Nuclear Nevada

Underground Nuclear Testing at the Nevada Test Site

One hundred above-ground nuclear tests were conducted at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) between January 27, 1951, and July 17, 1962. On August 5, 1963, the Soviet Union and the United States signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT), which prohibited nuclear tests in the atmosphere, under water, and in space. From that time, until the end of testing in 1992, nuclear tests at the NTS were conducted underground. However, these post-LBTB tests were not the first underground nuclear events at the NTS.

Sedan Crater

Sedan Crater is the largest ground depression resulting from a nuclear detonation in the United States. On July 6, 1962, the Atomic Energy Commission, a predecessor of the Department of Energy, unleashed a 104 kiloton nuclear explosion resulting in a crater 1,280 feet in diameter and 320 feet deep. The Sedan experiment used an explosive device 3.5 times greater than any similar event at the Nevada Test Site. The explosion displaced approximately 7.5 million tons of earth, scattering it over 2,500 acres.

Protest, Dissent, and Witness at the Nevada Test Site

Since the late 1950s, the Nevada Test Site has been the subject of criticism, protest, and civil disobedience. Organized protest actions have ranged in size from fewer than ten people to groups of thousands during the large demonstrations of the 1980s. Individuals have observed private desert witness as they pray for world peace. In spite of the nuclear testing moratorium that has been in place since 1992, protest continues at the site.

Nevada Test Site Overview

Formerly the Nevada Proving Grounds, the Nevada Test Site is located in Nye County about sixty-five miles northwest of Las Vegas, and covers approximately 1,375 square miles. The site begins at the town of Mercury in the southeast and ends at Pahute Mesa in the northwest. It borders the Nellis Test and Training Range and Area 51 at Groom Lake, and it contains portions of Yucca Mountain where the federal government has proposed the construction of an underground nuclear waste storage site.

Frenchman Flat

Frenchman Flat is a dry lakebed, covering 123 square miles, contained within areas 5 and 11 of the Nevada Test Site. At this site, the military conducted fourteen atmospheric tests between 1951 and 1962, and five underground nuclear tests between 1965 and 1968. The underground tests followed the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty that prevented further atmospheric testing. The flat terrain of the area gave good visibility for photographing and filming the tests for later review.

West Wendover

West Wendover, which sits on the eastern edge of Nevada, is a flourishing community, and a testament to the powerful lure of the gaming industry. The city is an offshoot of Wendover, Utah, which was established by officials of the Western Pacific Railroad as a watering station in 1907.

Establishing a Cold War Continental Testing Site in Nevada

On January 27, 1951, Nevada became the United States’ cold war continental nuclear proving ground when a one-kiloton nuclear device was detonated over Frenchman Flat. The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) chose the Nevada Test Site after carefully considering complex factors involving science, national policy, geopolitics, safety, and public relations.


The city of Caliente is located in Central Lincoln County on U.S. Highway 93, 150 miles north of Las Vegas. William A. Clark, senator from Montana, and E. H. Harriman of the Union Pacific Railroad established the town in 1901 during the construction of the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad. It prospered as a division point on the railroad for nearly fifty years, until its shops and roundhouse were deactivated after World War II.


The town of Alamo is located on U.S. Highway 93 in the Pahranagat Valley, an oasis in southwestern Lincoln County, approximately 100 miles north of Las Vegas. The town was named for its numerous cottonwood trees, “alamo” being the Spanish word for the tree.

Nuclear Testing Before Nevada (1942-1950)

The Nevada Test Site was the United States’ Cold War continental nuclear proving ground. Nuclear weapons testing began during World War II and came of age during the Cold War. The nuclear tests conducted in Nevada between 1951 and 1992 had their origins in major scientific discoveries of the twentieth century.

Nuclear Weapons Testing and Use during World War II

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