Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Nevada Nuclear Test Site - Gradual Declassification

A Very Long Time Ago in a Place Relatively Close By. I worked at EG&G. While the projects I worked on were not Top Secret they were used in Secret places so the information was sensitive. One project I was working on was the Weather Stations at the Nevada [Nuclear] Test Site. Working on Weather Stations is pretty peaceful especially because I was nowhere near Nevada, but I should have known that eventually during the installation the engineer would have trouble and ask me to come help. I was not happy about it, but I went to help him and while I was there I got a personalized tour of the place. Pretty unremarkable at the time and in retrospect quite a coup from a historical perspective.

The Test Site is no longer conducting Nuclear tests and much of the information about the site is now declassified, and there is a great Wiki page on it:


In the Really Bad Idea that wouldn't go away for a while Dept. was Operation Plowshare (which I like to call Operation F*ck Up). The idea was to place nuclear bombs in shallower positions in hopes the could be used to dig trenches. This is not a joke.


Nice try. It created radioactive mountains, and that area was fenced off when I was there - my normally level headed brave engineer coworker advised not to get too close - if he's says that then he means it. What's surprising is the radioactive level at a lot of the test site area not that high (that same coworker of mine measured it in several places - EG&G made the measuring devices so it was our business to know. )

Although there is no bomb testing going on the site is still very much being studied which to my amusement leads to all sorts of paranoia and conspiracy theories such as this video:


Artifact? Dude take a breath, they're just measuring devices and yes it's likely they're still collecting data.

Given how much information has been declassified I may as well finally tell the one really tiny, but really important factoid that I couldn't part with until testing ceased and things began to be declassified.

Protestors would often sneak into the site to get to ground zero in an attempt to stop the test. What fascinated me was that our weather stations were in little silver trailers all over the site. They would measure wind direction and speed as well as temperature and a host of other items. If the weather stations weren't reporting in then there could be no test. Yes that's right. No weather data, no test. Period.

It was so difficult not to let the protesters (fortunately I don't know who they are) know that if they really wanted to stop a test (instead of getting on TV), all they had to do was break off the antennae's on those silver trailers scattered unprotected all over the place - it was a weak link. I never did anything about it as (a) I didn't want to go to jail (b) I do take having a security clearance ("Q") seriously and may someday need one again though I hope not (c) support for testing was waning quickly and likely would stop and (d) the protesters actual goals might not be to quietly stop the test, but to be visible to show disapproval for testing.

If I were to run into those who did the protests, I'd love to ask. If you knew how to quietly stop a test would you do it or would you prefer the march to Ground Zero to get arrested and on TV approach. I wonder what they'd do? Probably both is my guess, but what would they do if they had to choose? I honestly don't know the answer.

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