The glow of an atomic bomb test at nearby Yucca Flats, Nevada, draws Las Vegas casino workers in the early 1950s.

Photograph by Volkmar K. Wentzel, National Geographic
  • On January 27, 1951, the United States government detonated the first of its series of atomic bombs at the Nevada Test Site. The isolated Nevada Test Site, now the Nevada National Security Site, was the primary location used for testing nuclear devices in the United States.

    The U.S. nuclear research and development program altered the geography of the West. On the one hand, federal funding allowed new research stations to be built, infrastructure to be expanded, and resulted in economic benefits for the state of Nevada. On the other hand, the explosions caused habitat destruction in the unique desert area. Craters still pockmark the landscape. The detonations also created radioactive fallout. When a nuclear device is detonated, it creates radioactive atoms. These radioactive atoms can cause cancer and other health problems. The lasting effect of the levels of radioactivity on the people and organisms in the Nevada Test Site area has been debated. However, it was significant enough as to cause the government to stop testing at the site.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    atomic bomb Noun

    explosive device that draws energy from the interaction of atomic nuclei. Also called an atom bomb, a-bomb, or nuclear bomb.

    cancer Noun

    growth of abnormal cells in the body.

    crater Noun

    bowl-shaped depression formed by a volcanic eruption or impact of a meteorite.

    Encyclopedic Entry: crater
    detonate Verb

    to cause something to explode.

    economic Adjective

    having to do with money.

    expand Verb

    to grow or get larger.

    federal Adjective

    having to do with a nation's government (as opposed to local or regional government).

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    habitat Noun

    environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: habitat
    infrastructure Noun

    structures and facilities necessary for the functioning of a society, such as roads.

    isolation Noun

    separation from other people, habitats, or communities.

    nuclear test Noun

    detonation of an atomic or hydrogen bomb outside an inhabited area, to determine the effect of such weapons.

    primary Adjective

    first or most important.

    radioactive Adjective

    having unstable atomic nuclei and emitting subatomic particles and radiation.

    research station Noun

    structure or structures built for scientific study of the surrounding region, possibly including residential and lab facilities.

    significant Adjective

    important or impressive.