Nellis AFB Bombing Range
Morss NYE 02484 Priscilla atomic test Nevada Test Site 1959 
Priscilla Photo of 37 kiloton atomic bomb detonation

Numbered Areas 1 - 3
Nevada Test Center Area Layout

Area 1 — As a part of the Nuclear Test Zone, this area occupies 70 km2 (27 mi2) near the center of the Yucca Flat weapons test basin. Four atmospheric nuclear tests were conducted here between 1952 and 1955. Three underground nuclear tests have also been detonated in Area 1, one in 1971 and two in 1990. The U1a complex (formerly known as the Lyner complex) is a mined underground complex in Area 1 that is available for dynamic experiments (including subcritical experiments involving special nuclear material) and hydrodynamic tests that cannot be conducted aboveground because they may contain hazardous materials. Initial work on what later became known as the Lyner Complex began in the late 1960s with the mining of the U1a shaft to a depth of 305 meters (m) (1,000 feet [ft]) for a nuclear test. It was not used. Further work took place in the 1980s and early 1990s to develop a complex that could be used to perform intentionally designed low-yield tests or experiments, which included safety tests, and other experiments that would be expected to remain subcritical or produce negligible nuclear energy release. The Ledoux nuclear test with a yield of less than 25 kilotons was conducted in 1990 in a drift within this tunnel complex. The Kismet experiment, involving high explosives, tritium, depleted uranium, and other materials, was a dynamic experiment conducted in the Lyner Complex in March 1995. Both Ledoux and Kismet were contained to prevent radiological releases to the rest of the Lyner Complex and the surface environment. The Area 1 Industrial Complex, at the intersection of Pahute Mesa Road and Tippipah Highway, is the maintenance and storage area for an over $20-million inventory of large-hole drilling equipment and miscellaneous supplies. Typical day-to-day operations include replacing worn cutters on a drill bit with new or rebuilt cutters, straightening drill pipe and tubing, and other drilling tool maintenance tasks. A concrete batch plant and storage area for bulk construction material, as well as a shaker plant that produces stemming material and concrete aggregate, lie to the north of the drilling yard.

The U1a Facility is an underground experimental complex at the U.S. Department of Energy's Nevada Test Site. The U1a complex supports routine test site activities in which high explosives are detonated to test the readiness of equipment, communications, procedures, and personnel. Test data will help maintain the reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile by allowing scientists to gain more knowledge of the dynamic properties of aging nuclear materials. Of particular interest is data on the behavior of plutonium that can be used in computer calculations of nuclear weapon performance and safety in the absence of actual underground nuclear testing. The complex is located in Area 1 of the Nevada Test Site, approximately 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The complex, consisting of horizontal tunnels about one-half mile in length mined at the base of a vertical shaft approximately 960 feet beneath the surface, was mined in the late 1960s for an underground nuclear test which was later canceled. In 1988, the shaft was reopened, and a 1,460-foot horizontal tunnel was mined south at the 962-foot level of the shaft. In 1990, the Ledoux nuclear test was conducted in the tunnel. The vertical shaft is equipped with a mechanical hoist for personnel and equipment access while another vertical shaft about 1,000 feet away provides cross ventilation, instrumentation, utility access, and emergency egress. On the surface, there are several temporary buildings and instrumentation trailers. The most distinguishable landmark at the complex is the white air building which was used for experiment assembly during Ledoux.

The underground complex consists of several main tunnels (called drifts), each about one-quarter of a kilometer long, and a series of small experimental alcoves branching off from them. The alcoves are also called zero rooms, from the "ground zero" parlance of the nuclear test era. The downhole environment is surprisingly comfortable, with well-lit rooms, concrete floors, tall ceilings, and lunchrooms. Both Livermore and Los Alamos have designated testing areas in the complex. Los Alamos scientists conduct experiments about every 15 months, while Livermore currently conducts its tests every six weeks, thanks to the use of expendable steel vessels that confine debris from the experiment.

In 1996, Lawrence Livermore started mining its first downhole experimental area, called the 101 drift, using the same mining techniques as those for subway construction. The drift and three small experimental alcoves were completed about 10 months later. The mined areas were stabilized with 5-meter-long steel rods drilled into the tunnel walls, secured with epoxy cement, and sprayed with a slurry of fibercrete, material similar to concrete. The Holog, Bagpipe, and Clarinet test series were all conducted in their assigned alcoves, which afterwards were permanently sealed.

Area 2 — This area, within the Nuclear Test Zone, occupies approximately 52 km2 (20 mi2) in the northern half of the Yucca Flat basin. The eastern portion of Area 2 was the site of seven atmospheric nuclear tests conducted between 1952 and 1957. The first in a series of underground nuclear tests in Area 2 took place in late 1962 and continued through 1990. A number of the 137 underground tests detonated in Area 2 were simultaneous detonations of multiple devices in the same emplacement hole; other underground tests involved the firing of two or more devices with the devices in separate emplacement holes. Most of the structures that comprised a former construction base camp (consisting generally of Butler buildings, Quonset huts, and trailers) have been relocated to Area 6, and the facilities remaining in Area 2 are in the process of being moved to other locations or are being scrapped.

Area 3 — This portion of the Nuclear Test Zone occupies 82 km2 (32 mi2) near the center of the Yucca Flat weapons test basin and was the site of 17 atmospheric tests conducted between 1952 and 1958. A total of 251 underground nuclear tests were conducted in Area 3 from 1958 through 1992. This is the largest number of tests of any of the NTS underground test areas. A number of these tests consisted of simultaneous device detonations, and nearly all of these simultaneous tests consisted of single devices in separate emplacement holes. Nine of the underground nuclear tests in Area 3 were conducted in unstemmed holes to minimize, but not eliminate, the release of radioactivity to the atmosphere. These unique tests were carried out between mid-1957 and late 1958. Bulk low-level waste is disposed of in selected Area 3 subsidence craters that, collectively, comprise the Area 3 Radioactive Waste Management Site. This activity commenced in the mid-1960s when the DOE began removing scrap tower steel, vehicles, and other large objects that had been subjected to atmospheric testing. From 1979 to 1990, large amounts of contaminated soil and other debris from the NTS were added to the craters. There are seven disposal craters. Two craters are in use, two are full and temporarily capped, and three are in reserve for potential future use.


