The Blast!

March 10, 2017

Upcoming Events at the Museum


For information on Education, Museum Tours, Intern and Docent programs, call 702 794-5144 or email


Treasures from the Sea: Vapnitsky Lecture Thrills Audience


David Vapnitsky gave his audience “gold fever” at his Feb. 24 lecture at the museum. Guests were able to see pictures and video from his time as part of Mel Fisher’s “Golden Crew,” the group of divers that was part of the historic salvage of the sunken Spanish Galleon Atocha. Guests were able to see real treasure from the Atocha, including coins and gold chains, and several members of the audience held a (heavy!) silver bar recovered from the ship.

David is a long-time friend and support of the NATM. He supplies the trinitite samples that are sold in the museum store, which are a favorite souvenir of museum guests! Many thanks to David for sharing such an interesting part of history with our audience.

Last Chance for Area 51: Myth or Reality

This is the final weekend to view our popular exhibit, Area 51: Myth or Reality at the NATM! This exhibit will come down next week, so don’t miss your last chance to see it.

If you aren’t able to visit the museum this weekend, don’t fret–a new (albeit smaller) and permanent version the Area 51 exhibit will debut in the near future; stay tuned for details! As always, advance tickets to the museum can be purchased here.


Save the Date: April Movie Night at the Museum

On Friday, April 7 at 6 p.m., the NATM will host its second movie night of the year.  Our feature will be “Fail Safe,” starring Henry Fonda and Walter Matthau, and directed by Sidney Lumet.

This thrilling Cold War classic from 1964 features the United States and Russia on the brink of nuclear war, after American fighter jets are mistakenly sent to deliver a nuclear attack on Moscow.

As always, our movie nights are free, and popcorn, candy and bottled water will be available for purchase (and they’re quite a bargain, so no need to smuggle in goodies under your hat!).  We hope to see you there!

Welcome to Our New Museum Store Manager


The National Atomic Testing Museum is thrilled to welcome Ed Justus to our staff as our new Museum Store Manager.  Ed has a diverse background in museums, retail and sales, and was most recently a manager for Ames Dry Wall Tool Company here in Las Vegas.  Before that, he was the director of guest services for Wonders of Wildlife Museum in Springfield, Mo.

He was a manager for Academy Sports and Outdoors, and the owner and manager of Casey@Bat Indoor Baseball and Sporting Goods, both in Springfield, Mo.  Ed also managed stores for Office Depot in several states, and worked in Store Planning for Kmart/Builders Square.  He has a BSBA in Production/Operations Management from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Be sure to stop by the Museum Store and give Ed a warm welcome!


Circles Magazine Visits the NATM, Shares Review

A group from Circles Magazine visited the NATM recently, and graciously granted us permission to reprint the article that Jeffrey Luckinbill wrote for the magazine’s current edition.

On our field trip to the National Atomic Testing Museum we were greeted by Michael Hall who is the Executive Director of the museum and he was gracious enough to give us a tour of the museum and answer a ton of questions that we had. We thank Michael and the staff of the museum for taking the time to help us with the article.

The purpose of the museum is to document and show the history of the Nevada Test Site from World War II to the present. There is a prolific history that includes the timing, monitoring, photography and triggering of nuclear tests at the site, overseen by civilian contractors EG&G, who assisted the Atomic Energy Commission.

As you enter the museum, you we will see pictures of the above ground detonations done at the test site and early news footage of the detonations and historic news articles meant as a deterrent to Axis powers. On display are comparisons of the bomb sizes from the 15-kiloton bomb used on Hiroshima and the 21-kiloton bomb used on Nagasaki, which were huge compared to the more modern bomb that was much smaller. Mr. Hall explains that one of the purposes of the test site was to miniaturize the bomb so that it was more deployable.

As you continue through you will come to a timeline of nuclear events throughout history. In addition, as you round the corner you come across the Atomic era of America where you see everything from breakfast cereal to children’s laboratory kits depicting the fascination and general pride of the era. People in the Atomic age were exceptionally proud of the fact that we had the nuclear deterrent.

The next part of the museum pays homage to the U.S.S. Nevada, which was explained by Mr. Hall as being used as the target for the nuclear tests that were conducted at Bikini Atoll and survived two nuclear explosions.

