In 1951 the Nevada Proving Ground (NPG)
opened up in part of Newe Sogobia near Indian Springs. The
Indian Springs Air Force Base (later called Creech Air Force
Base) was part of the Nellis bombing range. By 1960 the
NPG was called the NTS, or Nevada Test Site, and was still
primarily used for nuclear bomb explosions. In 2010 the
its name again to the Nevada National Security Site
(NNSS). Meanwhile, the agencies that changed the name from
NPG to NTS to NNSS had changed their names and their focus/missions
several times. They were the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC)
from 1946 to 1974, the Energy Research and Development Administration
(ERDA) in 1975 to 1977, then the Department of Energy (DoE)
from 1977 to the present. Nowadays, the DoE has a sub-agency
(formed in 2000) called the National Nuclear Security Administration
(NNSA). Aside from all those US Governmental reorganizing
schemes to manage nuclear weapons and power "resources"
and regulating such, the DoE/NNSA has various commercial
corporations and educational institutions in partnership
managing their sites.
The work of nuclear weapons production,
research, development and testing continues in myriad ways,
and the NTS/NNSS conducts only a small part of that work.
The NTS/NNSS has been expanding its field of work over the
past decade to include more non-nuclear work. This diminishing
role of nuclear weapons research and testing may be seen
as a small victory for the nuclear abolition movement and
NDE. [In the 1980s, NDE defined its mission as "to
end nuclear weapons tests" in Nevada/Newe Sogobia.
Full-scale chain-reaction nuclear bomb detonations ended
in 1992, and subcritical nuclear bomb tests have ceased
for the past 3 years.] Yet our nation still suffers in spirit
as the people and the institution of the NTS/NNSS fail
to convert to an ANTI-nuclear mission.
Years of Disaster: January 2011
by Jim Haber, Coordinator of Nevada Desert Experience
appearing in CounterPunch)
January 27 marks 60 years since the first atomic bomb test
in Nevada. Codenamed Able it was tiny for a
nuclear weapon: the equivalent of 1,000 tons of TNT, about
1/15 the size of the bomb that killed upwards of 130,000
people in Hiroshima. Anniversaries are times to reflect,
so what is the legacy of the Nevada Test Site (NTS), now
called the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS)? What is
the current state of the NNSS and what is going on there?
Are the nation and world safer for all the Cold War and
post-Cold War efforts? As the NNSS re-purposes itself to
focus more on detecting and containing national security
threats, it still stands as a world-wide symbol of the making
of weapons of mass destruction. The name change is intended
to reassert its relevance in the absence of exploding nuclear
devices, but the inherent problem of the NTS remains. The
NNSS is always able to resume testing nuclear weapons within
two years should the president order it.
Testing of nuclear weapons didn't only happen at the Nevada
Test Site. Historians even argue that using the bombs on
Japan rather than demonstrating them on an unpopulated location
constitute human experimentation. Treating victims as research
subjects rather than patients was widely reported in Japan,
as well as from victims of atmospheric testing in the 1950s.
Targeting civilians was and remains a crime against humanity,
as does threatening nuclear attack on non-nuclear states,
no matter how repressive their leaders.
We, as a people, caused much worldwide grief for our part
in the Cold War, which used small countries as battlegrounds
with no concern for local populations or environments. Official
tours of the NNSS and the displays at the Atomic Testing
Museum in Las Vegas exhibit great pride in the NTS' Cold
War role. There is little mention in their history about
efforts to stop testing and other parts of the nuclear weapons
complex. Efforts to shut down the Soviet nuclear test site
in Kazakhstan or French test sites in Africa and the South
Pacific garner barely a word. Only a limited view is presented.
At the NNSS which is run by the Department of Energy (blurring
the lines between civilian and military in this country),
military nuclear waste is buried even as remediation efforts
elsewhere are undertaken. The detection and first responder
trainings are only defensive in nature if we concurrently
support the leadership of the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) in its mission to monitor nuclear programs
around the world. Unilateral or bilateral agreements that
ignore the mandate of the IAEA actually encourage other
states to seek nuclear weapons to be seen as worthy players
on the international stage.
The United States military budget is on par with military
spending of all other countries combined. When the US attacks
countries that don't have nuclear weapons, it makes the
possession of nuclear weapons seem like a necessary deterrent.
But if more countries have deterrent forces, then we've
lost the disarmament fight.
Taking the land of the Western Shoshone and other native
peoples to use it for nuclear testing is not just. Forcing
the people of Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands to
live on tiny Ebeye Island, creating one of the most densely
populated places on Earth is not just. Stealing and contaminating
native hunting and fishing grounds is not just.
Thank God so few countries have tested or possess nuclear
weapons. The global consensus is clearly to eliminate all
nuclear weapons. "Stockpile Stewardship" tests
at the NNSS, along with missile tests in the Pacific are
undermining the credibility of the U.S.'s agreement to seriously
reduce nuclear stockpiles. Sharing nuclear technology with
violators and abstainers of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty while threatening countries not in egregious, well-documented
breaches of the NPT is not just and promotes horizontal
proliferation. Hence, continued testing whether they're
full-scale tests or not, signals to the world that the US
will keep its finger on the button and will brook no new
players in the nuclear game.
When we devise ways for nuclear weapons to be more precise
and kill fewer civilians, to be more militarily useful,
we undermine the international consensus against all weapons
of mass destruction. And how many design upgrades and revisions
can be implemented and still not require a real test? At
some point, unless we in the United States get serious about
pressuring our government to cut its nuclear weapons arsenal,
the Nevada Desert will again quake with detonations...and
be filled with peacemakers crashing the gates like in the
1980s to shut it down once and for all. This anniversary
should serve as a time to work for peace and disarmament.
