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Nevada's important role in nuclear testing on display at National Atomic Testing Museum

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Posted at 6:33 AM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-19 01:41:52-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — We are surrounded by history here in Southern Nevada -- the good, the bad and the important.

And Nevada’s atomic history is part of it at the National Atomic Testing Museum located just minutes away from the Las Vegas Strip on East Flamingo Road.

"We were founded by the Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation and we have been open since 2005. The foundation was started by former test site workers. Their role was to preserve the history of the site and the worker's stories who helped keep our country safe," said Joseph Kent, director of education at the National Atomic Testing Museum.

The museum offers guests the chance to blast into the past when it comes to Nevada's connection with nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site.

"Guests at the museum can experience the history of nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site to currently what the site is doing as a Nevada National Security Site," Kent said.

Located just 65 miles north of Las Vegas the site became the United State’s main site for nuclear testing in the 1950s and its stories live on at the museum.

"We do a lot of work to help preserve the stories of the test site workers. We offer interviews with former test site workers and a lecture series that shares their stories of working at the site," Kent said.

The history of nuclear testing is on display -- covering the period from the first test in 1951 to the current era as the Nevada National Security Site remains active.

"The Nevada Test Site, which is now known as the Nevada National Security Site, made a huge impact on Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. Prior to the test site being established, there were only about 25,000 people living in the city, and just the next decade after the test site opened the population exploded to about 65,000," Kent said.

Visitors are brought into the fascinating story of America’s nuclear weapons program, the Cold War and how the test site played a crucial role in the race for nuclear weapons.

"The main gallery of the museum starts from the late 1940s all the way up to the 1990s. The biggest thing that people will learn when coming through is when testing moved underground in 1963 those tests continued all the way to 1992," Kent said.

The museum shares never-before-seen, first-person narratives with impressive artifacts on display.

"We often have workers at the museum who share their own experiences at the site. And have a Mark III ballistics case. It is identical to the Fat Man weapon. It's one visitors can see as soon as they enter and its been a great feature piece for the museum," Kent said.

Theatrical devices, environmental recreations and interactive exhibits are all available to those who visit.

"We also have a simulation of a nuclear bomb going off at our Ground Zero Theater that is a huge fan favorite for those who visit the museum," Kent said.

The site is very important in understanding nuclear warfare and continues to be vital to national security to this day.

"Prior to the Nevada Test Site being created the U.S. government was testing weapons out in the South Pacific. So, President Truman started Project Nutmeg. He wanted to find a continental testing site and Nevada fit the bill. From 1951 to 1992 -- the Nevada Test Site tested a total of 928 nuclear weapons," Kent said.

In 2020, the museum honored the 75th anniversary of the first nuclear test known as Trinity with the opening of a new permanent exhibit.

"Visitors can start in our Trinity room first. That exhibit focuses on the development of the first nuclear weapon in the 1940s," Kent said.

So on your next trip down memory lane on Nevada history, make sure to include the nuclear side of Nevada's history at the National Atomic Testing Museum.

"We are always doing activities and events at the museum. Our Distinguished Lecture Series is back up and running and we look forward to seeing you at the Atomic Testing Museum," Kent said.