Numbered Areas 4 - 8
Nevada Test Site Location

Area 4 — This area, within the Nuclear Test Zone, occupies 41 km2 (16 mi2) near the center of the Yucca Flat basin. Area 4 was the site of five atmospheric nuclear tests conducted between 1952 and 1957. From the mid-1970s through 1991, a total of 35 underground nuclear tests were conducted in Area 4, mainly in the northeast corner. Two of these tests involved the simultaneous detonation of multiple devices in the same emplacement hole. The Big Explosives Experimental Facility (BEEF) is a hydrodynamic testing facility, located at the Department of Energy's Nevada Test Site in Area 4, about 95 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada. The need for the BEEF site originated when, due to community encroachment near the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) facility in Livermore, California, DOE was no longer allowed to perform large high explosive experiments at the facilities Site 300, Shaped Charge Scaling Project. Therefore looking at the Nevada Test Site as a location to continue to perform these large high explosive experiments, two earth-covered, two-foot thick steel reinforced concrete bunkers, built to monitor atmospheric tests at Yucca Flat in the 1950s, were located and found to be ideally configured. The facility consists of a control bunker, a camera bunker, a gravel firing table, and associated control and diagnostic systems. The facility has conducted safely conventional high-explosives experiments using a test bed that provides sophisticated diagnostics such as high-speed optics and x-ray radiography on the firing table, while operating personnel are present in the bunker. The September 2002 Watusi experiment sought to show that existing seismic and infrasound sensors at the test site and across the West that were used in the days of underground nuclear testing still can detect and characterize explosions accurately. The yield of the experiment was equivalent to approximately 37,000 pounds of TNT. It took place at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Big Explosive Experimental Facility, or BEEF, about 12 miles east of the test site's central Control Point.

Area 5 — This area, within the Reserved Zone, occupies some 246 km2 (95 mi2) in the southeastern portion of the site and includes the Area 5 Radioactive Waste Management Site, the Hazardous Waste Storage Unit, and the Spill Test Facility. From 1951 through early 1962, 14 atmospheric tests were conducted at Frenchman Flat, several of which were weapons effects tests. Among the remains of the structures tested in Frenchman Flat are simulated motel complexes, metal frames that supported a variety of roofing materials, a window test structure, cylindrical liquid storage vessels, reinforced concrete domes and aluminum domes, bridge pedestals, and a bank vault; all of these remains are of considerable historical interest. Five nuclear weapons tests were conducted underground at Frenchman Flat between 1965 and 1968. However, the presence of the carbonate aquifer makes this area less suitable for underground testing than other locations on the NTS. In the GMX area, 24 experiments, some utilizing relatively small quantities of fissile materials, were conducted between 1954 and 1956. These experiments were so-called "equation-of-state" studies where "instantaneous" changes in the physical properties of plutonium materials subjected to detonations from conventional explosives were measured. The Area 5 Radioactive Waste Management Site is located in a 732-acre Radioactive Waste Management Zone used for low-level waste disposal. Mixed waste, including transuranic mixed waste, has been disposed of at the site in the past, and transuranic wastes are currently being stored there pending disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The Hazardous Waste Storage Unit is an accumulation point for nonradioactive materials, such as paints, chemicals, unused or surplus fuels,and other items. Periodically, all hazardous wastes generated at the NTS are sent to permitted commercial facilities for recycling, incineration, or disposal. The Spill Test Facility is a complex of fuel tanks, spill pads, meteorological and camera towers, equipment and control buildings, and a wind tunnel used for releasing hazardous materials and measuring their behavior in outdoor conditions.

Area 6 — This area occupies 212 km2 (82 mi2) between Yucca Flat and Frenchman Flat, straddling Frenchman Mountain. Only one atmospheric nuclear test was conducted in Area 6, and that was in 1957. Between 1968 and mid-1990, five under ground nuclear tests were conducted at this location, two of which involved the simultaneous detonation of multiple devices in separate emplacement holes. The Control Point complex serves as the command center, air operations center, and timing and firing center for the Yucca Flat weapons test basin, Frenchman Flat, Pahute Mesa, and surrounding areas. Augmenting facilities near the secured compound include a communications building, several radiological sciences and technical services buildings, a fire and first-aid station, and various maintenance and warehouse structures. The Area 6 Construction Facilities provide craft and logistical support to activities in the forward areas of the NTS. This forward area complex replaces older construction base camps in Areas 2 and 3. Those elements comprising the Yucca Lake facilities include a variety of equipment storage facilities, a heavy- duty maintenance and equipment repair facility, and decontamination facilities. A 3,353 m (11,000 ft) airstrip and nearby weather station also are located on the Yucca Lake bed. The Device Assembly Facility is the primary location of all nuclear explosive operations at the NTS. Nuclear explosive operations include assembly, disassembly or modification, staging, transportation, testing, maintenance, repair, retrofit, and surveillance. The Device Assembly Facility contains about 9,290 m2 (100,000 ft2) of interior floor space within a Critical Assembly Zone composed of approximately 22 acres. The Hydrocarbon Contaminated Soils Disposal Site is an existing, state of Nevada-approved, Class III landfill. All non-Resource Conservation and Recovery Act-regulated hydrocarbon contaminated soils and materials generated on the NTS are disposed of at this landfill.

Area 7 — This area, within the Nuclear Test Zone, occupies 52 km2 (20 mi2 ) in the northeast quadrant of the Yucca Flat weapons test basin. Twenty-six atmospheric tests were conducted in this area. From late 1964 through the fall of 1991, a total of 62 underground nuclear tests were carried out in Area 7, all consisting of a single nuclear device in a drilled emplacement hole.

