Nuclear Tests



It was 60 years ago today that the United States detonated a 1.7 kiloton nuclear weapon in an underground tunnel at the Nevada Test Site. The test, known as Rainier part of a series of nuclear weapons safety tests ,was the first fully contained underground detonation and produced no radioactive fallout. 

However, there was a lot less concern about safety just a few short years earlier.


collage nuclear tests sally edelstein

In the early 1950’s the Atomic Energy Commission decided that parts of Utah and Nevada would be the sight of a continental proving ground for nuclear weapons. It became the first American Ground Zero. “Accidents Will Happen- By The Bombs Early Light.”Collage of appropriated images by Sally Edelstein


Rivaling the Grimm Brothers, one of the greatest stories told by the U.S. Government to its citizens  was the safety of the nuclear testing done in Nevada in the early 1950’s.

Sally-Edelstein-collage -of -appropriated-images- Atmospheric-Bomb- tests 1950s

Sally Edelstein “Accidents Will Happen- By the Bombs Early Light” Collage of appropriated images

Our government insisted that the spate of nuclear atmospheric testings in the American West were no more a danger than the new fangled TV transmissions racing through the sky. The Atomic Energy Commission  had decided that Utah and Nevada these “virtually uninhabited territory” would be the perfect site for Nuclear testing.

Most shrugged off the potential hazards of atmospheric testing especially the long-term danger.

In fact the danger lay in not doing the tests.

Most Americans agreed that the ultimate benefit of peace and security that only nuclear bombs would bring us was more than enough for the potential risk.


Sally Edelstein collage of appropriated images Atmospheric Bomb tests 1950s

Sally Edelstein “Accidents Will Happen- By the Bombs Early Light” Detail. Collage of appropriated images

Of course there were outlandish allegations from some alarmists who attributed everything from rising cost of living to climate change, birth defects even throwing the very earth off its axis, to the tests.

The government debunked each of these fears.

Carefully crafted “friendly atom propaganda” appeared covering over much evidence of bombs harmful effects on human health.

It was, Uncle Sam said with a shrug, the same nervous Nellies who thought we should be concerned about the safety of DDT! Radiation was like taxes, not pleasant but you learned to live with it.

Sally Edelstein collage of appropriated images Atmospheric Bomb tests 1950s

This was the most prodigiously reckless program of scientific experimentation in US history. Over the next 12 years, the governments nuclear cold warriors detonated 126 Atom Bombs into the atmosphere at the Nevada test sites. “There is no danger” Atomic Energy Commission assured the public. Like most Americans citizens most of the residents in the area just didn’t think their government could do any wrong. Years later when the cancers and leukemia appeared, their unquestioned faith in their government was shattered. These were American citizens referred to by their government as “low use segment of the population.” Sally Edelstein “Accidents Will Happen- By the Bombs Early Light” Detail. Collage of appropriated images

Our government had guaranteed us the safety of the testings and if you couldn’t trust the USA who could you trust?

Every school kid knew the father of our country George Washington would never tell a lie, and so a trusting public believed that our Uncle Sam’s word was as trustworthy as a boy scout.

With a ringing endorsement from the AEC confirming that Uncle Sam had taken all the necessary precautions to ensure our safety, the Nevada Test Site only 65 miles from Las Vegs became quite the attraction. Why some folks even made a family trip of it, catching Frank Sinatra at the Sands Hotel while they took in the sights at the Nevada Test Site.

Folks were encouraged to pack their Brownies and Coppertone and head west for a rip roarin’ good time. And if you forgot your Brownie Hawkeye at home not to worry; the experience would give you long lasting memories to relive again and again.

