Category Archives: Nevada Test Site

Mushroom Clouds as art

When atomic testing in Nevada began on January 27, 1951, the bomb was at once romanticized and naturalized, painted fantastic, funky, and even friendly. It was art deco in the desert. Jackrabbit chiaroscuro. I was proof of the success of the enlightenment project, the truth of evolution, and the superiority of America’s technology.

As testing became more routine, cavalier reporters described the weapon as if it were a new toy, showing off a kind of atomic connoisseurship. Atomic clouds that varied from the Det er dessverre ikke alle casinoer som tilbyr skrapelodd, mens Betsson til og med har en egen kategori og toppfane for dette. mushroom norm were assigned metaphorical shapes. The atomic cloud from test Easy (February 2, 1951) fluffed into a giant bow; another cloud assumed the shape of a dumbbell, and Fox’s mushroom (February 6, 1951) became a “great fist” with four knuckles showing clearly.

One mushroom cloud was described as looking like the “head of Donald Duck, soon dissolving into Dame Democracy, and then becoming the head of an angry man—like a slideshow parody of changing public reactions to the bomb itself.

Following a 1952 atomic test, a broadcaster “barking like a coxswain into his microphone fastened on to the word mushroom and couldn’t seem to let go…. ‘That’s no mushroom,’ yelled a spectator; ‘that’s a Portuguese man-of-war…. Look at those ice tentacles coming down from the cloud.’”

(Find more on this topic in Bombast: Spinning Atoms in the Desert by Michon Mackedon



This past year, 2011, marks the 50th anniversary of the first atomic testing series conducted at the Nevada Test Site. The first test, named Able, was conducted in the wee hours of January 27, 1951.

Under the cloak of night, a nuclear capsule was transported from the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (now Los Alamos National Laboratory, or LANL) to a highly secure area of Kirtland Air Force Base, outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. At Kirtland, a B-50D bomber idled while the Los Alamos capsule was coupled, on board, with an assembled nuclear device; the two units, when locked together, comprised an operational atomic bomb. The B-50D took off from the Kirtland airstrip, droned northwest over the Nevada border to the Las Vegas-Tonopah Gunnery Range (soon to be called the Nevada Test Site). After two practice runs over Frenchman Flat, at 5:36 a.m. the bomber released the weapon, which detonated in a fiery burst at 1060 feet above ground. After a few seconds, there arose a pinkish mushroom cloud that drifted eastward. A series of echoes from the blast concussion seemed to drum the cloud out of Nevada and into Utah.

Even as the shock waves receded and the mushroom cloud blew east, secrecy gave way under a flare of light bright enough to wake up people in Los Angeles. The public was, in an instant, fastoesslot sucked into a vortex of amazement, enchantment, fear, and pride—emotions that would be rekindled later that same year by the detonations of Baker (1/28/51); Easy (2/01/51); Baker-2 (2/02/51); Fox (2/06/51); Able (10/22/51; Baker (10/28/51); Charlie (10/30/51); Dog (11/01/51); Easy (11/05/51); Sugar (11/19/51); and Uncle (11/29/51).

At first, the lexical system used for naming bomb tests was the military alphabet. It’s clear that initial planning called for the testing of only a few bombs and that the alphabet system was thought to be adequate. However, two years following the first atomic test in Nevada, at the beginning of 1953, on the record were four tests named Able, four tests named Baker, plus a Baker-2, three Dogs and so on. If atomic testing was to continue, and it did, there was an obvious need for planners to develop a new process for naming the individual tests, for records- keeping purposes as well as historical clarity.

The first test of 1953 was named Annie (3/17/53) and nicknamed the “St. Pat’s Blast.” More soon about Annie, famous as a “Doom Town Test, and about naming bomb tests.




The Atomic Test Named Priscilla

The Atomic Test Priscilla

This post represents a part of my ongoing effort to explore individual atomic tests by name. On June 24, 1957, a 37 kt. atomic bomb was detonated from the undercarriage of a balloon on the Nevada Test Site as part of Operation Plumbbob.

The test was unique in many ways. It was named Priscilla after the venerated American story about Priscilla and John Alden. Another test undertaken during the same series was named John. The diary of weapons designer Frank Shelton reveals that for the first time in atomic testing history, the name of a test or tests brought forth public protest. Some objected to linking weapons testing to American values and culture Continue reading


Because I am trying to introduce myself and my ideas, by way of a blog, here is a link to a radio interview done last spring in Provo, Utah. The host of the radio show, Marcus Smith, had read Bombast, and he probed the central themes with clear and thoughtful questions.

Why I am Blogging

I guess you could say that I have had a lifelong relationship with nuclear events as they have played out in the deserts of Nevada. My book, Bombast: Spinning Atoms in the Desert (2010), is the result of having lived with the bomb (atomic testing), studied the bomb, studied the tomb (Yucca Mountain), and written the story as I know it.

I spent 22 years as a governor’s appointee to the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects, listening to evidence offered by the Department of Energy upholding the “suitability” of Yucca Mountain in Nevada to serve as the nation’s first high level nuclear waste repository. In the book, I wrote that “The repeated assurances of the DOE (Department of Energy) took on layers of irony when I began to study the history of atomic testing in Nevada….I came to realize that the phrases “site suitability” and “sound science” had been deployed, almost robotically, since the nuclear narrative began.” As were phrases like “radiation is natural,” “no one has ever been injured by an atomic test,” “experts are in charge.”

So, the book is about words used to pull the wool over our eyes, and the blog will cut through, drill down on, further explore the words… if I can and with your help.

One way to disguise the deadly nature of a nuclear weapon is to give it a name. In Bombast, I examine nuclear test names and in this blog I plan to highlight A BOMB A WEEK by naming a bomb test and looking at the surrounding facts, trivia, folklore and any eye-witness accounts.

I also want to hear your comments on the subjects I write about.