Before the Nevada Proving Grounds
(NPG) – forerunner of the Nevada Test
Site – was established, five tests
ranging in size from 18 to 49 kilotons had
been conducted at Bikini and Enewetak Atolls
in the Pacific Ocean from June 1946 through
1948. However, with the outbreak of
hostilities in Korea in 1950, renewed
attention was focused on the need for a
continental test site.
Relying on a top-secret
feasibility study code-named
"Nutmeg," conducted in 1946 by the
Pentagon, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC)
selected the Las Vegas Bombing and Gunnery
The Southern Nevada site was
selected from a list of five possibilities
which included Alamogordo/White Sands, New
Mexico; Dugway Proving Ground, Utah; Pamilco
Sound/Camp Lejuene, North Carolina; and a 50-
mile-wide strip between Fallon and Eureka,
The AEC made the final selection
based on existing favorable conditions: the
site was already under government control, it
was a large area, had little rainfall, a low
population density, and would be easy to
protect against penetrators.
President Harry S. Truman
approved the establishment of the NPG on
January 11, 1951, and on January 27, 1951, the
first atmospheric test was detonated 1,060
feet above the surface of Frenchman Flat.
Named "Able" the one-
kiloton device was part of the Operation
Ranger series, which consisted of five
detonations ranging in size from one to 22
kilotons. All five devices were dropped from
B-50 bombers that flew out of Kirtland Air
Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Ranger series of tests went
well until "Baker-2" was detonated
on February 2. The eight-kiloton device broke
several store windows in Las Vegas. Despite
this the operation was called a success.
When the Ranger Series ended in
1951, AEC initiated plans to expand the Test
Site facilities. Construction began on utility
and operational structures, including
communications, a control point, and
As a safety measure, AEC decided
to move the testing area from Frenchman Flat
to Yucca Flat, where 12 areas were developed
for air drops, tower, surface, tunnel and
Mercury, the Test Site base camp,
was expanded; a Post Office opened on March 1,
South of Mercury the U.S. Sixth
Army, headquartered at The Presido, San
Francisco, California, established Camp Desert
Rock (near the present day Desert Rock
Airport). It was largely a tent camp with a
few semi-permanent structures. During non-test
periods the camp was home to about 100 people.
During the 1955 Operation Teapot series of
tests conducted at Yucca Flat, camp population
exceeded 5,000 military personnel.
One noteworthy test was
"Annie." The press named it
"Shamrock" because it was fired on
March 17, 1953 – St. Patrick's Day.
Troops and reporters who took part dubbed it
"Survival City" and "Doom
Town." Scientists built a typical, small
American community near ground zero, complete
with mannequins, automobiles, and a school
bus. The test was to study the impacts of a
In the early years of the test
program, scientists and technicians
responsible for each test series traveled from
Albuquerque, New Mexico to Nevada, and other
locations throughout the U.S., usually about a
month before the first test.
At the end of each series they
returned to Albuquerque to plan the next
sequence of tests and experiments.
The United States conducted 100
atmospheric nuclear tests at the NTS from 1951
to 1962. The nuclear devices were dropped from
planes, detonated at or near ground level,
shot from a 280-mm cannon, placed on towers,
and suspended from balloons.
On October 31, 1958 President
Dwight D. Eisenhower declared a moratorium and
stopped all testing; the Soviet Union quickly
followed in November 1958. However, in
September 1961 the Soviet Union unexpectedly
resumed testing with a series of 50
detonations. That forced the United States to
respond and on September 15, 1961, scientists
began a series of nine low yield underground
experiments at Yucca Flat. Sixty-two tests
were conducted at the Test Site in 1962.
The increased year-round testing
schedule made it necessary to establish the
Nevada Operations Office which officially
opened in Las Vegas on March 6, 1962.
On August 5, 1963 the Limited
Test Ban Treaty was signed in Moscow
prohibiting testing in outer space, underwater
or in the atmosphere.
Another important milestone was
the signing of the Threshold Test Ban Treaty
(TTBT) by President Richard M. Nixon on July
3, 1974 in Moscow. The TTBT, which limited all
nuclear tests yields to less than 150
kilotons, was not ratified by the U.S. until
September 25, 1990.
On October 2, 1992 President Bush
signed a nine-month moratorium stopping all
nuclear testing until July 1, 1993. On July 3,
1993 , President Bill Clinton pledged to
extend the moratorium on nuclear weapons
testing until October 1994, as long as no
other nation tests.
As of December 7, 1993, the
United States had announced 1,054 nuclear
tests. Of these, 928 (including 24 joint
U.S.-United Kingdom tests) were conducted at
While the Test Site and its
employees await the future, the next 30 pages
will take you back through 42 years of the
history that has played such an important role
in maintaining peace through