AlamogordoTownNews.com Doomsday Nuclear Clock Inches Closer. Is Alamogordo Prepared? History of Preparedness

Kirtland Air Force Base, which abuts and shares some runways with the Albuquerque airport, has become an important nuclear weapons complex. It hosts the Air Force’s Nuclear Weapons Center, Sandia National Laboratories, and what is probably the nation’s (and perhaps the world’s) largest repository of nuclear weapons, estimated at up to 2,500 warheads.
Kirtland AFB is the third largest installation in Air Force Global Strike Command. (Others include Barksdale Air Force Base, Malmstrom Air Force Base, Minot Air Force Base, F. E. Warren Air Force Base.)

Alamogordo as a testing ground for military aircraft, drones and other top-secret programs and as the convergence point of Holloman Air Force Base, Fort Bliss, and White Sands Testing Grounds as such Alamogordo is also a strong potential target in the event of a superpower nuclear exchange.

Alamogordo, New Mexico located in the nearby Jornada del Muerto desert, the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range was the site of the world’s first nuclear explosion. The so-called “Trinity” Test was carried out as part of the Manhattan Proj­ect, a nuclear weapon research operation begun in 1939. The project took place simultaneously in sev­eral locations: the weapons were developed in Los Alamos, New Mexico; uranium-235 was enriched at Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and plutonium-239 was pro­duced at Hanford, Washington. 

The desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico was chosen as the test site.

On July 14, 1945, the world’s first nuclear bomb, a plutonium implosion device code-named “The Gadget” was installed on top of a 30 m tower. The construction was equivalent to the one used for the “Fat Man” bomb, which was dropped on Nagasaki only a few weeks later. Scientists and military officers ob­served the test from a distance of 10–32 km.

On July 16, 1945, at 5:29:45 am the “Gadget” was detonated, with an explosive power equivalent to 20 kilotons of TNT, causing a bright flash of light, a mush­room cloud that grew to a height of about 12 km, and a shock wave that was felt 250 km away from Ground Zero. “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds” were the famous words of J.R. Oppenheimer upon seeing the explosion. 

Trinity was the first of more than 2,000 nuclear tests, which contaminated the world’s atmosphere with radioactive particles known as nuclear fallout.

Doomsday Clock- 2 Minutes till Doom…

The Cold War ended nearly three decades ago and then the Doomsday Clock was set to 17 minutes to midnight. The Clock, designed in 1947 by artist Martyl Langsdorf and set by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, signifies how close the world is to a “nuclear apocalypse.” 

For the first time since 1953, the world is two minutes away from nuclear destruction.

While the world has faced the Clock’s proximity to midnight before and lived to see the minute hand move backward, the world – and thus the Clock – is currently influenced by a number of different factors that did not exist in 1953. 

Perhaps the newest and most relevant is the higher probability of a nuclear weapon falling in the hands of a terrorist group or rogue state, but even more current and possibly pushing the superpowers to the edge is the war in the Ukraine. Under the Putin regime with his ill health, a war he is losing and the recent call to increase his troops he has said, he would “not rule out the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine nor against those assisting the Ukraine against Russia.”  Additionally, tensions in the Pacific Theater have increased the last 4 years with China flexing its muscles. 

These threats show that Alamogordo, and targets in New Mexico and the US should revisit their civil defense plans.

If one plugs into the Nukemap, the region around Alamogordo and the threat of one of Russia’s nuclear weapons that could be pointed to the regions of New Mexico one sees that the death tolls in the area around Alamogordo would be around 40,630 with 19,470 injured. 

With a rising threat of a nuclear exchange, one wonders what plans Otero County and the city of Alamogordo have in place in the event of a nuclear exchange.

Let’s review the history of nuclear exchanges and civil defense to see how we got to where we are today in Otero County New Mexico.

US History of Nuclear Disaster Preparedness:

Today, fallout shelter signs represent remnants of the nuclear disaster preparedness plans that the United States government intermittently encouraged or funded during the Cold War, from the 1950s through the 1980s.

In 1950, United States Congress created the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA), to guide states’ actions in regards to civil defense policy. As such, FCDA was largely responsible for the first nuclear shelters.

In 1952, the FCDA – with the help of the Ad Council – created nine different short films about preparedness. These films included the famous Duck and Cover drill with Bert the Turtle, which portrayed students saving themselves from a nuclear attack by hiding underneath their school desks. Today, these films are seen as ill-informed, and even were used to make a 1982 satirical film, Atomic Cafe, about the misinformation the United States government gave to American soldiers and citizens in the early years of the Cold War.

