Sunday, March 31, 2013

Nevada Test Site (NNSS) Tours

The Nevada National Security Site, originally the Nevada Test Site, was the home of America’s domestic nuclear weapons testing.  100 open air tests, or “shots” as they are called by NNSS, were conducted in the 50’s and 60’s and 828 underground tests were conducted until 1992.  The site is still used for subcritical testing, DHS training, weapons R&D, weapons assembly, radioactive waste storage, and other activities not discussed.  It’s also a good place to take a device one finds with nuclear materials mated with explosives, that is if you didn’t want to bury it where you found it.  
GRABBLE - May 25, 1953
The site has tours open to the public once a month, but reservations need to be made in advance.  More information on the free tours is available on their website.  The problem is their site looks like it hasn’t been updated in a year and the email address is dead.  What you should do is call National Security Technologies (tour operator company) at 702-295-0944 and ask about tour availability.  Frequently there are cancelations so short notice booking is possible.  I booked my aunt and I on a tour about two weeks before the tour date, others on the tour reserved space about a year ago.
PRISCILLA - June 24, 1957
The tour was great!  The tour guide worked at the site doing nuclear tests for 20 years and is very passionate about the area and its history.  The tour departs Las Vegas in a new coach bus in the morning and arrived back in the afternoon.  No cameras or electronic devices are permitted.  The NNSS is very desolate, but there are some fun things to view.  Frenchman Flats was the original areal test site and still has remnants of the test structures.  The railway trestles are an amazing display of the destructive force of a relatively small blast.  Some of the test houses are still standing too.  Some of underground craters are huge; Sedan for example is more than 1,200 feet wide and 350 feet deep.  The bus also drove us into the Bilby crater to help give a sense of scale.  The landscape is pot marked with dozens and dozens of craters.  There are also the remnants of the cancelled US-UK Icecap test.  This test was a few weeks from detonation when the testing moratorium was signed.  All the test facilities are in place and it looks ready to go on short notice.  It’s somewhat eerie to see it 21 years later, but is a great visual of what testing was like.  
Icecap Test
Some of the modern uses for the Nevada National Security Site are also displayed.  There was a tour of the radioactive waste dump that was interesting (I’ve also very comfortable with how waste is stored).  We also drove through a DHS training area with quite a few wrecked vehicles.  Some of the current uses were kept a good distance away and Area 51 is about 12 miles from the Sedan crater.
Sedan Shot
It was a great tour and fun way to experience Las Vegas off the strip.  I also recommend the MobMuseum in downtown if you have time.  The Westin on Flamingo felt dated, but it’s the closest SPG location to The Strip.  
NNSS Landscape

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