Trinity Test Site Visit

April 5, 2014

(date is link to official site)

The first atomic bomb explosion occurred in New Mexico on 16 July 1945.  Very soon after this weapon was tested, it was used to end the war with Japan. This was a plutonium fueled device, the other bomb dropped on Japan was a fissile-uranium device.  No test of that device was deemed necessary.  It was plutonium where a few uncertainties still existed, until this device went off exactly as anticipated.

A friend in Carlsbad (New Mexico, where I currently live and work) reminded me that this one-time-per- year opportunity was coming up.  He thought that since I worked in the permanent disposal of the materials used to design and create these types of weapons, I would be interested in seeing the site.  He was correct.  It was the sort of trip you make once in your life and then have no desire to repeat.

The approximately 240 mile ride was not unattractive, with views like this coming:

And like this, at sunset, on the way back home:

The large mountain to the south is Sierra Blanca, or White Mountain, where the Apache Ski Resort and the town of Ruidoso with its Apache tribal resort, the Inn of the Mountain Gods, are located.

Arriving at the access road to the Trinity Site, I got in line with other visitors.  It took a full half hour before being cleared at the security gate:

Once past the site there are no photos allowed until the ground-zero area is reached, where I walked from the ample parking area toward the site with many others.  It was cool, the wind was howling, and sand and dust were flying into one's eyes and mouth if they were facing the wind:

At ground-zero, there was this monument:

There were other information displays (essentially the same information as in the brochure):

On the fence were photos of the explosion itself and some of the work done before and after.  I was only interested in the explosion itself:

Some astute visitors found "trinitite" on the ground, and piled it up for us to take pictures of (it cannot be removed):

Trinitite is liquefied sand pulled into the blast that absorbed other vaporized droplets plus some fission products from the nuclear reaction.  It rode up the updraft like water droplets in a thunderstorm cloud making hail: when it had accreted enough mass it became heavy enough to fall down against the continuing updraft created by the rising mushroom cloud.  

I have heard from people who should know this sort of thing that the ground was covered with this material after the blast and most of it was cleaned up and buried.  But as time goes on it is less radioactive, so it is OK that a little more appears as the surface sand is eroded by wind. Doses on the site are very low.

The official brochure has more information and I recommend its perusal (click here to go there.)

Some of the other sights to be seen here are the Jumbo bomb housing that was not used, and a large cover hiding what was left of the original crater, both items totally uninformative.  This next photo shows the Jumbo container from a distance and some people kneeling over some pieces of trinitite.

Am I glad I went?  Yes.  Will I ever go back?  No.  If you decide to go, be sure and bring some toilet paper and hand wipes, the porta-potties were dirty and had no supplies or water.  

The Rio Grande near the Trinity Site

The Valley of Fires Recreation Area not far from the Trinity Site

Related:

 The Gnome atomic test site

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