Excerpts from documents and books
regarding the decision to locate the test site in Nevada1

According to a memorandum prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Hull, J.E., Lieutenant General, USA Commanding, in Memorandum for The Chief of Staff, United States Army, "Location of Proving Ground for Atomic Weapons", JTF-7, no date but appears to be 1948):

"There appears to be a need for adequate education of the people of our country concerning the radiological hazards resulting from atomic explosions. This should be realistic in nature with the view to giving the public a correct understanding of this matter in order that the hysterical or alarmist complex now so prevalent may be corrected.

"....Alleviation of their fears would be a matter of reeducation over a long period of time, and, until the public will accept the possibility of an atomic explosion within a matter of a hundred or so miles of their homes, establishment of a continental proving ground will be beset by substantial public relations and political difficulties."

Another 1948 document (Rear Admiral Parsons, Subject: Site for Atomic Bomb Experiments, May 12, 1948; Appendix to the Memorandum to the Joint Chief of Staff on the "Location of Proving Ground for Atomic Weapons."):
"The tremendous monetary and other outlays involved [in testing far away] have at times been publicly justified by stressing radiological hazards. I submit that this pattern has already become too firmly fixed in the public mind and its continuation can contribute to an unhealthy, dangerous and unjustified fear of atomic detonations.... Therefore, on a psychological basis alone, I believe that it is high time to lay the ghost of an all-pervading lethal radioactive cloud which can only be evaded by people on ships, airplanes and sandpits in the Marshall Islands.

"...while there may be short-term public relations difficulties caused by testing atomic bombs with the continental limits, these are more than offset by the fundamental gain from increased realism in the attitude of the public."
According to Bernard O'Keefe, Chairman of the Board and CEO of EG&G, Inc. (a Department of Energy prime contractor), who was assigned to measure the effects of most of the major bomb tests, including the 1954 Bikini hydrogen bomb test and the Nevada tests (O'Keefe, Bernard J., Nuclear Hostages, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA, 1983, p. 148):
" interservice dispute had arisen in the military. Atomic strategy, as it had developed at the turn of the decade, called for massive air strikes with high-yield weapons carried out by Air Force bombers. This left no nuclear task for the Army and Navy, who wanted a piece of the action, and fast. A war was going on in Korea; the Army and Navy requested small, low-yield nuclear explosives that could be delivered by carrier planes or fired from an artillery piece, so-called tactical weapons. The Defense Department agreed and laid a requirement on the Atomic Energy Commission for development and testing of such devices.
According to a 1948 Joint Chiefs of Staff planning document (Holzman, Colonel B.G., USAF, Staff Meteorologist, memorandum to Admiral Parsons, Subject: Site for Atomic Bomb Experiments, April 21, 1948, Annex "A", in Memorandum for The Chief of Staff, United States Army from J.E. Hull, Lieutenant General, USA Commanding, Subject: Location of Proving Ground for Atomic Weapons):
"Because the United States is predominantly under the influence of westerly winds, it seems obvious that the eastern coast areas of the United States may provide a suitable site. For example, the coastal areas of North Carolina are influenced by prevailing west to northwest winds to at least 50,000 feet throughout all seasons of the year."
Further, according to Hutchinson, H.B., (Captain, USN, "Memorandum for Admiral Parsons, Subject: Progress Report - Project Nutmeg, US DOE Archives, 10 November 1948):
"Meteorological conditions in the coastal strip between Cape Hatteras and Cape Fear are entirely satisfactory for removing the radioactive products, the winds aloft prevail from the west. The winds in intermediate and low levels can be predicted with sufficient accuracy to assure westerly components for removing radioactive materials from the test sites out over the sea. The same favorable wind conditions prevail all along the Atlantic Coast with more variability, however, along the New England Coast. Yet a grave disadvantage exists north of Cape Hatteras which does not prevail south of Hatteras. The coastal waters of the Gulf of Maine, Nantucket Sound, the south shore, the New Jersey, Delaware, and Virginia coasts, are moved by currents which hug the land. In addition, these waters are prolific with vegetable plankton, the principal food of the pelagic fishes. If "fall out" proves to be an undesirable quantity with regard to choice of test sites, all "fall out" can be avoided south of Hatteras, since the Gulf Stream flows from this shore toward mid-Atlantic."
According to Gordon Dean, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1950 (Dean, Gordon, Chairman, United States Atomic Energy Commission, memorandum to Honorable Robert LeBaron, Chairman, Military Liaison Committee to the Atomic Energy Commission, 13 July 1950):
"In view of the Korean situation and its impact on national war readiness, it is evident that increasing emphasis must be placed on the prosecution of the tests of atomic weapons now scheduled for the Spring of 1951....[T]he results of the tests will have an important effect on the production of weapons for the War Reserve and on the development program for the thermonuclear weapon....[I]n the light of present and anticipated developments at the Los Alamos Scientific is more than possible that additional tests may be required for the same period.

"The Commission desires, therefore to make known to the Department of Defense its strong feeling that there be no delay in the presently scheduled tests."

Logistical convenience loomed large in the final analysis. According to the AEC ("Location of Proving Ground for Atomic Weapons - Selection of a Continental Atomic Test Site, Report by the Director of Military Application," AEC Document 141/7, 13 December 1950):
"There have remained for final consideration, after screening, the following areas:

    " "a. Alamogordo-White Sands Guided Missile Range in New Mexico (which contains the Trinity Area).

    "b. Dugway Proving Ground-Wendover Bombing Range, in Utah.

    "c. Las Vegas-Tonopah Bombing and Gunnery Range, Nevada.

    "d. Area in Nevada, about fifty miles wide and extending from Fallon to Eureka.

    "e. Pamlico Sound-Camp Lejeune area, in North Carolina.

    "17. Of the above areas, the first three are partially or wholly under the control of the Department of Defense, on a temporary withdrawal basis, and permanent withdrawal has been requested by the Office of the Chief of Engineers. Since the fourth and fifth areas are not Government-controlled, and there are indications of some delay in acquiring the necessary land, they were also dropped from further consideration."

"A geographical location as close as possible to the Los Alamos Laboratory, to enable accelerating the pace of the weapons development program is obviously a characteristic of such desirability that it could outweigh partial deficiencies in other respects."

1. Quotes have been reproduced from Chapter 4 of the 1991 book Radioactive Heaven and Earth: The Health and Environmental Effects of Nuclear Weapons Testing In, On, and Above the Earth, by the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War and IEER, Apex Press, New York.

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