During the early 1950s, the FCDA also encouraged Americans to begin building at-home nuclear fallout shelters. Each shelter was supposed to have at least two weeks of supplies, the recommended amount of time for staying in the shelter after an attack. At the time, however, Congress and the Executive Branch did not directly support this initiative due to the prohibitive cost of creating a system of nuclear fallout shelters across the country.

Following the Soviet Union’s test of the hydrogen bomb in 1953 and the release by the United States of the effects of its first thermonuclear bomb (“hydrogen bomb”) test, Mike, detonated in the Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands in 1952, the Eisenhower administration determined that shelter programs were no longer effective and instituted evacuation plans instead. Both hydrogen bomb tests’ effects seemed to convince the public that it was not possible to survive a nuclear detonation, unless people were warned in advance of the attack. Evacuation planning over shelter planning was, though, only proposed by the FCDA until March 1954, right after the United States tested its most powerful hydrogen bomb, Castle Bravo. Bravo was tested on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands and had a yield 1,000 times higher than the Hiroshima bomb. The testing resulted in severe radioactive contamination of numerous islands, which continues to impact the Marshallese society today. This occurrence led Congress and the FCDA to determine again that shelters were necessary for citizens’ protection.

The FCDA proposed a National Shelter Policy, which according to Homeland Security would have cost around $32 billion. The necessity of this policy was supported by the Gaither Report, commissioned by President Eisenhower in 1957, and, the Rockefeller Report in 1958, lead by Henry Kissinger. Evidence presented in these two reports, though, was not enough for President Eisenhower, who refused to take action towards enacting the policy. Instead, he replaced the FCDA with the newly created the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization (OCDM), which eventually became the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) and the Office of Emergency Planning (OEM).

With the election of a new president, John F. Kennedy, shelters resurfaced as an important element of civil defense against a nuclear attack as the United States government directly advocated for and funded nuclear fallout shelters. In September of 1961, The Community Fallout Shelter Program began, following an extensive survey to determine shelter locations. Each shelter had to be able to serve at least fifty people, who were given a storage space of 1 cubic foot. The program set out to supply local shelter sites with materials to defend against the effects of radiation. The OCD allocated water drums, food rations, sanitation kits, medical kits, radiation detectors, and package ventilation kits to each of the shelters, which were directly run and maintained by local government’s civil defense offices. In October, Kennedy asked Congress to allot $100 million to create public fallout shelters across the country. By the end of 1961, the Department of Defense had created a 46-page booklet about the shelters, including instructions of what to do if a nuclear attack occurred. These booklets were distributed to post offices across the country. According to the Department of Homeland Security, by the end of 1963, nine million public shelters had been identified and supplied.

On October 6th, 1961, President Kennedy also encouraged American families to begin building private nuclear bomb shelters in their homes. This effort arguably proved less successful than the public shelters effort, since only about 1.4% of American families implemented President Kennedy’s message.

Preparedness for a nuclear disaster became a top priority for a final time under President Ronald Reagan’s administration (1981 to 1989). Following the creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under President Jimmy Carter, President Reagan made nuclear disaster preparedness plans and evacuation routes a top priority, by asking Congress to allocate $4.2 billion for civil defense spending. While congress only allocated $147.9 million to the cause, this push for civil defense nuclear planning became the last of its kind to this day, following the end of the Cold War shortly after the end of the Reagan administration.

US Nuclear Preparedness Today

In the post- Cold War era (1991- today) the United States, along with other nations, faces a new kind of nuclear threat. During the Cold War, the United States’ main nuclear opponent was the Soviet Union. Today, the United States faces a threat of a nuclear disaster not only from other countries, such as North Korea, Iran, or other rogue nations, but also from terrorist groups, who could easily access the materials and information necessary to construct a nuclear weapon. In addition, one cannot dismiss the possibility of a disaster stemming from accidental use of weapons currently in the United States’ own arsenal or other countries’ arsenals.

