National Atomic Testing Museum
July – August 2019
Nevada’s role in the world’s atomic history is on display.
BY JANET M. GEARY
Mushroom clouds marked the end of the deadliest conflict in world history, though mankind was just getting started testing the limits of its newfound deadly technology. The development of the atomic bomb is one of the most important factors that caused World War II to come to an end in 1945, though Nevada’s role in the atomic process would continue for decades to come.
After extensive atomic testing in Pacific island sites, President Harry S. Truman decided it was necessary to create an atomic-bomb-testing area within the continental U.S. On Dec. 18, 1950, a portion of the Nellis Gunnery Range near Las Vegas was chosen as the site. Named the Nevada Proving Ground (later changed to the Nevada Test Site), the area would go on to host more than 900 nuclear tests, 828 of which were underground.
During the 1950s, the mushroom clouds from atmospheric tests could be seen for almost 100 miles. The city of Las Vegas experienced noticeable seismic effects and the distant mushroom clouds, which could be seen from downtown, became unique tourist attractions. The last near-ground atmospheric test at the Nevada Test Site was “Little Feller I” of Operation Sunbeam on July 17, 1962.
From 1951 to 1992, employees of the Nevada Test Site were forbidden to speak about their work, and today’s National Atomic Testing Museum—which opened in 2005—“speaks” for them.
HISTORY ON DISPLAY
The entrance to the museum is through steel doors with a ticket booth that looks like a Nevada Test Site guard station. The galleries are set up chronologically, starting with an exhibit about World War II, the Manhattan Project, and the 1945 bombings of Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Next, museum goers enter a gallery detailing the earliest days of atomic testing. Guests are guided through interactive stations with a wealth of pictures, short films, and paraphernalia that was top-secret two decades ago.
One of the most popular exhibits is the Ground Zero Theater—a stark reminder of the power that was created at the test site. Hard benches like the ones military personnel sat on to watch the testing make it all seem so real. A recorded voice starts the count down and guests are drawn into the horrifying experience of a real test. Quiet at first, the aftermath of steam, dirt, and noise that emanates from the theater elicit gasps and even screams from the viewers. It’s easy to leave the area with a different understanding of what really took place.
The Atomic Testing Museum has become very popular and is a definite must-see in Vegas. In association with the Smithsonian Institution, the museum has revolving exhibits, lectures, and book signings that keep the material fresh. With more than 12,000 artifacts, allow a minimum of 2-4 hours to visit.
The gift shop offers some unusual Las Vegas souvenirs. From alien dolls to Miss Atomic Bomb posters, these mementos are quirky reminders of Nevada’s atomic past.
National Atomic Testing Museum
755 E. Flamingo Rd.
Las Vegas, NV 89119
Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Sunday: noon–5 p.m.