The Atlantic

Can We Unlearn the Bomb?

The ecstasy and extinction of nuclear testing


Earlier this spring I visited the most nuclear-bombed place in the world. To get there, I traveled one afternoon with a group of Stanford University colleagues to Las Vegas, and early the next morning made my way past the one-armed bandits in the smoke-filled Monte Carlo Resort and Casino, and climbed aboard a charter bus that would drive us 65 miles north to the former Nevada Test Site, a 1,400-square-mile expanse of desert scrub, dry lake beds, and the occasional Joshua Tree. Mountains surround it.

Outside the security gate, there were two uncovered holding areas surrounded by a chain-link fence that was probably 10-feet-high, with a single port-o-potty in each. They're for the protesters that still come around from time to time. We stepped out of the bus, stretched our legs in the cool, thin desert air, showed IDs to security guards and clipped on our dosimeters, a standard precautionary procedure at a nuclear complex. After passing through the gate, a Wackenhut security guard checked us out, and we pulled out onto the main road that traverses the site, which is now known as the Nevada National Security Site.

As we drove north, the valley gave way to the open expanse of Frenchman's Flat, the dry lake bed that served as the site of the first atmospheric test, a one-kiloton device dropped

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