July 19, 1957 – First Genie Nuclear Rocket Test at Yucca Flat

John Operation Plumbbob

On July 19, 1957, the Nevada Testing Site (NTS) hosted the first test-firing of the AIR-2 Genie air-to-air rocket.  Part of Operation Plumbbob, the “John” test over Yucca Flat involved the successful launch and detonation of the nuclear-warhead-tipped rocket from a Northrup F-89J fighter without demolishing the aircraft itself.  The AIR-2 Genie was designed to destroy incoming enemy bombers with its 1.7-kiloton, plutonium core Genie W-25 warhead.  The rocket traveled 4240 meters in 4.2 seconds, achieving about Mach 3, before detonating approximately three miles over five volunteers and a photographer at ground zero in Yucca Flat’s Area 10.  Their presence at the test site was intended to show the apparent safety of battlefield nuclear weapons to personnel on the ground.

Image Credit: U.S. Air Force

July 5, 1957 – Largest US Continental Atmospheric Nuclear Test Over Yucca Flat

Operation Plumbbob DOE

Operation Plumbbob

On July 5, 1957, the “Hood” test of Operation Plumbbob took place over Area 9 of Yucca Flat, a closed desert drainage basin within the Nevada Test Site (NTS) sixty-five miles northwest of Las Vegas.  Referred to as “the most irradiated, nuclear-blasted spot on the face of the earth”, Yucca Flat was the testing ground – both in the air and under the surface of the flat, sandy soil – for 739 nuclear tests from October of 1951 to September of 1992, when a moratorium temporarily halted all nuclear testing.

The Hood test involved the atmospheric detonation of a 74-kiloton bomb which had been carried by balloon to an elevation of 460 meters.  Two thousand American troops were on hand for training in nuclear battlefield operations.  Eleven million Curies of radioactive Iodine-131 were released by the bomb as a determinant used to track specific nuclear contamination events.  The bomb detonated in the Hood test was nearly five times larger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

NTS has been studied extensively to evaluate the nuclear contamination of its soil and groundwater.  In his book, Aftermath: The Remnants of War, author Webster Donovan states that NTS has been characterized as a “national sacrifice zone”, due to the great expense and virtual impossibility of cleaning up the site.

Image Credit: US Department of Energy/flickr