On display in the next area are the typical bomb shelter, built by countless civilians as they heard more and more about nuclear proliferation throughout the world. You also see various instruments used to measure the effects of nuclear devices that were tested. It is well known that the blasts could be seen from downtown Las Vegas at the time.

As you continue through the museum you come to the area that is dedicated to the underground testing done at the site, Mr. Hall explains that tunnels were used to conduct the tests in and were grouted together with an area that was ungrouted to absorb shake and shock from the tests.

Displayed in this amazing museum are Geiger counters of all kinds used to measure radiation. Also, they display some of the Indian artifacts found within the test site area.
Within the building, they pay a tribute to Area 51, which has over the years raised speculation and mystery. As you walk through the area they highlight the many questions raised by a skeptical and unbelieving public. It’s a fun part of the museum that is on temporary display, and will not be open much longer as the museum is expanding and focusing on the mission of providing the public with factual and interesting information.

The museum is interesting and has great displays as well as interactive displays. We recommend you go and check this iconic and wonderful museum out. It is located at 755 E. Flamingo Rd.

In the News

To help keep you up to date on local and global current events in the nuclear world, we share links to relevant items in the news. The National Atomic Testing Museum does not endorse any views or opinions expressed in these stories; we are sharing for informational purposes only.

Nevada Magazine writes about the history of atomic testing in Nevada, sharing some great historical photos in the article. Read it here.

David Vapnitsky’s “Treasures from the Sea” lecture was covered in In Military Magazine; read the full story here.

Sandia National Laboratories explores the evolution of nuclear deterrence in a new documentary combining new and historical footage called “On Deterrence.” It can be viewed on Sandia’s YouTube channel here.



It is our mission at the National Atomic Testing Museum to document the history of and current events in nuclear testing. We never take a political stance on any issue; rather, we do strive to keep you informed.  In each newsletter, my Spot On column will highlight history and happenings in the nuclear world and at the museum.           




North Korea Update: Peculiar Developments

At the age of 33, Kim Jong Un is the youngest leader of any country in the world, and his authoritarian regime may be on the verge of collapse according to some analysts. Certainly, peculiar developments have been reported that could point to an unraveling of the political class in North Korea, or Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Events are moving quickly. To date there have been many new sanctions placed on North Korea with varying results. The most important goal in these UN-mandated sanctions has been to degrade the totalitarian regime’s exports and thus its revenue stream of foreign currency. In theory, this would make it more difficult for the DPRK to keep developing sophisticated weapons systems, while minimizing the effects on an already starving population.

The major stumbling block to this has always been North Korea’s border ally, China. China purchases significant amounts of North Korea’s most important export, coal. China also tends to find ways to justify a flow of trade in and out of North Korea. They circumvent many of the sanctions by declaring certain goods for “livelihood” purposes.

On Saturday, January 18th, China reversed this long-standing policy and stated that it would be suspending its coal-imports from North Korea until the end of 2017. Coal exports to China represent thirty-five percent of the economy of North Korea. Unprecedented UN sanctions since November were already putting renewed pressure on Kim Jong Un’s regime. China’s recent moves present a significant change, however, their motives are unclear.

China for years justifiably defended its bolstering of North Korea with the argument that they do not want a failed nuclear state on their border, nor do they want a humanitarian crisis that would flood tens of thousands of refugees across their shared boarder. So, something has apparently changed. Some analysts say this might be China’s way of forcing President Donald Trump to make the next move with North Korea. Of course all strategists agree, war would serve no nation’s interest. Yet, a regime change is another matter and China could be contemplating that scenario.

Other strange events are unfolding as well. Recently Kim Jong Nam, the elder, estranged half-brother of Kim Jong Un, died in an apparent assassination utilizing a VX nerve agent at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. While there is no evidence to indicate who ordered the murder, Kim Jong Un has a long history of brutal reprisals against family members and those of the North Korean political class.