One threat facing the world today is missing weapons-grade materials from the old Soviet nuclear stockpile. In order to build a nuclear weapon, one would need plutonium (Pu 239) or highly-enriched uranium (HEU), uranium with a concentration of U235 higher than 20%. During unstable economic times, former Soviet nuclear personnel used to sell HEU on the side. The Soviet Union never created an inventory list of its nuclear materials, so most of the material that was and is stolen during and after the Cold War isn’t known to be missing. Between 1991 and 2002, there were fourteen confirmed cases of theft of weapons-useable nuclear material from Russia’s nuclear stockpile. Russia currently has 680 metric tons of HEU, over half of the total amount that exists in the world. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a significant quantity of HEU, meaning “the approximate amount of nuclear material for which the possibility of manufacturing a nuclear explosive device cannot be excluded,” is 25 kg or 55.1 lbs. Since Russia does not disclose its plutonium stockpile to the IAEA, it is unknown how much the nation currently possesses. According to the IAEA, a significant quantity of plutonium is 8 kg or 17.6 lbs.

The uncertainty surrounding unguarded weapons-useable nuclear material is not limited to Russia. In 2007, six nuclear warheads were accidentally flown from an Air Force Base in North Dakota to Louisiana. The warheads were missing for 24 hours before officials in Louisiana discovered the error.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, there are over 14,000 declared nuclear warheads in the world today, and given the yet to be successful intentions for a world free of nuclear weapons, the threat of a nuclear disaster still looms large. As Dr. Redlener states: “There is no putting the toothpaste back in the tube here. …. I cannot imagine circumstances where we can get verifiable information of elimination of all nuclear weapons on the planet. I think we do have to come to grips with that … and make sure that we have done everything possible to control any situation that might result in a nuclear detonation.”

The United States and its citizens are not currently prepared for the aftereffects of a nuclear disaster of any type, whether an air missile from another nation, an attack on the ground from a terrorist or terrorist group, or some kind of accidental detonation. 

We live in a state with the nation’s (and perhaps the world’s) largest repository of nuclear weapons, estimated at up to 2,500 warheads.

What is the local plan in the event of a nuclear exchange. Has the Otero County Commission or the City of Alamogordo’s leadership reviewed an emergency preparedness plan in recent decades? Is the plan visible and easy to find online by the common citizen?

When one does a basic google search for a nuclear preparedness plan for Otero County or Alamogordo one finds a comprehensive plan for Albuquerque understandably, one is found for Cloudcroft with 9 mentions of the nuclear threat in their civil defense plan and easily found on Google. A plan for Otero County and Alamogordo may exist however if it does it was difficult for the public to find, review or comment on.

Per the Albuquerque plan, “Albuquerque is identified in the latest Nuclear Attack Planning Base (NAPB) as a high-risk area, subject to blast over­pressures > 2.0 pound per square inch in the
unlikely event of nuclear attack. Approximately 465,912 evacuees from the city and
nearby areas will be assigned to locations within Bernalillo County and other New
Mexico counties for shelter”

https://www.cabq.gov/office-of-emergency-management/documents/Annex9Tra…

Cloudcrofts plan mentions the nuclear threat 9 times to include succession planning…

“In a Civil Defense emergency due to threat or occurrence of a nuclear incident, succession to elected and appointed Village or County officials will be as provided in the New Mexico Disaster Succession Act(Chapter 12, Article 11) designated Successors may serve only as
permitted by the Act.”

https://www.villageofcloudcroftnm.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Emerge…

A plan may exist for Otero County and for the city of Alamogordo, state law requires the various government bodies to have emergency preparedness plans, but the nuclear preparedness for Otero County and Alamogordo is not easily found. If one exists, please forward the links so we may alert the public to the plan. 

If one does not exist or has not been updates in the last decade, it may indeed be time to review given America’s nuclear scientist access we are 2 minutes from doom. 

What are some tips in the event of attack?

While it may seem unlikely that a person could survive a nuclear attack, there are seven simple actions that one can take to save his or her life – assuming that one is far enough (more than .5 miles away) from the core of the explosion. They are:

(1) Do not stare at the light from the flash because it will blind a person instantly and keep your mouth open to handle the pressure released from the initial blast. 

(2) Decide to move ten to twenty minutes walking distance away from the blast site or seek shelter either below ground or above the 9th floor of a building, to avoid the effects of fallout from the mushroom cloud. 

(3) Move crosswind from damaged buildings if you choose to leave, but only for 10-20 minutes. (4) Keep your mouth, skin, and nose covered as much as possible.

(5) Remove your clothes, rinse off with a hose, while holding your breath. Seek medical care if possible. 

