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The strange era when Las Vegas threw atomic-bomb parties

The ghost of the age has also made its way into popular culture. In 2012, The Killers included the song Miss Atomic Bomb on their fourth album, Battle Born. The American guitar band is themselves a product of Las Vegas, having formed in the city in 2001, and much of their music celebrates the dirt, drama – and sometimes weirdness – of the Nevada context. But perhaps not much more than that in this catchy five-minute song, with her talk that “the dust cloud has settled,” and her use of that adorable photo of Lee Merlin in her funny dress (see above) as a cover—which is unfathomable. Dark weirdness has been recycled as a metaphor, but it’s no less weird for seven decades.

Five “nuclear tourism” sites

Nevada test site (USA)

The Nevada Test Site (NTS; although officially the “Nevada National Security Site” as of 2010) is one of the most infamous yet obscure sites on the US map, still located toward the southwest side of the state, hidden away in a chain of Ileana Mountains. In total, it experienced 928 nuclear tests, although 828 of them were conducted underground, and weapons tests were halted in 1992 as the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty approached. However, the NTS was not forgotten or forgiven. It is still a functioning research facility, with more than 1,110 buildings and 400 miles of paved roads. Some 536 anti-nuclear protests were held on its sidelines between 1986 and 1994.

You might expect it to be fenced off from public view. Significantly, it is not. While potential visitors need to apply in advance, tours take place every month and are very popular; At the time of writing, they are booked until June 2023. Subsequent dates will be announced in March (see nnss.gov/pages/PublicAffairsOutreach/NNSStours.html).

Trinity website (USA)

The Nevada test site wasn’t the only place where mushroom clouds surged over the American West. The Trinity site was the original; The chosen place where the Manhattan Project moved from the laboratory to reality, and the weapon that would be launched in Japan a month later appeared for the first time in its prototype on July 16, 1945.

As with its Nevada counterpart, this largely forbidden corner of New Mexico is still very active. It is part of the White Sands Missile Range, in the lower half of the “Breaking Bad State,” about 100 miles north of the border with Mexico. And, as with the Nevada testing site, it is open to the public on a very limited basis. Open days are held twice a year, on the first Saturday in April and the third Saturday in October (which means April 1 and October 21 in 2023). (Full details in home.army.mil/wsmr/index.php/contact/public-affairs-office/trinity-site-open-house).

Although this is a closely related point of the historical map of the planet, there is – perhaps not surprisingly – very little to see. All that remains of the 30-meter-high tower that was destroyed in the 1945 explosion is a small stub of concrete. The four-meter high obelisk marks the detonation point.

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