Nevada Experiences First Underground Nuclear Explosion – 9/19/1957

US History |

On September 19th of 1957, at the height of the Cold War, the United States ran a test of a nuclear weapon with a strength of 1.7 kilotons. The test was called Rainier.

The explosion took place in an underground tunnel at a test site in Nevada called the Nevada Test Site, or NTS, located about 65 miles north of Las Vegas. Despite the tunnel being 900 feet underground, shock waves were felt as far away as Alaska. It was the first underground detonation of a nuclear weapon. Supposedly, no radioactive fallout was produced. 

During above ground testing, mushroom clouds shot skyward. The testing seems to be linked with strange diseases in people as far away as St. George, Utah, where above ground testing was going on at the Yucca Flats / Nevada Test Site. A marked increase in various types of cancer was reported for the people of St. George between the 1950s and the 1980s, as desert winds brought the fallout directly into the town.

In the early testing stages, the mushroom clouds had been considered tourist attractions, as they could be seen from a distance of about a hundred miles, and were often viewed from the windows of Las Vegas hotels. In later years, more than 500 anti-nuclear protests were held at the Nevada Test Site. The demonstrations involved more than 37,000 participants, and resulted in more than 15,000 arrests. Among those arrested were actors Robert Blake, Martin Sheen, and Kris Kristofferson, as well as astronomer Carl Sagan.

The NTS was built in January of 1951, for the purpose of testing and detonating nuclear weapons. Rainier was part of a series of 29 nuclear weapons tests, conducted at the Nevada Test Site between May 28th and October 7th of 1957.

In December of 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt had ordered funding of two billion dollars in what was eventually known as the Manhattan Project. Backed by this funding, the first nuclear weapons test was conducted on July 16th of 1945, near Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Just a few weeks later on August 6th, President Harry Truman authorized the dropping of an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, as America was at war with Japan at the time. Three days later on August 9th, another nuclear bomb fell on the city of Nagasaki. By some estimates, more than 200,000 people were killed in these bombing attacks. Japan surrendered to the Allied forces less than a week later. 

A total of 928 nuclear weapons tests were conducted at the Nevada Test Site between 1951 and 1992. All but a hundred of these tests were conducted underground. In 1963, with the Cold War ending and Viet Nam soon to begin, the United States signed a Limited Test Ban Treaty, forbidding nuclear weapons testing and detonations in the earth's atmosphere, underwater, and in outer space. In 1996, the United States government signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits all nuclear explosions in all environments.

These days, the Nevada Test Site is called the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS). 

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Amanda Miller

Contributor & Chief Coffee Maker

Being from San Diego I have always gone to the Ocean and wrote my thoughts onto paper. Since a young girl writing has been my passion and now I love being creative with what I love. In school I started early writing for my middle school paper and have learned so much since then. I now have an opportunity to do what I love and work from home every day you can't beat it. I look forward to writing some great content for you all and to see the feedback I get in the process. My favorite topic is positive stories showing people helping others.