(6) Stay in the shelter for 12-24 hours after an attack to avoid the initial massive amount of exposure to radiation after a nuclear attack, or as long as instructed by the government. Only leave shelter once you know the direction to move.

The people of Otero County have survived a nuclear blast from the past.

However significant cancer rates etc. exist with those impacted and the Downwinders Group is fighting that fight.  An in-depth story on the plight of the Downwinders will be in the upcoming issue of Southeastern New Mexico Influence Magazine due for release mid-September 2022. Stay tuned to our publications and that of Southeastern New Mexico Influence Magazine to learn more.

An interesting resource to hear on stories of the Trinity Site via oral histories is

https://www.manhattanprojectvoices.org/search/node/trinity

Story Sources: The map used for research in this story is “The NUKEMAP” which is intended as an educational resource. It should not be used for emergency planning or emergency response purposes where lives and health might be on the line. It is not a perfect simulation. The NUKEMAP was created for educational “NUKEMAP by Alex Wellerstein (https://nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/),”and the map imagery was created by “Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors, CC-BY-SA, Imagery © Mapbox.” Other resources for this article are the K1 Project of Columbia University and NukeWatch.org, the University of New Mexico and FEMA, the Village of Cloudcroft, NM Offices of Resource Management and Preparedness. 

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Flickinger Center Showing of “Alamogordo Center of the World Trinity 1945”

The Flickinger Center is partnered with the Tularosa Basin Museum to proudly show – “Alamogordo, Center of the World, Trinity 1945” on April 1st at 6 pm. 

Created by Larry Sheffield and Trent DiGiulio, the film discusses how Alamogordo was chosen as the site for atomic bomb testing at what became the Trinity Site on what is now White Sands Missile Range.

The movie will start at 6pm and a Q&A will follow.

Tickets are available at the Flickinger Center box office for $10, you can also purchase the day of the show.

Event link – https://www.facebook.com/events/500806501483215/?acontext=%7B%22event_a…

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The Trinity Site Open House Oct 2nd, 2021, History of the site, the gadget and a history of the open house of the site…

The Trinity Site near Alamogordo, New Mexico at White Sands Missile Proving Ground New White Sands Missile Range is a spot of historical significance that changed the world, the outcome of World War 2 and impacts sociopolitical dialog around the globe to this day. Tours are limited to 1 day a year. This year October 2nd, 2021 from 8 am to 3:30 pm.

What is the history of the Trinity Site?

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped a nuclear weapon on Hiroshima, Japan – the first time such weapon of mass destruction that was ever used in conflict. Three days later the U.S. released another on Nagasaki, devastating the city and ushering in the nuclear age.

By 1945, the scientists of the Manhattan Project centered in Los Alamos, New Mexico with Oak Ridge Laboratories in Tennessee and the University of Chicago labs working to develop and build a nuclear weapon had made significant progress. 

Employees of the top-secret project via it’s 3 locations developed two types of atom bombs. One used uranium and a fairly simple design, leaving scientists confident it did not need testing. The other was a more complex implosion design using plutonium. Project leaders decided this second bomb needed to be tested before it was deemed ready for use. 

On July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb successfully detonated at the Trinity test site.

Seeking an isolated test site for both safety and secrecy, planners chose a flat desert region at a U.S. Air Force base near Alamogordo, New Mexico called White Sands Proving Ground. This was a top secret military base where missile, aircraft and bomb testing took place and still does to this very day

While the test site was relatively barren, the nearest town of Carrizozo was just over twenty miles away. 

As the test date approached, concerns grew over the possible effects of radioactive fallout on nearby towns. 

After receiving warnings over potential legal liabilities, Manhattan Project Director General Leslie Groves tasked the Army with setting up an offsite monitoring system and preparing evacuation plans for those in a forty-mile radius.

The morning of July 16, the test weapon – referred to as “the gadget” – sat atop a 100-foot tower. Key observers were stationed in the control shelter constructed about 6 miles from the point of explosion. Others observed from shelters similarly situated around the test site, from base camp ten miles away, from “Hill Station” twenty miles away or from the air in B-29 bombers. Thunderstorms in the area delayed the test until early morning. At 5:30 am, the plutonium bomb detonated.

