Las Vegas, NV
Day twenty-two would end up being the most interesting, and perhaps the most frightening
day, of the trip, if not my life. We visited the Nevada Test Site, where all but a few
nuclear tests conducted by the United States have taken place. The amount of bombs
detonated there is staggering. They gave us a book that gives the tests by date. It's a
huge book - thousands and thousands of tests. You can look up your birthdate, and chances
are, there was a test done that day.
Tours of the Site must be booked at least a year in advance and can be done for educational
groups only. They do not allow cameras. We had to negotiate and beg to bring our journals.
Basically we rode around on a very nice charter bus and watched videos about the site and
had a tour guide explain to us what we were seeing. I wrote in my journal furiously as we
"Drew and Gordy are our guides as we enter the Nevada Test Site. Obviously it was okay
to bring my journal in, but we could only bring one camera to take one group photo. The
camera is under the control of Drew until then.
We just finished watching an orientation video, all about the test site, from sewage disposal
to underground detonation sites. A tower looms to our right, 55 feet taller than the Empire
State Building. At its base, Drew tells us, a Japanese Village was built in miniature. To tell
how much damage a bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki would do...
40 mile canyon on our left, protected now because they've found a lot of Native American
Circles exposed to radiation, environmental studies conducted there. The lizards there
were found to be sterile after exposed to radiation. No shit.
High security - "If it wasn't your job, you didn't ask questions." Compartmentalized jobs,
limited access, and check points. Special training for anti-terrorist, retrieving hostages,
background checks. So much jargon, so much info. Hard to take it all in. The Mormon Trail
passed right through this site, but no year-round residents were displaced when the
boundaries of the site were drawn.
BEEF - Big Explosion Experiment Facility. In just a minute we'll be within 1,000 feet of
ground zero. And I'm currently eating an oatmeal-raisin Power Bar. We stopped for a
second so Drew could make sure we could go further. He got back on the bus and said the
people he asked were all excited; they had just felt an earthquake. We didn't feel it, since
we were bumping around on the bus.
All the ground zeros are in front of us. Crazy. The biggest bomb set off here, Priscilla, was
37 kilotons. The two bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were 15 and 21 kilotons. "Small and
clean," as opposed to the Russians who have tested 80 megaton bombs, "Big and dirty."
Just passed by the Bailey Bridge, its I-beams bent and sheared by the blasts. An
underground barracks was never damaged. Collapsed aluminum domes, 6 inch concrete
reinforced with rebar didn't survive. But the bank vault did.
There is a lot of wildlife out here. It's windy outside, tumbleweeds roll past. The ground is
bare, vegetation is sparse and becomes denser in outward circles.
We just drove down into the Bilbey crater. In September of 1963 a 200 kiloton bomb
exploded here. It cost the US about $100 million."