Area 8 — This area, within the Nuclear Test Zone, occupies 34 km2 (13 mi2) in the northeast quadrant of the Yucca Flat weapons test basin. Area 8 was the site of three atmospheric nuclear tests conducted in 1958. From mid-1966 through late 1988, 10 underground nuclear tests were carried out at this location. Two of the underground tests involved the simultaneous firing of multiple devices put in the same emplacement hole. Underground shelter structures were tested in the late 1950s, and in 1964 these shelters were used by the University of Florida for shelter habitability studies. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has conducted experiments in this area.


Numbered Areas 9 - 15

Area 9 — This area, within the Nuclear Test Zone, occupies 52 km2 (20 mi2 ) in the northeast quadrant of the Yucca Flat weapons test basin. Seventeen atmospheric tests were conducted in this area between 1951 and 1958. Area 9 has been used extensively for underground nuclear testing; 100 such tests were carried out from late 1961 to mid-1992. Of the dozen underground tests involving the simultaneous detonation of multiple devices, most involved the use of separate emplacement holes (two or more holes, each with a single device). The Area 9 sanitary landfill is located in a subsidence crater formed as a result of a subsurface nuclear detonation in the early 1960s. This Class II landfill is allowed to receive all types of nonhazardous waste. In October 1995, the landfill underwent partial closure and will reopen as a Class III construction and demolition debris landfill.

Area 10 — This area, incorporated in the Nuclear Test Zone, occupies 54 km2 (21 mi2) in the northeast quadrant of the Yucca Flat weapons test basin. Area 10 was the selected location for the nation’s first nuclear missile system test, an air-to-air rocket, detonated in mid-1957. This was the only nuclear rocket test ever conducted at the NTS. Two of the earliest shallow nuclear cratering experiments conducted at the NTS were detonated in 1951 and 1955 at this location. Resuming with the deeply buried Sedan cratering experiment in mid-1962 and extending through early 1991, a number of underground nuclear tests were conducted in Area 10. Counting both the cratering and contained underground tests, there were 57 nonatmospheric nuclear tests. A number of the underground tests detonated in Area 10 were simultaneous detonations of multiple devices in the same emplacement hole, while others involved the firing of multiple devices, but with each of the nuclear devices located in separate emplacement holes. Area 10 is the site of Sedan Crater, which was formed by a thermonuclear device detonated in July 1962. It left a large throw-out crater with a diameter of 390 m (1,280 ft) and a depth of 98 m (320 ft). Sedan was the first in a series of 23 Plowshare experiments conducted at the NTS to develop peaceful uses of nuclear explosives. Sedan Crater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a file of cultural resources of national, state, regional, or local significance identified by the National Park Service. The Scooter Crater, also located in Area 10, is the result of a 500-ton conventional high-explosive experiment carried out in 1960.

Area 11 — This area, which is split among the Nuclear Test and Reserved Zones, occupies 67 km2 (26 mi2) along the eastern border of the NTS. Four atmospheric plutonium-dispersal safety tests were conducted in the northern portion of Area 11 in 1954 and 1956 in what is now known as Plutonium Valley. Because of the radioactive residues that remain from the safety experiments, Area 11 continues to be used on an intermittent basis for realistic drills in radiological monitoring and sampling operations. In addition to the aboveground safety tests, five underground nuclear weapons effects tests were carried out in Area 11 between the spring of 1966 and early 1971. An explosive ordnance disposal site is located in the southern portion of Area 11. This is a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act permitted treatment unit. The site consists of a detonation pit surrounded by an earthen pad, approximately 8 m (25 ft) by 30 m (100 ft), and supplemental equipment, which includes a bunker, electrical shot box, and electrical wire. Typically, up to six detonations of 45 kilograms (kg) (100 pounds [lb]) or less of explosives are conducted annually.

Area 12 — This area, within the Nuclear or High Explosive Test Zone, occupies 104 km2 (40 mi2) at the northern boundary of the NTS known as Rainier Mesa. No atmospheric tests were conducted at this location. Rainier Mesa was the site of the nation's first fully contained underground nuclear detonation in the fall of 1957. Of the 61 underground nuclear tests carried out in Area 12 between late 1957 and the fall of 1992, only 2 were detonated in drilled holes, whereas all of the others were detonated in mined tunnels. Today, there are a number of tunnels mined into Rainier Mesa, within which most DoD horizontal line-of-sight exposure experiments were conducted. In particular, N-, P-, and T-Tunnel complexes were extensively developed during the past several decades. N-Tunnel was also the location for a non-proliferation experiment, detonated in September 1993; this experiment involved 1.3 x 106 kg (2.9 x 106 lb) of conventional high explosives. The DoD currently operates a high-explosives research and development tunnel in Area 12. This reusable test bed supports programs involving the detonation of conventional or prototype explosives and munitions. The Area 12 camp was used to support operations in the northern region of the NTS. The camp includes housing and feeding facilities; other support structures include a major maintenance building, various craft and repair shops, a first-aid facility, and a supply depot. The camp is currently closed.

Area 13 — Officially, there is no Area 13 within the NTS boundary; however, there is a land plot on the Nellis Air Force Range [NAFR] Complex, known as NAFR Complex Area 13, which lies off the northeast corner of the NTS. This was the location for a plutonium-dispersal safety experiment conducted in early 1957. The only future DOE activities that would occur in this area would involve environmental restoration.

Area 14 — This Reserved Zone area occupies 67 km2 (26 mi2) in the south-central portion of the NTS. Relatively isolated from the NTS’s major operational and support facilities, no atmospheric or underground nuclear tests have ever been conducted in Area 14.

Area 15 — This Reserved Zone area occupies 96 km2 (37 mi2) at the northeast corner of the NTS, and no atmospheric tests were conducted at this location. However, between early 1962 to mid-1966, three underground nuclear tests were carried out in Area 15. Two major complexes are located in Area 15, the Hardhat/Piledriver site and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Farm Complex, both of which are now closed. The Piledriver experiment in mid-1966 was one of the most complex and expensive DoD underground nuclear tests ever carried out. The purpose of these tests was to investigate the simulated effects of a nuclear surface detonation on a deeply buried, superhard command and control center in a granite rock formation. From 1978 to 1983, the Spent Fuel Test, Climax was carried out in a separately mined drift at the Hardhat/Piledriver site. The purpose of this study was to learn more about how granite would react to heat and radiation from spent nuclear fuel. As part of the nation’s long-range health and safety program, an experimental 30-acre dairy farm was developed and operated in Area 15 between 1965 and 1981. The purpose of this extensive research program was to study the passage of airborne radionuclides through the soil-forage-cow-milk-food chain.