Video of Explosion and First Atomic Bomb Test in History

The term “Gadget” was a laboratory euphemism for a bomb, from which the laboratory’s weapon physics division, “G Division”, took its name in August 1944. At that time it did not refer specifically to the Trinity Test device as it had yet to be developed, but once it was, it became the laboratory code name. The Trinity Gadget was officially a Y-1561 device, as was the Fat Man used a few weeks later in the bombing of Nagasaki. The two were very similar, with only minor differences, the most obvious being the absence of fuzing and the external ballistic casing. The bombs were still under development, and small changes continued to be made to the Fat Man design.

To keep the design as simple as possible, a near solid spherical core was chosen rather than a hollow one, although calculations showed that a hollow core would be more efficient in its use of plutonium. The core was compressed to prompt super-criticality by the implosion generated by the high explosive lens. This design became known as a “Christy Core” or “Christy pit” after physicist Robert F. Christy, who made the solid pit design a reality after it was initially proposed by Edward Teller. Along with the pit, the whole physics package was also informally nicknamed “Christy[‘s] Gadget”.

Of the several allotropes of plutonium, the metallurgists preferred the malleable δ (deltaphase. This was stabilized at room temperature by alloying it with gallium. Two equal hemispheres of plutonium-gallium alloy were plated with silver, and designated by serial numbers HS-1 and HS-2.  The 6.19-kilogram (13.6 lb) radioactive core generated 15 W of heat, which warmed it up to about 100 to 110 °F (38 to 43 °C), and the silver plating developed blisters that had to be filed down and covered with gold foil; later cores were plated with nickel instead.  The Trinity core consisted of just these two hemispheres. Later cores also included a ring with a triangular cross-section to prevent jets forming in the gap between them.

Basic nuclear components of the Gadget. The uranium slug containing the plutonium sphere was inserted late in the assembly process.


A trial assembly of the Gadget without the active components or explosive lenses was carried out by the bomb assembly team headed by Norris Bradbury at Los Alamos on July 3. It was driven to Trinity and back. A set of explosive lenses arrived on July 7, followed by a second set on July 10. Each was examined by Bradbury and Kistiakowsky, and the best ones were selected for use. The remainder were handed over to Edward Creutz, who conducted a test detonation at Pajarito Canyon near Los Alamos without nuclear material.  This test brought bad news: magnetic measurements of the simultaneity of the implosion seemed to indicate that the Trinity test would fail. Bethe worked through the night to assess the results and reported that they were consistent with a perfect explosion.

Assembly of the nuclear capsule began on July 13 at the McDonald Ranch House, where the master bedroom had been turned into a clean room. The polonium-beryllium “Urchin” initiator was assembled, and Louis Slotin placed it inside the two hemispheres of the plutonium core. Cyril Smith then placed the core in the uranium tamper plug, or “slug”. Air gaps were filled with 0.5-mil (0.013 mm) gold foil, and the two halves of the plug were held together with uranium washers and screws which fit smoothly into the domed ends of the plug. The completed capsule was then driven to the base of the tower.

Louis Slotin and Herbert Lehr with the Gadget prior to insertion of the tamper plug (visible in front of Lehr’s left knee)

At the tower, a temporary eyebolt was screwed into the 105-pound (48 kg) capsule and a chain hoist was used to lower the capsule into the gadget. As the capsule entered the hole in the uranium tamper, it stuck. Robert Bacher realized that the heat from the plutonium core had caused the capsule to expand, while the explosives assembly with the tamper had cooled during the night in the desert. By leaving the capsule in contact with the tamper, the temperatures equalized and, in a few minutes, the capsule had slipped completely into the tamper.  The eyebolt was then removed from the capsule and replaced with a threaded uranium plug, a boron disk was placed on top of the capsule, an aluminum plug was screwed into the hole in the pusher, and the two remaining high explosive lenses were installed. Finally, the upper Dural polar cap was bolted into place. Assembly was completed at about 16:45 on July 13.

The Gadget was hoisted to the top of a 100-foot (30 m) steel tower. The height would give a better indication of how the weapon would behave when dropped from a bomber, as detonation in the air would maximize the amount of energy applied directly to the target (as the explosion expanded in a spherical shape) and would generate less nuclear fallout. The tower stood on four legs that went 20 feet (6.1 m) into the ground, with concrete footings. Atop it was an oak platform, and a shack made of corrugated iron that was open on the western side. The Gadget was hauled up with an electric winch. A truckload of mattresses was placed underneath in case the cable broke and the Gadget fell. The seven-man arming party, consisting of Bainbridge, Kistiakowsky, Joseph McKibben and four soldiers including Lieutenant Bush, drove out to the tower to perform the final arming shortly after 22:00 on July 15.