Nevada Test Site

Sally Edelstein collage of appropriated images Atmospheric Bomb tests 1950s

Minutes before the first light of dawn on Jan 27, 1951 an Air Force B 50 Bomber dropped an atomic bomb on the desert west of Las Vegas. The flash of light awakened ranchers in northern Utah, the concussion shattered windows in Arizona; radiation swept across America contaminating as far as northern NY.  Sally Edelstein “Accidents Will Happen- By the Bombs Early Light” Detail. Collage of appropriated images

Thousands were flocking to Nevada to witness these bombs bursting in air.

Capturing the rugged flavor of the old west where the sky is not cloudy all day- except of course when the bomb goes off- the desert landscape became littered with lawn chairs and luncheon meat. Insulated tartan plaid coolers dotted the desert as sight seekers in pedal pushers and sunny summer separates made themselves comfortable for the countdown.

Before the first light of dawn, dazzled tourists, their hearts thumping in their newly purchased wash n wear resort wear, sleepy kids in their pajamas and Roy Rogers hats, gathered with ex-GI’s in Bermuda shorts wearing WWII issued anti-glare Ray Bans.

Rockets Red Glare

As the pink clouds drifted across the flat mesas, the shock waves booming against the chests a veil of radioactive particles floated over the test site. With the rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air, the heat from the blast stimulated a healthy radiant blush on the visitors, leaving them with an envied sunburned vacation glow.


Sally Edelstein collage of appropriated images Atmospheric Bomb tests 1950s

We were still fairly innocent about Atomic Power in the early part of the decade. Few knew that by the late 1950s radioactive elements released in above ground bomb tests had traveled invisibly thousands of miles to land on grass American cows ate and so entered the milk American children drank. Sally Edelstein “Accidents Will Happen- By the Bombs Early Light” Detail. Collage of appropriated images

And for those folks who couldn’t make any of the 126 test detonated over 12 years, no worries.

The wind would carry the mushroom cloud downwind, dispersing radioactive elements over the purple mountains majesty, above the fruited plains, making you feel just like you had actually been there.

Accidents Will Happen

Sally Edelstein "Accidents Will Happen- By the Bombs Early Light" Detail. Collage of appropriated images

Sally Edelstein “Accidents Will Happen- By the Bombs Early Light” Detail. Collage of appropriated images

In 1961 Physicians for Social responsibility was founded by doctors concerned about the public health dangers associated with the testing and use of nuclear weapons.

Despite the government protestations of I see nothing, I hear nothing, I know nothing, several serous health affects such as increased incidences of cancers, leukemia, thyroid diseases and congenital malformations have now been well documented to those citizens known as downwinders- individuals and communities exposed to radioactive contamination from nuclear weapon testing.

The irony of the Atmospheric testings is that the only victim of the US nuclear arms since WWII have been our own citizens.

© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2017.



  1. Your collage is da bomb.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “nuclear weapons safety tests”: nuclear weapons and safety, what a cancellation in terms if ever there was one.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Susan G

    Being older than you, I remember our duck and cover practices in my elementary school. I was only about six, but I wondered why we had to leave our classroom (it had a wall of glass windows) and hunch down facing the wall in the hallway — which also had windows running the length of the opposite wall! Those windows were just eight feet away…. Actually, as a child I was cynically aware that if we didn’t die from flying glass, we’d die from radiation. A fifties’ TV show in which a family had to decide whether to allow neighbors into their underground shelter — lessening their own chance of survival — made a grim impression on me. So did a show in which the mother was developing radiation sickness — indicated by her seeing how much of her hair ended up on her hairbrush. I knew what that meant, because my mother was getting radiation treatments for cancer, and saved the hair that came out in case she needed it to look normal at her funeral. After that TV show, I used to examine my own hairbrush with trepidation.
    Aside from the threat of nuclear war, we have had nuclear energy for about 60 years and still haven’t figured out how to safely dispose of nuclear waste. What really put this problem in perspective for me was reading that scientists have consulted linguists and are trying to come up with signage that will still mean “Danger- do not dig here” 10,000 years from now, because that’s how long the waste will remain dangerous. Language changes much faster than that. Here’s one article explaining the problem:


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