Numbered Areas 16 - 24

Area 16 — This area, within the Nuclear or High Explosive Test Zone, occupies 73 km2 (28 mi2) in the west-central portion of the NTS. No atmospheric tests have ever been conducted at this location. Area 16 was established in 1961 for the DoD's exclusive use in support of a complicated nuclear effects experiment that required a tunnel location in an isolated area away from other active weapons test areas. From mid-1962 through mid-1971, six underground nuclear weapons effects tests (all in the same tunnel complex) were conducted at this location. Currently, the DoD uses this area for high-explosives research and development in support of programs involving the detonation of conventional or prototype explosives and munitions.

Area 17 — This area, within the Reserved Zone, occupies 80 km2 (31 mi2) in the north-central portion of the NTS. This area has been used primarily as a buffer between other testing activities. No atmospheric tests or experimental activities of programmatic consequence have been conducted in Area 17.

Area 18 — This area, within the Reserved Zone, occupies 231 km2 (89 mi2) in the northwest quadrant of the NTS. The inactive Pahute airstrip is located in the east-central portion of the area. When in operational status, the airstrip was primarily used for shipment of supplies and equipment for Pahute Mesa test operations. Area 18 was the site of five nuclear weapons tests: four were conducted in mid-1962 and one underground test was conducted in 1964. Two of these were atmospheric tests, two were cratering experiments, and one was a stemmed underground nuclear test. In 1964, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory used the area for a Plowshare-sponsored test using chemical high explosives to investigate the potential use of nuclear explosives for ditch digging in dense hard rock.

Area 19 — This area, within the Nuclear Test Zone, occupies 388 km2 (150 mi2) in the northwest corner of the NTS. Area 19 was developed for high-yield underground nuclear tests. No atmospheric nuclear tests were conducted in Area 19. From the mid-1960s through 1992, a total of 35 underground nuclear tests were conducted.

Area 20 — This area, within the Nuclear Test Zone, occupies 259 km2 (100 mi2) and is in the extreme northwest corner of the NTS. Area 20, like Area 19, was developed in the mid-1960s as a suitable location for high-yield underground nuclear tests. No atmospheric nuclear tests were conducted in Area 20. Three underground nuclear tests in the megaton and greater yield range were carried out on Pahute Mesa between 1966 and 1976. These tests were the well-publicized Boxcar, Benham, and Handley events. From the mid-1960s through 1992, a total of 46 contained, underground nuclear tests were conducted in Area 20. All of these Pahute Mesa tests have consisted of single nuclear devices being detonated in drilled emplacement holes. In addition to weapons development tests, one nuclear test detection experiment and three Plowshare tests were conducted on Pahute Mesa. The Plowshare tests in Area 20 included the nuclear cratering experiments Palanquin, Cabriolet, and Schooner. Palanquin, detonated in the spring of 1965, was the first nuclear test on Pahute Mesa.

Area 21 — There is no Area 21 on the NTS.

Area 22 — This area, within the Reserved Zone, occupies 83 km2 (32 mi2) in the southeastern corner of the NTS and serves as the main entrance area. Before 1958, this area included Camp Desert Rock, a Sixth Army installation used for housing troops taking part in military exercises at the NTS. After 1958, the camp was essentially removed, with the exception of the Desert Rock Airport. In 1969, the runway was extended to a length of 2,286 m (7,500 ft). The airport currently is open, but provides no services.

Area 23 — This area, within the Reserved Zone, occupies 13 km2 (5 mi2) in the southeastern portion of the NTS and is the location of the largest operational support complex. Mercury was established in 1951 and serves as the main administrative and industrial support center at the NTS. Permanent structures and services include housing and feeding, laboratory, maintenance, communication and support facilities, computer facilities, warehouses, storage yards, motor pools, and administrative offices. Mercury is located approximately 8 km (5 mi) from U.S. Highway 95. The Area 23 Class II sanitary landfill, located just west of Mercury, is open to receive all types of nonhazardous solid waste. Wastes are compacted and covered to form layers. The Area 23 landfill receives approximately 830 tons of solid waste annually. The landfill is an open, rectangular pit with steep, nearly vertical sides. The current capacity of the landfill is approximately 4.5 x 105 cubic meters (m3) (5.9 x 105 cubic yards [ydł]).

Area 24 — There is no Area 24 on the NTS. However, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas are sometimes referred to as Area 24.


