The Cold War is a military, economic and political confrontation between two military-political blocs led by the USSR and the United States in the second half of the 20th century. It was not a war in the literal sense since there was no direct military clash between the participants. The rivalry between the two superpowers was accompanied by an arms race – both conventional and nuclear – which periodically put the world on the verge of World War III. Moreover, different ideologies became one of the essential elements of the conflict – communism, and capitalism collided in the struggle for hegemony in the world. The Cold War affected the whole world, including Nevada, the state where nuclear tests were conducted.
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In the early morning of January 27, 1951, an explosion occurred in the western United States, about 100 km from Los Angeles, which illuminated the Nahava Desert brighter than the midday sun for a few seconds. At the newly opened test site in Nevada, operation “Ranger” began, the first series of nuclear tests in the growing arms race (“The Atomic Café”). Over the next ten years, the countries that participated in the Cold War detonated hundreds of nuclear charges in the atmosphere, gradually increasing the power of the charges. Eventually, the entire planet was covered with a radioactive cloud (Meyers 5). The consequences of these explosions are still felt to this day: the traces of global radioactive contamination can be easily found in any living organism.
Often, explosions at the leading test site became part of an entertainment program for tourists: the scale of the destruction and the effects of radiation on health were not fully understood at that time. Dance numbers were even staged against the background of the nuclear cloud. At that time, Vegas was not the capital of the gambling business but a hinterland that was beginning to profit from the first semi-legal casinos. Nuclear explosions did not prevent but, on the contrary, contributed to the formation of Vegas (Reid and James 147). People from all over the country came here to watch the explosions and gamble. The rest in early Las Vegas was built on this exciting combination. Indeed, all this affected the health, if not of the tourists themselves, then of their children and grandchildren.
As mentioned earlier, there was a rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. Each of the great powers tried to show its economic and military superiority and take a leading position globally. By conducting nuclear weapons tests, the American government thereby showed its citizens military strength and demonstrated the power to guarantee security. Thus, the American government wanted to convey to its citizens that they had nothing to fear because the United States had such a powerful weapon at its disposal (Green 281). However, the most terrible thing was that the American government denied the dangerous consequences of nuclear tests (Green 284). The authorities did not want the flow of tourists and patriots to stop because then it would mean that the state policy is wrong. To do this, they needed to reassure the local population with the illusion of the safety of nuclear tests.
The history of constructing a nuclear storage facility in Yucca Mountain began in 1957 when the American National Academy of Sciences prepared a recommendation on creating storage facilities for nuclear materials in geological formations. Such objects should be located in solid rocks and a safe place, protected from natural disasters, far from large settlements and freshwater sources. In 2002, after numerous examinations, the Ministry of Energy officially announced that Yucca Mountain is the ideal place for the facility’s construction. However, many residents of Nevada and the governor of Nevada opposed the structure of the storage facility. This is quite understandable – conceptually, the project seems simple, but it requires solving many complex geological and engineering problems. The US Department of Energy should not rush with such a severe issue, but it is worth listening to the opinion of experts and ordinary residents of the state of Nevada.
“The Atomic Café”. YouTube, uploaded by CK YT CHANNELl, 2018.
Green, Michael. Nevada: A History of the Silver State. University of Nevada Press, 2015.
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Meyers, Keith. “Some Unintended Fallout from Defense Policy: Measuring the Effect of Atmospheric Nuclear Testing on American Mortality Patterns.” National Science Foundation, vol. 10, no. 32, 2019, pp. 3-8.
Reid, John, and James, Ronald. Uncovering Nevada’s Past: A Primary Source History of the Silver State. University of Nevada Press, 2004.