LAS VEGAS, March 25, 2013 — Most retellings of Las Vegas’ history focus on the mob, casinos or the evolution of the neon sign.
Since March 2005, the National Atomic Testing Museum has focused its attention on a more ominous bit of Sin City’s history: its connection to nuclear testing and the development of atomic bombs.
The nearby Nevada Test Site (now officially renamed the Nevada National Security Site) served as a testing site for nuclear devices starting in 1951. And for visitors of Vegas who are focused on glitz and glamour, the museum offers a dose of unexpected history on a subject that has been controversial and debated for seven decades.
The museum “tells the story of America’s nuclear testing program at the Nevada test site. But it’s also of the nation’s nuclear testing program,” said Karen Green, the museum’s curator.
The museum’s collection includes more than 12,000 artifacts, including radiation testing devices, Geiger counters and pop culture memorabilia while “Ground Zero Theater” simulates the detonation of an atomic bomb.
“If you don’t understand the Cold War and World War II and that history, it’s very hard to understand why a nation would develop an atomic bomb, why we used an atomic bomb and then why we continue to test it,” Green said. “They think it’s the past when it’s still the present. We still test bombs. We do it sub-critically now.”
In December 2011, the museum was designated as a national museum and is today affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. As part of the designation, the museum has shifted its focus from a regional museum to a national museum, dedicated to telling the country’s history of nuclear development.