Numbered Areas 25 - 30

Area 25 — This is the largest area on the NTS. It occupies some 578 km2 (223 mi2) in the southwestern corner of the site and includes an entrance gate to the NTS. Located roughly in the center of Area 25, Jackass Flats was the site selected for a series of ground tests of reactors, engines, and rocket stages as part of a program to develop nuclear reactors for use in the nation's space program. In the early 1960s, the Atomic Energy Commission and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration negotiated an interagency agreement to establish and manage a test area at the NTS, designated as the Nuclear Rocket Development Station. These facilities, inactive since 1973, remain today in various stages of disrepair. They consist of three widely separated reactor test stands; two maintenance, assembly, and disassembly facility buildings; a Control Point complex; an administrative area complex; and a radioactive materials storage area. Area 25 is divided into multiple zone categories: Yucca Mountain Site Characterization Zone; Research, Test, and Experiment Zone; and Reserved Zone. The Yucca Mountain Site Characterization Zone within the boundaries of the NTS represents a land assignment area for site characterization activities. The former Nuclear Rocket Development Station administrative area complex in Area 25 has been rededicated as the Yucca Mountain Site Characterization Central Support Site. Limited Yucca Mountain characterization activities are also conducted off site and beyond Area 25. Similarly, the NTS has monitoring activities off site. The Research, Test, and Experiment Zone in Area 25 is used by the U.S. Army's Ballistic Research Laboratory for depleted uranium testing. Two classifications of tests are conducted under this program, open-air tests and X-tunnel tests. These tests include hazard classification and system tests. Research sites within the Reserved Zone include the Treatability Test Facility and Bare Reactor Experiment Nevada (BREN) Tower. The Treatability Test Facility was established in Area 25 for bench-scale testing of physical processes for separating plutonium and uranium from contaminated soils. Area 25 was used in the early 1980s for MX (Peacekeeper) missile siting studies and canister ejection certification tests. The 465-m (1,527-ft) BREN Tower has been used intermittently by a number of organizations to conduct sonic-boom research, meteorological studies, and free-fall/gravity-drop tests. More recently, the facility has been used in support of the Brilliant Pebbles program, as well as in studies to develop the technology and measurement techniques for advanced infrared imaging from space satellites. The Rock Valley Study Area is located south of Jackass Flats Road on the southern boundary of Area 25. This location was selected in 1960 for controlled studies relating to the effects of radiation on a desert ecosystem. During the past three decades, these fenced study plots have been used by a number of government-sponsored scientists, as well as students and others conducting environmental research projects and experiments. Portions of the Area 25 Reserved Zone are used by the military for land navigation and training exercises.

Area 26 — This area, within the Reserved Zone, occupies 57 km2 (22 mi2) in the south-central area of the NTS. The southern portions of this area were used in the past for nuclear-powered ramjet engine tests known as Project Pluto. The residual test facilities include a control point, test bunker, compressor house and air-storage facilities, and a disassembly building.

Area 27 — This area, within the Critical Assembly Zone, occupies 130 km2 (50 mi2) in the south-central portion of the NTS. Area 27's principal assembly facilities include five assembly bays, four storage magazines, two combination assembly bay/storage magazines, and three radiography buildings. The Area 27's critical assembly facilities are an alternate to the Device Assembly Facility. Area 27 was also used in the past for the Super Kukla Reactor Facility.

Area 28 — No longer in existence, the Area 28 designation formerly applied to a portion of the NTS that has since been absorbed into Areas 25 and 27.

Area 29 — This area, within the Reserved Zone, occupies 161 km2 (62 mi2) on the west-central border of the NTS. The site of a communications repeater station for the NTS is located in the Shoshone Mountains.

Area 30 — This area, within the Reserved Zone, occupies 150 km2 (58 mi2) and, like Area 29, is on the western edge of the NTS. Area 30 also has fairly rugged terrain and includes the northern reaches of Fortymile Canyon. In the past, Area 30 has had limited use in support of the nation’s nuclear testing programs, but in the spring of 1968 it was the site of Project Buggy, the first nuclear row-charge experiment in the Plowshare Program.


Environmental Management

The NNSA/NSO Environmental Management Mission was established to address the legacy of contamination at NTS. The Environmental Restoration Project is responsible for remediating contaminated sites and the Waste Management Project is responsible for managing and disposing radioactive waste. The Federal Facility Agreement and Consent Order (FFACO) between the State of Nevada, DOE, and DOD grouped projects as Corrective Action Units (CAUs), which are groupings of Corrective Action Sites (CASs) for the restoration project.

Notable CAUs include four facilities that were used for the Nuclear Rocket Development Program: Reactor Maintenance, Assembly, and Disassembly (R-MAD) in Area 25, Engine Maintenance, Assembly, and Disassembly (E-MAD) in Area 25, Test Cell “A” (TCA) in Area 25, Test Cell “C” (TCC) in Area 25 were designated corrective action units: CAU 113, CAU 114, CAU 115, and CAU 116 respectively. The Pluto Disassembly facility, used in Project Pluto, in Area 26 was constructed and used for the Ramjet Development Program. It was designated CAU 117. The Super Kukla Facility, which housed the Prompt Burst Reactor, in Area 27 was constructed and used for the Irradiation Tests Program. It was designated CAU 118. Junior Hot Cell and the Environmental Protection Agency Farm were also shutdown. R-MAD, Junior Hot Cell, and EPA Farm have been deactivated and decommissioned.


Area Map - Click on map for Larger View

Radioactive Waste Management Site (RWMS)

The NTS Radioactive Waste Management Site (RWMS) serves as a major disposal facility for low-level radioactive waste (LLW) generated by DOE installations. Since 1978, the NTS has served as a site for disposal of radioactive waste from numerous defense locations around the DOE complex.

The RWMS consists of two disposal sites, one in Area 3 and one in Area 5.

The Area 3 RWMS is located on Yucca Flat and covers an area of approximately 50 acres. Historically, Area 3 RWMS was used for storage of the larger, bulk-type packages of low-level waste (LLW) in craters covering 120 acres. Contaminated debris from the NTS atmospheric testing debris disposal program (ATDDP) and packaged bulk LLW from offsite DOE facilities was disposed of in subsidence craters that have resulted from underground nuclear tests. The Area 3 site has been used for disposal of low-level waste in bulk form, typically within sealand containers, using two adjoining subsidence craters for a single disposal unit. Fill material is derived from soil between the two craters. Originally, the Area 3 site was used to clean up contaminated soils and equipment from above-ground tests. Under the guidelines of DOE-STD-1027-92 and DOE Order 5480.23, Area 3 does not contain sufficient quantities of radioactive materials to be categorized as a nuclear facility. Once the two inactive disposal cells are filled to capacity, Area 3 RWMS is likely to undergo closure.

