NDE Logo Nevada Desert Experience  
Home Issues Programs & Events Get Involved History of NDE Newsletters About NDE

What's in a Name? - What's the Mission?


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 NTS changed 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.


60 Years of Disaster: January 2011

by Jim Haber, Coordinator of Nevada Desert Experience (also 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 disarmament.

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 countries.

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 nation’s 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 the stockpile.

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 listed activities

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 world?

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


home | issues | programs & events | get involved | history | NDE literature | about us

©2011 Nevada Desert Experience