Yesterday’s post featured a colorful shot of the sun rising over Frenchman Mountain just east of Las Vegas, Nevada. The funny story about this mountain is it is named for Paul Watelet, an immigrant miner who was actually from Belgium. Strangely perhaps, to me the photo could be mistaken for the flash of a distant thermonuclear explosion. 

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It might just be me but this image conjures up thoughts of a nuclear bomb.

In fact, Las Vegas is no stranger to the sight of nuclear explosions.  Between 1951 and 1962, the U.S. conducted 100 nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere over the Nevada Test Site (formerly the Las Vegas Bombing and Gunnery Range) about 65 miles (105 km) north of Las Vegas. 

It is ironic that so far the only country that ever nuked the United States is the United States.  We nuked ourselves over and over again with these tests.  Las Vegas promoted the sight of radioactive nuclear blasts as a tourist attraction.   Calendars throughout the city advertised detonation times, as well as the best viewing spots to see the blasts.  

Wikipedia states:

During the 1950s, the mushroom clouds from the 100 atmospheric tests could be seen from almost 100 mi (160 km) away. The city of Las Vegas experienced noticeable seismic effects, and the mushroom clouds, which could be seen from the downtown hotels, became tourist attractions. Westerly winds routinely carried the fallout from above-ground nuclear testing directly through St. George, Utah and southern Utah. Increases in cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, thyroid cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, bone cancer, brain tumors, and gastrointestinal tract cancers, were reported from the mid-1950s onward. A further 921 nuclear tests were carried out underground. (Citations and links omitted.)

The tests served various purposes one of which was studying the effects of nuclear fallout.  Atmospheric tests were conducted even though there was already much evidence on the harmful effects of atomic radiation.  No one warned the public or the troops who participated in various exercises connected with the tests.  

The somewhat unusual association I made between the photo and nuclear bombs may stem from my upbringing as a member of the Cold War “duck and cover” generation. Today, school kids in the U.S. have active-shooter drills. School kids in the 1950s and 60s had duck-and-cover drills where we were told to protect ourselves from nuclear blasts by things like hiding under a desk or crouching against a wall.  Good luck with that.  

Duck and cover drill. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Funny that the sunrise photo reminded me of a nuclear explosion because it really is a photo of the result of many thermonuclear reactions.  Every second the sun fuses about 600 million tons of hydrogen into helium which releases an amount of energy equivalent to 1 trillion 1 megaton bombs.  Every second!  The sun is a bad mf.  Thank goodness that all takes place 93,000,000 miles (149,000,000 km) from Earth.

Final Thought

The Nevada Test Site is deactivated and is open to tourists.  The next time I’m in Vegas I’d like to take one of the tours.  Even though image recording devices such as cameras and cell phones are strictly prohibited, I think the site would be quite interesting and the Cold War connection is nostalgic.  

I wonder if the memory of participating in active-shooter drills might affect today’s youth as they age.