The Area 5 RWMS was established in 1961 for the disposal of LLW and classified waste generated by various NTS operations and by other DOE facilities. Area 5 RWMS is located in Frenchman Flat Basin in the southeastern part of the NTS, approximately 14 miles north of the main gate. Conventional near-surface disposal is conducted in the Area 5 RWMS. The Area 5 site is used for low-level waste, classified waste, and mixed waste disposal (from NTS generators only), transuranic waste storage, and hazardous waste accumulation for offsite disposal. The Area 5 RWMS contains sufficient quantities of radioactive material to be classified as a nuclear facility and is designated as a Hazard Category 3 facility. Only Area 5 RMWS continues to be used for low-level radioactive waste disposal. Approximately 160 acres on the 732-acre site are used for waste storage


National Security

One of the primary missions at NTS is National Security. NTS supports the DOE NNSA Stockpile Stewardship Program through experimental programs such as subcritical and weapons physics testing.

Facilities supporting the stockpile storage program:

Atlas Pulsed-Power Generator

The Atlas machine is one of the aboveground alternatives to underground nuclear testing that has been utilized since the cessation of such testing in 1992. It has been located at NTS since 2004. The machine is capable of concentrating high energies on centimeter-scale targets for extended periods of time. The gathered data advances understanding of the operation and performance of nuclear weapons.

Big Explosives Experimental Facility

The Big Explosives Experimental Facility (BEEF) is a hydrodynamic testing facility used to conduct conventional high-explosives experiments. The facility includes a control bunker, a camera bunker, a gravel firing table, and associated control and diagnostic systems.

Device Assembly Facility

The Device Assembly Facility (DAF), which is composed of 30 heavily-reinforced concrete buildings covering 100,000 square feet connected by rectangular racetrack corridor buried under earth cover, is a rectangular complex, sitting on 19-acre high-security area in the central portion of the NTS, with only the south exterior exposed. DAF includes five assembly cells (called Gravel Gerties), four high bays, three assembly bays, two radiography bays, five staging bunkers, and two shipping and receiving bays. DAF support buildings include three vaults, two decontamination areas, and an administrative area with office space, a conference area, changing and shower rooms, and a machine shop. Two other buildings provide laboratory space.

It was originally built in the mid-1980s to consolidate nuclear explosive assembly function and to provide the structures necessary for high explosive and nuclear explosive assembly operations. Nuclear explosives assembly and preparation were conducted at two separate facilities: the Able complex operated by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the Baker complex operated by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). The DAF consolidated the activities of the Able and Baker complexes into a single facility for handling nuclear explosives at the NTS. The laboratories took occupancy in February 1996 after construction was completed. Once underground nuclear weapons tests were ended, DAF was used as the site for sub-critical experiment assemblies. DAF now serves as the Criticality Experiments Facility and prepares sub-critical experiments and target chambers for experiments at the JASPER facility. In addition, DAF plays a role in maintaining the underground test readiness capability.

Criticality Experiments Facility

The Criticality Experiments Facility (CEF) conducts research and training in three primary areas: supporting the Stockpile Stewardship Program, emergency response to support counterterrorism, and arms control and nonproliferation. Originally located at Technical Area 18 (TA-18) at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the testing equipment of CEF was relocated to the western part of DAF after a decision by DOE in December 2002 to consolidate special nuclear materials. CEF is the only site in the DOE complex where research and training using Category I level nuclear materials can be conducted.

Joint Actinide Shock Physics Experimental Research

The Joint Actinide Shock Physics Experimental Research (JASPER) Facility, located at NTS, is a multi-organizational research facility hosting Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, NSTec, and DOE NNSA. LLNL maintains management and project responsibility. JASPER is capable of generating and measuring data on the properties of radioactive chemical elements at high shock pressures, temperatures, and strain rates approximating the conditions in nuclear weapons by using a two-stage gas gun. The data is used to determine material equations-of-state and validate computer models of material response. The work advances predictive capability, thus ensuring confidence in the nuclear stockpile.

U1a Complex

Located 960-feet underground, the U1a laboratory serves as the site for sub-critical experiments. It includes horizontal tunnels, each about one half mile in length, and vertical shafts. The first shaft was U1a. The U1g shaft, which is located about 1,000 feet away, allows for cross ventilation, instrumentation and utility access, and emergency exit. Between 1999 and 2001, the facility was upgraded with the construction of the U1h shaft, to be the primary means of access and egress. It is equipped with a mechanical hoist for the movement of personnel and equipment. The hoist system was installed in 2004.

Sub-critical experiments, which use chemical high explosives to generate high pressures on nuclear weapons materials, such as plutonium, create no critical mass, result in no nuclear explosion, and produce no self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction. These characteristics are used to justify that sub-critical experiments do not violate the nuclear testing moratorium. The most recent sub-critical experiment, termed Unicorn, was conducted at 11:00 a.m. on August 30, 2006 by Los Alamos National Laboratory. It was the 23rd sub-critical experiment, following Krakatau, which was conducted February 23, 2006.

Homeland Security

The DOE NNSA works with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in protecting the U.S. from nuclear and radiological terrorism. In June 1998, NTS became a member of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium and part of the U.S. Department of Justice Programs/Office for Domestic Preparedness (ODP). After the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the Office for Domestic Preparedness was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security.

Facilities supporting this function of NTS include:

Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center

The Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center (FRMAC) is one of the NNSA Nevada Site Office-administered emergency response resources, also called assets. The center collects radiological information, including plume and deposition predictions, concentrations, exposure rates, and meteorological forecasts. The gathered data along with sample analysis, evaluations, and assessments are then distributed to the necessary bodies in the affected areas. The FRMAC coordinates local, state, and federal radiological monitoring and assessment during major emergencies

Nuclear Emergency Support Team

The Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST), an NNSA program, provides specialized technical expertise to the Federal specialized response teams in resolving nuclear or radiological terrorist incidents. NEST capabilities include search and identification of nuclear materials, diagnostics and assessment of suspected nuclear devices, technical operations in support of render safe procedures, and packaging for transport to final disposition.

Nonproliferation Test and Evaluation Complex

The Nonproliferation Test and Evaluation Complex (NPTEC), formerly called the Hazardous Material (HAZMAT) Spill Center, is located on Frenchman Flat in Area 5, a natural geological basin. It is the largest facility for open air testing of hazardous materials and biological stimulants in the world. In includes a control building with data acquisition and recording instruments, a command and control computer, and support personnel. The test area has a tank farm, a wind tunnel, elevated stacks and spill pans, and storage tanks for the test chemicals. The facility houses both large-scale and small-scale hazardous materials testing and training. It provides a secure test-bed, calibrated release systems, weather data, ground truth instrumentation, and logistics in field verification and validation of technology.

