May marks the 40th anniversary of the Nuclear Testing Archive (NTA), the official information center for unclassified information regarding the nation’s Nuclear Weapons Testing Program.
Prior to the NTA’s 1979 opening, records from more than 1,000 test activities – including the Nevada National Security Site, Pacific Proving Grounds and Trinity Test Site – were disseminated throughout different locations, from the National Laboratories to the various locations of the National Archives to Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Defense Collections. In 1978, Congress called for access to Atomic Energy Commission historical documents to be publicly accessible. Thus, the Coordination & Information Center (CIC), now known as the present-day NTA, was created in 1979.
Administered by the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration Nevada Field Office, the NTA serves to collect, consolidate and preserve historical documents, records and data related to U.S. nuclear device testing.
Located at 755 East Flamingo Road in Las Vegas, the NTA has served more than 111,000 visitors in its four-decade lifetime. Researchers and the general public alike have access to more than 398,000 indexed documents and 100 videos from more than 110 agencies. Among the NTA’s most unique artifacts is a journal from world-renowned nuclear chemist Glenn T. Seaborg, who is credited with the discovery of plutonium in 1941, when he was chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.
“We got the diary of Glenn T. Seaborg,” said Martha DeMarre, who has served as manager for 30 of her 40 years with the NTA. “He kept a daily diary throughout his research. That’s more than 15,000 entries we have indexed into our library.”
Serendipitously, DeMarre would later meet Seaborg during a 1994 meeting with a fellow DOE historian. “I held my own in a discussion with Seaborg,” said DeMarre. “I’d call that a success.”
Today, the NTA primarily receives inquiries from the general public, veterans, historians, the DOE and other government agencies or contractors. Between 500 and 600 visitors visit to the NTA each month. Its physical location features a public reading room, research area for in-depth studies and computer access. The virtual space, http://www.osti.gov/opennet, houses the hundreds of thousands of bibliographic records from the NTA collection.
The people who serve the NTA are another invaluable asset to the collection.
“No two days are the same, and you can’t ever predict what’s going to happen,” said DeMarre, who pursued science academically, but always maintained a love for history. “[This role] is the perfect marriage of the passions that I have. To find your passion is to find your calling.”
Bruce W. Church, who was instrumental in the formation of the NTA in the 1970s and 80s as a DOE management official, assisted DOE and Department of Defense officials throughout the congressional hearings process.
“In my view, the collection in the NTA is a national treasure and impossible to place a value on,” said Church. “These documents preserve history. It is a tremendous financial investment, and the collection can’t be duplicated.”
The NTA is open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, see https://www.nnss.gov/pages/resources/NuclearTestingArchive.html.