The scientists wanted good visibility, low humidity, light winds at low altitude, and westerly winds at high altitude for the test. The best weather was predicted between July 18 and 21, but the Potsdam Conference was due to start on July 16 and President Harry S. Truman wanted the test to be conducted before the conference began. It was therefore scheduled for July 16, the earliest date at which the bomb components would be available.

The Trinity explosion, 16 ms after detonation. The viewed hemisphere’s highest point in this image is about 200 metres (660 ft) high.

The detonation was initially planned for 04:00 MWT but was postponed because of rain and lightning from early that morning. It was feared that the danger from radiation and fallout would be increased by rain, and lightning had the scientists concerned about a premature detonation.[89] A crucial favorable weather report came in at 04:45,[60] and the final twenty-minute countdown began at 05:10, read by Samuel Allison.[90] By 05:30 the rain had gone.[60] There were some communication problems. The shortwave radio frequency for communicating with the B-29s was shared with the Voice of America, and the FM radios shared a frequency with a railroad freight yard in San Antonio, Texas.[86]

Two circling B-29s observed the test, with Shields again flying the lead plane. They carried members of Project Alberta, who would carry out airborne measurements during the atomic missions. These included Captain Deak Parsons, the Associate Director of the Los Alamos Laboratory and the head of Project Alberta; Luis AlvarezHarold AgnewBernard WaldmanWolfgang Panofsky, and William Penney. The overcast sky obscured their view of the test site.[91]

Trinitite

At 05:29:21 MWT (± 15 seconds), the device exploded with an energy equivalent to around 22 kilotons of TNT (92 TJ). The desert sand, largely made of silica, melted and became a mildly radioactive light green glass, which was named trinitite.  The explosion created a crater approximately 4.7 feet (1.4 m) deep and 88 yards (80 m) wide. The radius of the trinitite layer was approximately 330 yards (300 m). At the time of detonation, the surrounding mountains were illuminated “brighter than daytime” for one to two seconds, and the heat was reported as “being as hot as an oven” at the base camp. The observed colors of the illumination changed from purple to green and eventually to white. The roar of the shock wave took 40 seconds to reach the observers. It was felt over 100 miles (160 km) away, and the mushroom cloud reached 7.5 miles (12.1 km) in height.

Ralph Carlisle Smith, watching from Compania Hill, wrote:

I was staring straight ahead with my open left eye covered by a welder’s glass and my right eye remaining open and uncovered. Suddenly, my right eye was blinded by a light which appeared instantaneously all about without any build up of intensity. My left eye could see the ball of fire start up like a tremendous bubble or nob-like mushroom. I dropped the glass from my left eye almost immediately and watched the light climb upward. The light intensity fell rapidly, hence did not blind my left eye but it was still amazingly bright. It turned yellow, then red, and then beautiful purple. At first it had a translucent character, but shortly turned to a tinted or colored white smoke appearance. The ball of fire seemed to rise in something of toadstool effect. Later the column proceeded as a cylinder of white smoke; it seemed to move ponderously. A hole was punched through the clouds, but two fog rings appeared well above the white smoke column. There was a spontaneous cheer from the observers. Dr. von Neumann said, “that was at least 5,000 tons and probably a lot more.”

In his official report on the test, Farrell (who initially exclaimed, “The long-hairs have let it get away from them!”) wrote:

“The lighting effects beggared description. The whole country was lighted by a searing light with the intensity many times that of the midday sun. It was golden, purple, violet, gray, and blue. It lighted every peak, crevasse and ridge of the nearby mountain range with a clarity and beauty that cannot be described but must be seen to be imagined …”

William L. Laurence of The New York Times had been transferred temporarily to the Manhattan Project at Groves’s request in early 1945.  Groves had arranged for Laurence to view significant events, including Trinity and the atomic bombing of Japan. Laurence wrote press releases with the help of the Manhattan Project’s public relations staff.  He later recalled that

“A loud cry filled the air. The little groups that hitherto had stood rooted to the earth like desert plants broke into dance, the rhythm of primitive man dancing at one of his fire festivals at the coming of Spring.”

Original color-exposed photograph by Jack Aeby, July 16, 1945.

