When We Tested Nuclear Bombs:
Since the first nuclear explosion in 1945, nearly 2,000 nuclear tests have been performed, with the majority taking place during the 1960s and 1970s. Nearly 1000 of these were at the Nevada Test Site in the desert outside Las Vegas. When the technology was new, tests were frequent and often spectacular, and led to the development of newer, more deadly weapons. All sorts of tests were conducted; to animals, to houses, bridges, clothing and shelters. These mushroom clouds and craters became a tourist attraction. They were banned in 1963, giving way to underground testing, which involved lowering a massive nuclear device several hundred feet underground, rattling the bones of the earth and producing craters, “sink depressions,” across the barren landscape as big as 1,500 feet in diameter.
Gathered here are images from the first 30 years of nuclear testing.
A 280mm nuclear shell was fired 10km into the Nevada desert by the M65 Atomic Cannon, detonating in the air, about 500 feet above the ground, with a resulting 15 kiloton explosion on May 25, 1953.
Exposed wiring of The Gadget, the nuclear device which exploded as part of Trinity, the 1st nuclear weapons test of an atomic bomb. At the time of this photo, the device was being prepared for its detonation, which took place on July 16, 1945.
The tail section of a U.S. Navy Blimp with the Stokes cloud in the background at the Nevada test site on Aug 7, 1957. It collapsed from the shock wave of the blast more than 5 miles from ground zero.
Observers view atmospheric testing during operation Hardtrack I; a thermonuclear detonation during the Pacific tests in 1958
The fireball of the Priscilla shot, fired on June 24, 1957, as a part of the Operation Plumbbob series.
A longer-exposure photograph of the Trinity (1st) explosion seconds after detonation on July 16, 1945
The expanding fireball and shockwave of the Trinity explosion, seen .025 seconds after detonation on July 16, 1945.
A 1971 photo of a nuclear bomb detonated by the French govt at the Mururoa atoll, French Polynesia
In Operation Doorstep, mannequins are seated at a table in the dining room of house number two, attending a “dinner party” thrown by Civil Defense officials who are testing the effects of an atomic explosion on houses and occupants on March 15, 1953
After the blast, mannequins lie strewn about the room, their “dinner party” interrupted violently by an atomic blast on March 17, 1953.
Stretched on a bed, in an upstairs bedroom of house number 2, is a mannequin ready to test the effects of an atomic explosion at the atomic proving grounds near Las Vegas, Nevada, March 15, 1953. Through the window a mile and a half away stands a 300 foot steel atop which the bomb will be detonated. The purpose of the test blast is to show Civil Defense officials what would happen in an American city if it were subjected to an atomic attack.
After the blast, a damaged bedroom, window and blankets missing, resulting from a test during an atomic blast on March 17th 1953.
An explosion of a 400 kiloton nuclear bomb taking place in the atmosphere, 30 miles above the Pacific, as viewed from above, in Oct 1962.
Mannequins representing a typical American family gathered in a living room are pictured on March 15, 1953 in House No. 2, awaiting an atomic test explosion on Nevada proving grounds.
After the blast, a damaged living room, members of the mannequin family tossed about or missing after an atomic blast on March 17th 1953.
A massive column of water rises from the sea as the U.S. detonate an atom bomb at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific in the 1st underwater test of the device, July 25, 1946.
A huge mushroom cloud rises above Bikini atoll in the Marshall Islands on July 25, 1946 following an atomic test blast. The dark spots in foreground are ships that were placed near the blast site to test what an atom bomb would do to a fleet of warships.
U.S military observers watch the explosion during Operation Crossroads Baker, a nuclear test conducted on Bikini Atoll in July 25, 1946. This was the 5th nuclear explosion ever, after 2 other tests and the 2 bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Operation Greenhouse took place in the spring of 1951, consisting of four explosions at the Pacific Proving Grounds in the Pacific Ocean. This photo is from the third test, George, on May 9, 1951, the first thermonuclear bomb test, yielding 225 kilotons.
Expanding rings surround a mushroom cloud, during the Yeso test explosion, part of Operation Dominic, a series of over 100 nuclear test explosions in Nevada and the Pacific in 1962.
NATO observers watch the detonation of Operation Plumbbob Boltzmann on May 28, 1957.
A photo of a nuclear bomb detonated by the French government at the Mururoa atoll, French Polynesia.
Complete destruction of House No. 1, located 3,500 feet from ground zero, by an atomic blast on March 17, 1953, at Yucca Flat at the Nevada Proving Ground. The time from the first to last picture was 2.3 seconds. The camera was completely enclosed in a 2-inch lead sheath as a protection against radiation. The only source of light was that from the bomb. In frame 1, the house is lit by the blast. By frame 2 the radiating energy has set it on fire, and the remaining frames show the rapid disintegration of the house by the blast wave.
This “Survival Town” house, photographed recently, was built some 7,500 feet from a 29-kiloton nuclear detonation — it remained essentially intact. Survival Town consisted of houses, office buildings, fallout shelters, power systems, communications equipment, radio broadcasting station, and trailer homes. The test, called Apple II, was fired on May 5, 1955
In the United States alone, more than $44 billion has been spent on the production of nuclear weapons as of 1996. ‘Clean up’ is projected to cost more than $300 billion through the year 2070, and even then the contaminated sites will require monitoring and stewardship into the far future.
Contaminants from nuclear weapons production and testing have often traveled far down wind and down stream. Radioactivity released from atmospheric nuclear testing has been widely dispersed throughout the world. Underground tests have contaminated soil and groundwater. A 1991 US government report called the soil contamination from underground testing at the Nevada Test Site “a threat to human health and the environment”.