When the America Nuked Its Own Citizens


21 kiloton nuclear test conducted at the Nevada Test Site in November 1951 as part of Operation Buster. It was the first US nuclear field exercise conducted on land. Troops shown are a mere six miles from the blast.


Between 1951 and 1963, the US Government conducted 100 atmospheric test blasts of nuclear bombs over a 1,350 square mile test site in Nevada. While people living nearby could see the blasts, the entire project was top secret and no instructions for precautionary measures from nuclear fallout were ever issued to American citizens downwind of the blasts.

According to author Donovan Webster, writing in Aftermath: the Remnants of War, each one of these nuclear explosions:

“…spread roughly the radiation equivalent of Ukraine’s 1986 Chernobyl reactor fire across an unknowing America. According to the National Academy of Sciences…radiation-associated cancers from atmospheric nuclear testing will produce at least 400,000 deaths by the year 2000, killing twice as many people as died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”



“Ivy Mike” atmospheric nuclear test – November 1952
Ivy Mike (yield 10.4 mt)  was an atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the U.S. at Enewetak Atoll on 1 November 1952. It was the world’s first successful hydrogen bomb. Official US Government photo.

Very cool. We nuked our own citizens. But hey, it was worth it so we could prove the atom bomb actually worked.  But there is a curiosity here.  We dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and blew those two cities to bits so we knew our A-bombs worked.   Given that, why did we have to detonate nuclear bombs one hundred times in our own atmosphere?



Sedan Atomic Blast on 6 July 1962 at the US Nevada Test Site

The above explosion was part of the mostly non-classified Plowshare Project (1961 to 1973), which was initiated by the US government to showcase the many peaceable  uses for atomic bombs. The “Sedan Shot” is the most famous of the 27 Plowshare experiments.

This explosion was designed to show how easily, quickly, and safely, a huge atomic bomb detonation could excavate a harbor. The hell with zoning issues, expensive land planning and annoying construction unions. Just set off an A-bomb. So the government drilled a large shaft about 650 feet deep in the much used Nevada Test Site. Then they lowered a 104 kiloton bomb (“Sedan”) into the shaft and shoveled the dirt back in.

The US Atomic Energy Commission was in charge and on 6 July 1962, they detonated the bomb code-named “Sedan.”  Could an atom bomb be used to dig an entire harbor? You’re damn right it could. This is America! Can do! After the atomic dust cleared, observers could see the largest man-made crater ever made in United States. It is 330 feet deep and 1,280 feet wide. The explosion displaced over 12 million tons of earth.


The crater created by the “Sedan” blast. Surely this could be a harbor if it were close to the ocean and a fine harbor it would be. 

Many other civilian uses were subsequently discovered for employing the incredible force of the Bomb. For instance, in order to make the deep rock formations in western US natural gas fields more porous and thus make it easier to extract the natural gas, three 30 kiloton bombs were detonated simultaneously on 17 May 1973.

OK, there were a few problems. First, if you think people are pissed-off about fracking these days, just imagine how pissed off they would have been about drilling for natural gas with atomic bombs.

Another problem– and I think many people in our country with even  minimal intelligence could have figured this out– the natural gas they did find after detonating the atomic bombs could not be used because it was too radioactive.

In 1963 the United States and the USSR– along with other powers– signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban treaty. This convention prohibited the testing of nuclear and hydrogen bombs in outer space, or in the earth’s atmosphere or in the oceans or other bodies of water on earth.



 An underground nuclear test conducted by the U.S. at the Nevada Test Site on 18 December 1970. Radioactive materials were accidentally released which resulted in two US Federal court cases.

Subsequently, 828 nuclear bombs have been set off underground at the same Nevada test site where the atmospheric bombs were set off. I’m not a nuclear bomb scientist but I like to think I’m an intelligent man. My question is this: after the first one hundred underground nuclear bomb tests, what did we learn from the additional 728? Does the law of diminishing returns not apply to nuclear bomb tests?

It is an irony of the Cold War that more nuclear bombs have been set off in the United States than any other country in the world. Fortunately, all of this protected American citizens from the Soviet Union and other dangers so it was worth killing an untold number of Americans to keep us safe.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans met an early death because of these incredibly irresponsible and seemingly addictive nuclear bomb tests. Huge areas of land in America have been so contaminated they will not be safe to visit for 5,000 years. Almost all of this was done under a top secret classification in order to “protect us.” That sure is a relief to know.



All photos and captions courtesy of CTBTO.org  This is the acronym for the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. According to their website, “CTBTO was set up in 1996 with its headquarters in Vienna, Austria. It is an interim organization tasked with building up the verification regime of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in preparation for the Treaty’s entry into force as well as promoting the Treaty’s universality.”




The Bomb Shelter In My Grandfather’s Hotel

My grandfather Livingston, (your servant being named Charles Livingston McCain), was a self-made man. He left home when he was sixteen with a lot of ambition, a winning personality, unbreakable honesty, and a twenty dollar gold piece his mother gave him; all the money she had. Grandfather went to Charleston and enlisted in the 4th South Carolina Regiment of Volunteers and went to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-American War.

After his return he began his business career in Orangeburg and over time he acquired various businesses, one of them being the Hotel Eutaw. In the 1920s he and a group of local businessmen built the hotel and overtime he ended up owning the whole thing. Even in my childhood there were still billboards on the outskirts of town which said, “Hotel Eutaw. It’s Fireproof!”

I imagine that burning up in a hotel fire was a big concern in the 1920s and 1930s and he stuck with that advertising slogan until he died and the hotel was closed down and sold. However, it was built of heavy stone and brick, like buildings of that era, and the basement made a perfect “fallout shelter” and so it became.

I used to sneak down there and look around. How was this shelter equipped? It wasn’t. There were some empty plastic barrels with the Civil Defense logo on them. Theoretically, these would be filled with water before the big one dropped. At the time the barrels were filled with water, the shelter would have been stocked with that really disgusting US government yellow cheese. Should we have spent our last days in the basement of the Eutaw Hotel before dying of radiation poisoning, we would have survived on water from not-very-clean plastic barrels and US government cheese. Not a heroic ending.

I Remember the Day John F. Kennedy Was Assassinated – Part 3

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9

I know this will sound very odd if you didn’t live though any part of the Cold War but these signs were a subtle reminder that “The Bomb” could drop at any moment and there were times of great stress between the USSR and the USA when serious people in Washington thought it might happen — or so they say in memoirs et al.

These fallout shelter signs (the term means they sheltered you from “nuclear fallout” which was all the atomic particles and stuff that would fall on you if “The Bomb” was dropped) have vanished now. But they used to appear on every public building and most large private buildings. Wherever you looked, whether you were in Manhattan or in my little Southern town you would see these yellow and black signs indicating there was a bomb shelter in the building to which the sign was affixed. You got so used to seeing them that after a while you didn’t notice but you did notice on some level because they were everywhere.

And what made everyone so afraid in the early hours after Kennedy was shot and killed, was that the Soviets had done it and that a real war with nuclear bombs and everything might be starting. It seemed inconceivable that the President of the United States would be assassinated and the Soviets not be involved and truth be told do we actually know one way or another?

[Image courtesy of Fallout Shelter NYC.]