After the initial euphoria of witnessing the explosion had passed, Bainbridge told Oppenheimer, “Now we are all sons of bitches.”

Rabi noticed Oppenheimer’s reaction: “I’ll never forget his walk”; Rabi recalled, “I’ll never forget the way he stepped out of the car … his walk was like High Noon … this kind of strut. He had done it.”

Joan Hinton, a graduate student working on the Manhattan Project, described the explosion:

“It was like being at the bottom of an ocean of light. We were bathed in it from all directions. The light withdrew into the bomb as if the bomb sucked it up. Then it turned purple and blue and went up and up and up. We were still talking in whispers when the cloud reached the level where it was struck by the rising sunlight so it cleared out the natural clouds. We saw a cloud that was dark and red at the bottom and daylight at the top. Then suddenly the sound reached us. It was very sharp and rumbled and all the mountains were rumbling with it.”

The explosive force was equal to roughly 20,000 tons of TNT, far larger than the expected 7,500 tons. The flash of light was visible over 280 miles from the test site; the blast broke windows 120 miles away. Military police in nearby towns told those who saw the flash that an ammunition dump had exploded.

Radioactive green glass created from some of the dirt and debris caught in the fireball littered the test ground. Reports of public radiation exposure in the days following the test and evidence indicating high rates of infant mortality in counties downwind from the test site were largely ignored though officials did decide to forego further testing at the site in favor of a larger, more barren space. Residents of southern New Mexico are still pushing for the government to acknowledge and take responsibility for the lasting effects of the Trinity test, as detailed in a new report on the decades of health issues and deaths in the region.

Following the successful test, word was sent to U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson who relayed the news to President Truman. It was clear to everyone the most destructive weapon ever built by humankind was ready for war.

The exact origin of the code name “Trinity” for the test is unknown, but it is often attributed to Oppenheimer as a reference to the poetry of John Donne, which in turn references the Christian notion of the Trinity (i.e., the three persons constituting the nature of God). In 1962, Groves wrote to Oppenheimer about the origin of the name, asking if he had chosen it because it was a name common to rivers and peaks in the West and would not attract attention, and elicited this reply:

I did suggest it, but not on that ground … Why I chose the name is not clear, but I know what thoughts were in my mind. There is a poem of John Donne, written just before his death, which I know and love. From it a quotation:

As West and East
In all flatt Maps—and I am one—are one,
So death doth touch the Resurrection.

That still does not make a Trinity, but in another, better known devotional poem Donne opens,

Batter my heart, three person’d God.

Visits to the Trinity Site:

In September 1953, about 650 people attended the first Trinity Site open house. Visitors to a Trinity Site open house are allowed to see the ground zero and McDonald Ranch House areas.

More than seventy years after the test, residual radiation at the site was about ten times higher than normal background radiation in the area. The amount of radioactive exposure received during a one-hour visit to the site is about half of the total radiation exposure which a U.S. adult receives on an average day from natural and medical sources.

On December 21, 1965, the 51,500-acre (20,800 ha) Trinity Site was declared a National Historic Landmark district, and on October 15, 1966, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The landmark includes the base camp, where the scientists and support group lived; ground zero, where the bomb was placed for the explosion; and the McDonald ranch house, where the plutonium core to the bomb was assembled. One of the old instrumentation bunkers is visible beside the road just west of ground zero. An inner oblong fence was added in 1967, and the corridor barbed wire fence that connects the outer fence to the inner one was completed in 1972. Jumbo was moved to the parking lot in 1979; it is missing its ends from an attempt to destroy it in 1946 using eight 500-pound (230 kg) bombs. The Trinity monument, a rough-sided, lava-rock obelisk about 12 feet (3.7 m) high, marks the explosion’s hypocenter. It was erected in 1965 by Army personnel from the White Sands Missile Range using local rocks taken from the western boundary of the range.

A simple metal plaque reads:

Trinity Site
Where
the World’s First
Nuclear Device
Was Exploded on
July 16, 1945
Erected 1965
White Sands Missile Range
J. Frederick Thorlin
Major General U.S. Army
Commanding

A second memorial plaque on the obelisk was prepared by the Army and the National Park Service, and was unveiled on the 30th anniversary of the test in 1975.  It reads:

Trinity Site
Has Been Designated a
National
Historic Landmark
This Site possesses National Significance
in Commemorating the History of the
United States of America
1975
National Park Service
United States Department of the Interior

Visitors to the Trinity site in 1995 for 50th anniversary


A special tour of the site was conducted on July 16, 1995, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Trinity test. About 5,000 visitors arrived to commemorate the occasion, the largest crowd for any open house.

