Cover Image

Nuclear Weapons Testing at
the Nevada Test Site:
The First Decade

by John C. Hopkins and
Barbara Germain Killian


Nuclear weapons and their control and testing have been newsworthy topics for public reading and various debates since 1945. But, very few people can describe why and how nuclear weapons have been tested by the United States or other countries. The authors of this book have made very serious efforts to provide such information for readers without a technical background.

The first decade of nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site was during the era of atmospheric testing. The text describes the enormous efforts undertaken to obtain information about weapons design and the effects of a nuclear explosion on offensive and defensive targets. The quality and quantity of information gained by the United States in this decade is, and probably will remain, unique in the international history of nuclear weapon testing.

An example of the advances made in the design of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems during this decade is:

In 1945, the 15 and 21 kt nuclear weapons were carried from Tinian to Japan in the large B29s with their large crews.

In 1957, on Operation PLUMBBOB, data on the response characteristics were obtained of an A4D-1 naval carrier-based single seat aircraft which could deliver nuclear yields that extended into the megaton range.

We wrote this book for several reasons, all centered on our fascination with the history of nuclear weapons testing and our interest in making more of the details of weapons testing, many of which were recently declassified, available to the general public. We have enormous respect and admiration for those who devoted major parts of their lives in the development and understanding of nuclear weapons and their effects on the environment in which they are detonated. The esprit de corps, the camaraderie, and the appreciation of their accomplishments by the general public of the US in the 1850s contributed to making the participants feel good about what they were doing and proud of their work. From an intellectual standpoint, nuclear weapons test-related activities were both challenging and exciting.

It is worthwhile to stand back and ask what this was all about. What was the significance of what was done at the Nevada Test Site? The answer has two parts: The first is that the Nation was assured of a safe, reliable nuclear deterrent; and the second part is that the government acquired an understanding of the environment that would be faced in a nuclear war. How we got there required the efforts of tens of thousands of people and billions of dollars. We chronicle the details of that trek and occasionally touch on the geopolitical context of the period. It is clear to us that much more could be done to make the historical connections that would put this work at the test site into a broader perspective. This will have to come later.

While we both are veterans of many years at the test site, we did not participate in Nevada during the "golden age" of atmospheric testing of the 1950s. Our tenures came later; during the 1960s, 70s,and 80s. This only increased our fascination with the first decade and further heightened our curiosity about the test operations with names such as UPSHOT-KNOTHOLE and PLUMBBOB.