Today in History: The first-ever underground nuclear explosion goes off in Nevada

The first-ever underground nuclear bomb goes off in Nevada. Image: Craig Hill Training Services.

On this day in 1957, the United States detonates a 1.7 kiloton nuclear weapon in an underground tunnel at the Nevada Test Site (NTS), a 3 561km² research centre located 104km north of Las Vegas.

The test, known as Rainier, was the first fully contained underground detonation and produced no radioactive fallout. A modified W-25 warhead weighing 99kg and measuring 65,2cm in diameter and 44,1cm in length was used for the test.

Rainier was part of a series of 29 nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons safety tests known as Operation Plumbbob that were conducted at the NTS between 28 May 1957 and 7 October 1957.

In December 1941, the US government committed to building the world’s first nuclear weapon when President Franklin Roosevelt authorised $2 billion in funding for what came to be known as the Manhattan Project. The first nuclear weapon test took place on 16 July 1945, at the Trinity site near Alamogordo, New Mexico.

A few weeks later, on 6 August 1945, with the US at war against Japan, President Harry Truman authorised the dropping of an atomic bomb named Little Boy over Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, on 9 August a nuclear bomb called Fat Man was dropped over Nagasaki.

Two hundred thousand people, according to some estimates, were killed in the attacks on the two cities and on 15 August 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers.

1957’s Operation Plumbbob took place at a time when the US was engaged in a Cold War and nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union. In 1963, the US signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which banned nuclear weapons testing in the atmosphere, under water and in outer space.

A total of 928 tests took place at the Nevada Test Site between 1951 and 1992, when the US conducted its last underground nuclear test. In 1996, the US signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits nuclear detonations in all environments.

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  AUTHOR
Blake Linder
Journalist

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