Since then, the open houses have usually averaged two to three thousand visitors. The site is still a popular destination for those interested in atomic tourism, though it is only open to the public twice a year during the Trinity Site Open House on the first Saturdays of April and October. Due to Covid-19 restriction the site has been closed the last year to visits.

 In 2014, the White Sands Missile Range announced that due to budgetary constraints, the site would only be open once a year, on the first Saturday in April. In 2015, this decision was reversed, and two events were scheduled, in April and October. The base commander, Brigadier General Timothy R. Coffin, explained that:

Trinity Site is a national historic testing landmark where the theories and engineering of some of the nation’s brightest minds were tested with the detonation of the first nuclear bomb, technologies which then helped end World War II. It is important for us to share Trinity with the public even though the site is located inside a very active military test range. We have travelers from as far away as Australia who travel to visit this historic landmark. Facilitating access twice per year allows more people the chance to visit this historic site

To visit the Trinity Location Opened October 2nd, 2021 from 8 am to 3:30 pm

Stallion Gate Entrance

Exit I-25 on mile marker 139 (San Antonio, N.M.) and head 12 miles east or exit U.S. Highway 54 onto U.S. Highway 380 and head west 53 miles of Carrizozo, N.M. Turn south on New Mexico State Highway 525 and head south five miles to the Stallion gate.

Alamogordo Caravan

Alamogordo Alternative – The Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce sponsors a caravan for visitors to Trinity Site. The Alamogordo caravan meeting site is at the Tularosa High School Athletic Field Parking lot. Turn west off Hwy. 54/70 in Tularosa at Higuero St. Proceed west to La Luz Ave. Turn right on La Luz Ave. (north) to athletic field.

Vehicle line up will begin at 7 a.m. Caravan departs at 8 a.m. NO STRAGGLERS WILL BE ALLOWED INTO THE CARAVAN ONCE THE LAST PERSON IN THE CARAVAN HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED.

Visitors entering this way will travel as an escorted group to and from Trinity Site. The drive is 145 miles roundtrip and there are no service station facilities on the missile range. Please make sure you have a full tank of gas.

The caravan is scheduled to leave Trinity Site at 12:30 for the return to Tularosa.

Cameras are allowed at Trinity Site but their use is strictly prohibited anywhere else on White Sands Missile Range.

Official Press Release:

Trinity Site Open House is set for Oct. 2

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. (July 9, 2021)  White Sands Missile Range will open Trinity Site to the public after a brief pause in activities due to COVID-19 on Oct. 2. Trinity Site is where the world’s first atomic bomb was tested at 5:29:45 a.m. Mountain War Time July 16, 1945.

The open house is free and no reservations are required. At the site visitors can take a quarter-mile walk to ground zero where a small obelisk marks the exact spot where the bomb was detonated. Historical photos are mounted on the fence surrounding the area.

While at the site, visitors can also ride a missile range shuttle bus two miles from ground zero to the Schmidt/McDonald Ranch House. The ranch house is where the scientists assembled the plutonium core of the bomb. Visitors will also be able to experience what life was like for a ranch family in the early 1940s.

The simplest way to get to Trinity Site is to enter White Sands Missile Range through its Stallion Range Center gate. Stallion gate is five miles south of U.S. Highway 380. The turnoff is 12 miles east of San Antonio, New Mexico, and 53 miles west of Carrizozo, New Mexico. The nearest city to make hotel reservations is Socorro, New Mexico. The Stallion Gate is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visitors arriving at the gate between those hours will be allowed to drive unescorted the 17 miles to Trinity Site. The road is paved and marked. The site closes promptly at 3:30 p.m.

Media who would like to visit the open house must register by calling the Public Affairs Office at 575-678-1134.

For more information on the open house please visit the Trinity Site website at: Trinity Site Information

White Sands Missile Range, DoD’s largest, fully-instrumented, open air range, provides America’s Armed Forces, allies, partners, and defense technology innovators with the world’s premiere research, development, test, evaluation, experimentation, and training facilities to ensure our nation’s defense readiness.

Author Chris Edwards Source research of article found in original published article at the AlamogordoTownNews.com