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Nuclear Tourism: When atomic tests were a tourist attraction in Las Vegas, 1950s


At night, the sky lit up with the glow of bombs, and during the day mushroom clouds could be seen rising over the horizon.

In classical American fashion, fear was not the only response. Vegas started out to be a destination for a certain type of people – the nuclear tourist.

Let's understand why Nevada was chosen for nuclear testing. Nevada's Yucca Flat was located at the heart of the American wasteland, making it an ideal location for nuclear testing. Firstly, being located in the middle of the desert, it posed little danger to the surrounding homes.

Additionally, more than 87% of Nevada territory is owned by the federal government. It had vast available land, sunny weather and good rail connections.


The nuclear explosions provided spectacles and a source of entertainment for the people living in the area. As a result, Vegas began to experience a new influx of people from across the country, who would travel thousands of miles to catch a glimpse of this new show.

Soon after Las Vegas transformed from its original city of 25,000 people into a world-famous spectacle of three million people.

Journalists everywhere jumped on this exciting new phenomenon and the topic of nuclear tourism became the biggest headliner everywhere.

Even New York Times writers began to refer to it as "an unconventional but still respectable pastime of atom-bomb viewing".


Naturally speaking, Vegas was designed for pretentiousness. Visitors are encouraged to live in the moment and focus on what is in front of them, masking the person from all reminders of time and space.

His motto: Pay attention to what's in front of you. So, taking advantage of this concept and its psychological impact, landlords and industry owners started turning these tests into their specs.

The Vegas Chamber of Commerce advances the dates and times for these tests. Calendars and community announcements will be published months in advance for tourists to plan and enjoy the spectacle of the mushroom cloud.

Photos of these events began to circulate in news sources everywhere, and bomb sightings became so popular that thrill-seeking tourists would make sure to get to the nearest ground-zero location.

On the eve of the explosions, many businesses in Las Vegas held "dawn bomb parties". Beginning at midnight, the guests would drink and sing until the glow of a bomb lit up the night sky.


However, in addition to these parties, Vegas also took advantage of the nuclear tests by providing itself as a source of relief and nostalgia from the surrounding terror.

Gambling, sports, and television were all sources of distraction that provided Vegas guests to escape the fear of their surroundings.

Both the Vegas and Nevada test site's Yucca Flats have been turned into a variety of tourist attractions. The main spectacle of the site to date are the large craters that currently scar the surface of the desert.

The desert floor is littered with craters of all shapes and sizes, ranging from nuclear weapons to small surface-level bombs.


One of the more popular craters is Bilby Crater, created in 1963 by an underground test. Producing approximately 249 kilotons of explosive power, the explosion created a hole 1,800 feet wide (550 m) and 80 feet (24 m) deep, and resulted in an aftershock that was felt in Vegas itself.

Sedan Crater is also popular due to its large size. About 1280 feet (1280 m) wide and 230 feet (70 m) deep, a 104 kiloton eruption just below the surface of the desert floor created this crater.

The impacts moved about 12 million tons in Earth's passing, compared to a 4.75 earthquake.


A reporter writing for the Department of State Washington Bulletin described watching the explosion: "You put on goggles, turn your head, and wait for the signal. Now - the bomb has been dropped. Wait, then turn your head and try.

An imaginatively bright cloud rising up like a giant umbrella…. You protect yourself from the shock wave that comes after a nuclear explosion.

A heat wave comes first, then a shock, strong enough to knock down an unprepared man. Then, after what seems like hours, the man-made sunbursts fade.

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