1,021 nuclear detonations occurred at the Nevada Test Site between 1951 and 1992. Until the 1960s, most of these tests were atmospheric, above ground. In response to protests, one of which led to the arrest of Carl Sagan, President Kennedy signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty forbidding the atmospheric detonations. In response, the testing went underground. On January 19th, 1968, Project Faultless, one of the few tests that happened outside of the Nevada Test Site, was detonated 3,200 feet underground in the rural Hot Creek Valley.
After 12 miles on a dirt round trailing off the already desolate Highway 6, you know you’re approaching the site of Project Faultless when the earth suddenly sinks 16 meters lower. The land looks wrinkled. Fissures in the desert floor span off into the distance. In the center of the crater, a 9 ft steel pipe covered with graffiti punctures the dust. This is ground zero.
A nuclear test hasn’t been conducted in Nevada since the 90s, but the state is still home to the elite U.S. Navy Topgun program, the Tonopah Missile Test Range, the Hawthorne Army Depot, and the U.S Air Force facility, Area 51. With it’s unique high-desert geography, it’s also been a favorite spot for testing the drones and stealth aircrafts that are sent to the Middle East where the climate is similar.
If you want to understand the underbelly of America’s military, you have to understand what has been done and what is being done in Nevada. Nevada is America’s test site, and if the Downwinders are any metaphorical indicator, the cancerous roots of these tests will long outlive the initial impacts.