Radiological/Nuclear Countermeasures Test and Evaluation Complex

Construction of the Radiological/Nuclear Countermeasures Test and Evaluation Complex (Rad/NucCTEC) began in June 2005. The Department of Homeland Security approved $33 million for the project. Although Bechtel Nevada began design and construction, in March 2006 NNSA announced that National Security Technologies, LLC (NSTec) would become the new contractor on July 1, 2006 and oversee the project through completion. The facility is part of the Homeland Security’s consolidation of radiological and nuclear operational testing and training.
This Hazardous Category-2 nuclear facility will aid in security research to prevent radiological and nuclear materials from entering the country. The complex will include replicas of primary and secondary inspection stations at a U.S. land border crossing; a facility to test system performance under extreme environmental conditions; a high-speed roadway to test the ability of radiation sensors to detect sources moving at freeway speeds; a facility for the evaluation of technologies with the capacity to intrusively interrogate trucks and shipping containers; and a sensor track.

An audit issued in September 2007 by the DOE Office of Audit Services (in the Office of Inspector General) criticized the NNSA’s Nevada Site Office’s management of the project to ensure it stayed on schedule and within budget.

Cyber Forensics Center

The NNSA facility is 10,000 square feet and serves as the site of forensics examinations of computer evidence, the nuclear weapons complex cyber forensics lab and an intrusion analysis center for the nuclear weapons complex. NNSA’s Information Assurance Response Center (IARC) provides a centralized location to assess national computer security for the nuclear weapons complex.

Sites and Zones

Existing land use on the NTS is divided into two site categories and seven zone categories. The site and zone category definitions are as follows:

Industrial, Research, and Support Site

An industrial site is used for the manufacturing, processing, and/or fabrication of articles, substances, or commodities. A research site is used for projects to verify theories or concepts under controlled conditions. Support sites are used for office space, training, equipment storage, maintenance, security, feeding and housing, fire protection services, and health services.

Waste Management Site

A site used for the disposal, storage, and/or treatment of wastes.

Nuclear Test Zone

Land area reserved for underground hydrodynamic tests, dynamic experiments, and underground nuclear weapons and weapons effects tests. The stockpile stewardship emplacement hole inventory is located within this zone.

Nuclear and High Explosive Test Zone

Land area designated within the Nuclear Test Zone for additional underground and aboveground high-explosive tests or experiments.

Research, Test, and Experiment Zone

Land area designated for small-scale research, development projects, pilot projects, and outdoor tests and experiments for the development, quality assurance, or reliability of materials and equipment under controlled conditions.

Radioactive Waste Management Zone

Land area designated for the shallow land burial of low-level and mixed wastes.

Critical Assembly Zone

Land area used for conducting nuclear explosive operations. Operations generally include assembly, disassembly or modification, staging, repair, retrofit, and surveillance. The potential for weapons storage also exists in this zone.

Spill Test Facility Impact Zone

A downwind geographic area that would confine the impacts of the largest planned tests of materials released at the Spill Test Facility.

Reserved Zone

Controlled-access land area that provides a buffer between nondefense research, development, and testing activities. The Reserved Zone includes areas and facilities that provide widespread flexible support for diverse short-term nondefense research, testing, and experimentation. This land area is also used for short-duration exercises and training, such as Nuclear Emergency Search Team and Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center training, and U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) land navigation exercises and training.


Nuclear Weapons Testing

From the end of World War II until 1951, five US nuclear weapons tests were conducted at distant islands in the Pacific Ocean. When the decision to accelerate the development of nuclear weapons was made in the late 1940s, it became apparent that weapons development lead times would be reduced and considerably less expense incurred if nuclear weapons, especially the lower yield weapons, could be tested within the continental boundaries. An area within what is now the Nellis Air Force Range was selected to meet criteria for atmospheric tests. The Southern Nevada site was selected from a list of five possibilities which included Alamogordo/White Sands, New Mexico; Dugway Proving Ground, Utah; Pamilco Sound/Camp Lejuene, North Carolina; and a 50-mile-wide strip between Fallon and Eureka, Nevada. Public Land Order 805 dated 19 February 1952, identified 680 square miles (1,800 square kilometers) for nuclear testing purposes from an area used by the Air Force as a bombing and gunnery range; this area now comprises approximately the eastern half of the present Nevada Test Site.

When the Ranger Series ended in 1951, AEC initiated plans to expand the Test Site facilities. Construction began on utility and operational structures, including communications, a control point, and additional accommodations. As a safety measure, AEC decided to move the testing area from Frenchman Flat to Yucca Flat, where 12 areas were developed for air drops, tower, surface, tunnel and balloon tests. Additional land was added to the site in 1958, 1961, 1964, and 1967, thereby enlarging the site to its present size of about 1,350 square miles (3,500 square kilometers).

Example of 1970 underground nuclear detonation depth 900 ft visible
release of radioactivity at Baneberry Nevada Test Site

Nuclear testing at the NTS was conducted in two distinct eras: the atmospheric testing era (January 1951 through October 1958) and the underground testing era (1961 to 1992). On 31 October 1958, the United States and the Soviet Union entered into voluntary test moratoria which lasted until the USSR. resumed testing on 01 September 1961. The United States responded with renewed testing on 15 September 1961. A few surface, near surface, and cratering tests were conducted from 1961 to 1968, but all other nuclear weapons tests have been carried out underground since 1961. The United States and the Soviet Union signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty on 05 August 1963, which banned testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, in outer space and underwater. Six of the eight cratering tests conducted between 1962 and 1968 were part of a peaceful applications program.

