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2018 - Trip Report - Nevada National Security Site

Desert Explorers Go Nuclear!

Nevada National Security Site Tour

by Bob Jaussaud

Last January 30, four Desert Explorers were lucky enough to be included in a group visiting the Nevada Test Site (NTS), currently known as the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), America’s nuclear proving ground. Several times a year, the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas hosts a tour to the site. These tours are filled almost as soon as they are announced and each person on a tour is security checked. People had come from as far away as Michigan and Florida just to be on our tour. 

Unfortunately, you won’t see any personal pictures of this trip, as cameras (including those on cell phones) are strictly forbidden.

The NTS is a 1350 square mile restricted area in Southern Nevada and was the location for nuclear weapons testing for the United States and the United Kingdom. It was established in 1950 by President Truman. Close to 1100 nuclear tests were preformed there until the Limited Test Ban Treaty took effect in 1962. The site has been used recently as a nuclear waste repository but, because of the North Korean threat, President Trump has instructed the NTS to be ready for a new nuclear test within 6 months of notification.

Our group, including Mignon Slentz, Ron Lipari and the Jaussauds arrived at the Atomic Testing Museum at 7 a.m., still sleepy but very excited. After a check of IDs, we were issued a security pass and allowed to board the bus to Mercury, the NTS townsite. Mercury at one time included a large  cafeteria (still in operation),  a steak house,  a movie theater, a 6 lane bowling alley, a liquor store and a Nye County Sheriff substation. The town is owned by the federal government and managed by the Department of Energy.

From Mercury, we were taken to Frenchman Flat, where the first tests took place. The Priscilla Test was a 37 kiloton bomb suspended from a balloon and detonated 700 feet above ground. A man- made forest of pine trees, buildings of numerous different construction techniques and even pigs dressed in various garments were in line with the blast as part of the test. Pigs were used because their skin is similar to humans. Railroad bridges constructed 

for the test were made of massive I-beams which had been contorted as if they were butter. Even bank vaults were constructed for the test. I should note here that it is my hope and understanding that the pigs were far enough away and dressed well enough that they survived with only emotional damage from being forced to wear clothes.

Tests at Yucca Lake included completely furnished homes constructed to test the effects of the blast from the 1955 Apple II nuclear bomb test. We were taken to the foreboding remains of one of the homes.

Sedan Crater is at the northeast end of the NTS and is very close to the infamous Area 51. Sedan Crater is the result of a shallow blast to test the feasibility of using nuclear bombs for peacetime excavation. It was part of the Plowshare Program.

The most interesting site, in my opinion, was Icecap. This is an underground test that was scheduled for the spring of 1993. Because of the 1992 moratorium on testing, Icecap remains intact. We were able to enter the massive 210 foot, 12 story tower that was needed to lower the bomb into its hole. On the 4th floor, we were able to see the rack that held the bomb that was to be lowered 1200 feet into the earth. This was a massive operation. The rack is 160 feet tall and has an 8 foot diameter. The 1200 foot deep hole it was to be lowered into was required to be drilled perfectly straight so the rack would not get stuck or twisted. There were 245 large cables attached to the canister and dressed out on the desert floor ready to be lowered, with the rack. 

Before returning to Mercury, we were taken to a radioactive waste management site. This is the current use for a portion of the NTS. We were extremely lucky to see a transport coffin being opened so its contents could be buried.

We were given a final break at the Mercury cafeteria before being bussed back to Las Vegas. It had been a very fun and informative day. Highly recommended!   ~ Bob