Nevada Test Site – Nuclear Museum, National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
– Nuclear Testing in Nevada: 11 Things (2023) You Need to Know, MSN, January 16, 2023
– Nevada National Security Site: A History of America’s Nuclear Weapons Testing Program, The National Interest, January 19, 2023
– How the Nevada Test Site Shaped the Cold War and Beyond, Smithsonian Magazine, January 20, 2023