Full-scale nuclear tests at the NTS/NNSS were stopped
in 1992, in large part to grassroots pressure by NDE and
others. What is going on there now that motivates our action?
The government is working on new and expanded plans for
the NNSS. Some of it is couched in the language of anti-terrorism
and treaty verification, but the overarching work there
undermines our commitment to nuclear disarmament. As part
of the process of updating the Test Site's Site-Wide Environmental
Impact Statement (SWEIS), the following comments were submitted
by NDE and over 100 of our supporters, encouraging the broadest
possible scope of environmental consequences be considered,
rather than a very narrow field of consideration.
1. The scope of the SWEIS needs to include the possibility
of closing the NNSS in its entirety. Closing the Security
Site would be a concrete, confidence-building sign to the
world that the United States will not enlarge or re-shape
its nuclear stockpile and is sincere in working for nuclear
2. The Nevada National Security Site's land rightfully
belongs to the Western Shoshone Nation, and their wishes
should be paramount. The Treaty of Ruby Valley (1863) grants
their Nation the NNSS land and more. They should have the
final say regarding any of the work mentioned in this message
or the SWEIS.
3. Stockpile Stewardship undermines our moral position
as a nation in the face of other countries seeking nuclear
weapons. Proposed NNSS work must not undermine the obligation
to eliminate nuclear weapons as per Article VI of the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The Tonopah Test Range (TTR),
sub-critical tests, Joint Actinide Shock Physics Experimental
Research (JASPER) and other Stockpile Stewardship programs
should be eliminated.
4. No quantity or quality of environmental education
programs like "Operation Clean Desert" with its
"Dr. Proton" and "Adam the Atom" justify
keeping the NNSS open. No single polluter can compare with
the United States military. Nothing in the world can cause
as much environmental devastation in as short a time, lasting
for as long a time, as nuclear weapons. Any educational
programs conducted by the NNSS or its managers must be as
a warning against further contamination and destruction.
5. If not closed in its entirety, the Nevada Test Site/Nevada
National Security Site should be closed to all but "Environmental
Restoration." No new hazards or toxins should be introduced
to the NNSS, including low or mixed level waste from other
military sites. At least one of the test shot sites needs
to be characterized fully to track off-site drift of contaminants.
Groundwater monitoring stations need to be better designed
and placed, and they must test for other contaminants in
addition to tritium. Evidence of plutonium drifting much
faster than expected needs to be further researched.
6. Any project such as the Nonproliferation Test and
Evaluation Complex (NPTEC) needs to be conducted in support
of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) mandate
to monitor NPT compliance. Furthermore, the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) Organization has the task of monitoring
compliance with the CTBT, not the United States. While individual
countries have an interest in being able to verify treaty
compliance, the United States needs to focus more on taking
concrete steps towards disarming than worrying about other
7. The Renewable Energy Option has potential for positive
use, but the Western Shoshone should determine what happens
at the NNSS.
8. The livelihood of workers at the NNSS is important,
but developing or maintaining nuclear weapons shouldn't
be viewed as a jobs program.
The Stockpile Stewardship Program was established in response
to the Fiscal Year 1994 National Defense Authorization Act
(Public Law 103-160), which requires, in the absence of
nuclear testing, a program to:
1. Support a focused, multifaceted program to increase
the understanding of the enduring stockpile;
2. Predict, detect, and evaluate potential problems of the
aging of the stockpile;
3. Refurbish and re-manufacture weapons and components,
as required; and
4. Maintain the science and engineering institutions needed
to support the nations nuclear deterrent, now and
in the future.
Stockpile stewardship is inconsistent with the mandate
under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
which requires that the United States and other nuclear
armed countries to work to eliminate their nuclear weapons.
Under the pretense of making sure that what nuclear arms
exist are reliable and safe, new types of bombs and delivery
systems continue to be designed and tested.
The US is actively seeking new warhead designs for new
warfighting scenarios under the Reliable Replacement Warhead
program. . . .
New missiles and other delivery systems that are more accurate
have prompted weapons designers to promote the manufacture
of new, smaller nuclear warheads. The size of the bomb doesn't
change the fact that a new weapon is in contradiction of
the agreement to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in
What is happening at the Nevada National Security Site
(formerly called the Nevada Test Site)?
The NNSS is home to classified research. As such, one can't
be sure of all that is going on there. Nonetheless, the
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security
Administration (NNSA) maintains a website that describes
research and facilities at the NNSS. Much of the currently
Capabilities specific to the NNSS include: Atlas,
the Big Explosives Experimental Facility (BEEF), the Device
Assembly Facility (DAF), the Joint Actinide Shock Physics
Experimental Research (JASPER) Facility, and the U1a Complex
for subcritical nuclear tests.
The last subcritical nuclear explosion was in 2010. Subcritical
tests are part of what the government started when George
Bush ended full-scale testing in 1992, as part of its "stockpile
stewardship" program. The global anti-nuclear community
has been dismayed at the resumption of these tests since
there hadn't been one since 2006. What does that say
about the US commitment to eliminate nuclear weapons from
The Atlas pulsed-power program is in "cold standby"
meaning that the building with the machinery has no electricity.
At this time there are no plans to restart Atlas experiments.
BEEF has "limited activity" according the the
Nevada Site Office. The DAF remains ready ready to assemble
bomb tests, though none are scheduled. Because of the DAF
is the most secured most "hardened" of research
facilities, it gets used for other experiments with highly
radioactive materials. The DAF also houses the JASPER