The United States conducted 119 nuclear tests at the NTS from the start of testing in January 1951 through October 1958. Most of those nuclear tests were carried out in the atmosphere. Some tests were positioned for firing by airdrop, but metal towers were used for many Nevada tests at heights ranging from 100 to 700 feet (30-200 meters) above the ground surface. In 1957 and 1958, helium-filled balloons, tethered to precise heights and locations 340 to 1,500 feet (105 to 500 meters) above ground, provided a simpler, quicker, and less expensive method for the testing of many experimental devices. The tests of the atmospheric era took place in Yucca and Frenchman Flats. The 119 nuclear tests that were conducted at the NTS during the atmospheric testing era (1951-1958) consist of 97 nuclear tests conducted in the atmosphere, of two cratering tests, detonated at depths less than 100 feet (30 meters), and of 20 underground tests.

In 1962, before the onset of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, the United States conducted, in addition to its underground tests, two small surface tests, one tower test and two cratering tests as part of the nuclear weapons testing program. Six nuclear cratering tests were conducted from 1962 through 1968 as part of the peaceful applications (Plowshare) program. The overwhelming majority of the 809 tests that took place at the NTS from 1961 through September 1992 were conducted underground either in shafts or in tunnels that were designed for containment of the radioactive debris. Most underground tests were conducted under Yucca Flat but a few underg round and cratering tests took place under Buckboard, Pahute, and Rainier Mesas in the northern part of the Nevada Test Site.


When drilling of vertical shafts for underground tests at the NTS began in 1959, the biggest problem was the time it took to drill into the desert floor. A 36-inch diameter hole, 1,000 feet deep, could take up to 60 days. The initial method was to drill in three successive passes, each one larger. Eventually the tri-stage gave way to the flat bottom bit, with 12 to 24 cutters chewing up the rock as the entire unit rotated -- a process that could drill a 1,000-foot hole in 20 days. A normal hole is from 1 to 3 meters (m) (48 to 120 inches [in.]) diameter and from 213 to 762 meters (m) (600 to 2,500 feet [ft]) deep.

Tests in vertical drill holes are of two types: smaller-yield devices in relatively shallow holes in the Yucca Flat area (Areas 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10) and higher-yield devices in deeper holes on Pahute Mesa (Areas 18, 19, and 20). Tests at the Yucca Flat and Pahute Mesa event sites have the same general requirements, but differ in the magnitude of the operations. Deeper-hole operations disturb a larger area, require more on-site equipment, and have a higher requirement for electrical power and utilities. The distance from the core of the infrastructure is also a factor; Pahute Mesa operations are 48 to 81 kilometers (km) (30 to 50 miles [mi]) farther away than Yucca Flat.

Tests have been conducted in 16 different tunnels in Rainier Mesa on the Nevada Test Site. The first test was conducted on 10 August 1957, when a zero-yield safety experiment named "Saturn" was detonated in C-Tunnel. By the early 1990s there was only one active tunnel in use by the Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA). The DNA evaluated the effects of nuclear weapons explosions, thermal radiation, blast, shock, x-rays and gamma rays, on military hardware, such as communication equipment, rocket nosecones, and satellites. The typical Horizontal Line of Site (HLOS) test was primarily for radiation effects research. Researchers attempted to minimize blast and shock effects from the experiments. A large tunnel complex mined under the mesa contained the HLOS pipe. The HLOS pipe is 1,500 to 1,800 feet long and tapers from up to 30 feet in diameter at the test chamber to several inches at the working point. Experiments were placed in the HLOS pipe test chambers. At zero time the nuclear device is fired, and radiation instantaneously flows down the pipe, creating the necessary radiation environment. To prevent bomb debris and blast from reaching and damaging the experiments, three mechanisms were used to close the pipe. The first is the Fast Acting Closure which is slammed shut by high explosives in about one millisecond; the other two closures follow within 30 and 300 milliseconds.

As many as 38 underground events detonated through September 1992 released volatile radioactive materials (particulate or gaseous), which resulted in detection off-site. The remainder of the 809 tests that took place at the NTS between 1961 and 1992 were either completely contained underground or resulted in releases of radioactive materials that were only detected onsite. A total of 299 events resulted in releases of radioactive materials that were detected onsite only.


The total number of nuclear weapons tests that were conducted at the Nevada Test Site up to September 1992 is 928 --— 100 which were atmospheric, and the other 828 underground. On 02 October 1992, the United States entered into another unilateral moratorium on nuclear weapons testing announced by President Bush. President Clinton extended this moratorium in July 1993, and again in March 1994.

President Clinton directed the Department to maintain a basic capability to resume nuclear testing activities at the NTS should the United States deem it necessary. One way DOE proposes to retain this capability is to conduct a series of subcritical experiments with nuclear materials at the NTS. Subcritical experiments use high explosives to create some of the physical conditions, such as pressure and temperature, that nuclear materials undergo in a nuclear weapon before reaching the critical stage. A final decision on these tests will be made following completion of the NTS environmental impact statement.

The nuclear safety program involves special nuclear material (SNM) in test device assembly. Due to the moratorium, no specific tests requiring device assembly are scheduled, and there is no SNM on site at this time. Also, NV is the lead DOE site for nuclear explosive safety and is developing a study guide for this functional area.

As a result of changing mission priorities, DOE has a need to focus on new national security, energy, and environmental issues and to redefine the role of the NTS within the DOE complex. NV went through one of the most dramatic and far-reaching changes in its history when BN took over as the performance-based contractor for the NTS. The switch to BN began October 26, 1995, when DOE announced its selection of the company to assume a five-year, $1.5 billion contract encompassing the work previously done by Reynolds Electric and Engineering Company, Inc.; Raytheon Services Nevada; and EG&G Energy Measurements, Inc.

NV distributed the final environmental impact statement (EIS) for NTS and offsite locations in the State of Nevada, DOE/EIS-0243, dated August 1996, in October 1996. The record of decision on this EIS was issued on 09 December 1996. The DOE preferred alternative published in the final EIS represents a continuation of the multi-purpose, mutli-program use of the site to pursue a further diversification of interagency and private industry uses, and to initiate certain public education activities.


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