Although they have different mothers and were never allowed to meet, Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Un are both sons of former North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Nam fell out of political favor in 2001 when he left Korea without permission to visit Disneyland in Tokyo. Choosing exile, he later became critical of Kim Jong Un as well as his father’s militaristic legacy. Despite this, and the fact he is the eldest son of Kim Jong Il, he has been considered a non-player because Kim Jong Nam had been living rather quietly in Macau, an autonomous region of China. South Korean Intelligence officials affirm that Kim stood little to gain from assassinating his own half-brother.

Opinions are split on the mystery. Some China analysts feel that Kim Jong Nam may have been benefiting from some sort of sanctuary under the Chinese and viewed as a possible successor to Kim Jong Un should China be forced to intervene in North Korea. Others discount that notion. Think-tank analysts stated that such foul-play on the part of North Korea would be little more than a senseless murder by an increasingly paranoid regime.

That assessment is not beyond reason. Kim Jong Un, the youngest son of Kim Jong Il, came to power upon his father’s death in 2011. Since then he has ordered the execution of numerous individuals without clear reason. This included his uncle Jang Sung Taek who had served as a top-ranking government leader since the days of Kim Jong Il’s rule. In addition to that, Jang’s entire family and extended family are believed to have been executed.

In May 2015, after he caught his defense minister, Hyon Yong Chol, falling asleep at a meeting, he ordered the minister to be dismembered by a large caliber anti-aircraft weapon. Han Ki Beom, Deputy Director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Agency, stated that hundreds of officials watched the execution of Hyon Yong Chol by a ZPU-4 anti-aircraft gun.  Kim has ordered other members of his government executed as well. O Sang Hon, a deputy security minister, was executed with a flamethrower. Others have been executed with mortar rounds though most are apparently executed by a firing squad using automatic weapons. Last year Kim’s top Education Official, Kim Young Jin fell before a firing squad. To date, estimates range that anywhere from 70 to 100 key individuals of the political class may have been executed at the order of Kim. A higher number places the estimate at 340 senior individuals. Analysts cannot agree on the full extent to what is going on inside North Korea.

Kim’s grandfather and then father brutally ruled North Korea for many years before him, although they appeared to have had a more measured or pragmatic approach. Senior defense analyst Bruce Bennett of the RAND Corporation noted that Kim has purged five Defense Ministers in five years while his father changed his Defense Minister only three times in 17 years, with two of those changes due to legitimate retirements.

Andrei Lankov, a Russian expert on Korea and instructor at Kookmin University in Seoul expressed concern over Kim’s grasp on reality. Lankov explained that Kim had a spoiled and privileged childhood not unlike many Western billionaires. Kim, in all likelihood, has never been out of sight of a host of bodyguards since the day he was born in 1984. His entire existence has been one of isolation from the real world which includes his schooling near Berne, Switzerland. There he was required to study and address his instructors in German which to his frustration he had little proficiency in. His education lacked any distinction. Lankov pointed out that Kim’s parents did not have that detached disadvantage and understood that being a dictator in a country like North Korea was a serious game. A deadly game. Several doubt if Kim understands the reality of his situation.

Some analysts debate whether or not Kim Jong Un’s behavior is rational. They wonder if the DPRK political class will break or rebel under the strain of his unpredictable rule. That political class is tightly controlled and intimidated by a reign of terror. It is believed as many as 200,000 North Koreans are currently being held in six political prison camps. This is not new to North Korea, but the scale and indiscriminate brutality does seem to be unique to Kin Jong Un’s rule. Franklin Roosevelt once observed that it is “no fun to be a leader without followers.” Stalin confessed to both Roosevelt and Churchill that even dictators need followers.

A few lucky individuals find ways out of North Korea, and the most remarkable defection occurred just this past year. Thae Young Ho is the most recent and highest-level official to ever defect North Korea. He served as North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom. He is understandably now under heavy guard as he has been extremely vocal in recent months about what he sees as an unstable regime. To date, 27,000 North Koreans have fled their country, but none have been of the level of Thae Young Ho.

Think-tanks around the world and Intelligence analysts debate over Kim Jong Un’s stability. Most agree that he has masterfully concentrated huge resources into North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear testing programs, despite ever-toughening sanctions. Kim has also promised economic growth and has produced some signs of development and increased consumer goods in Pyongyang, the DPRK capital. These small accomplishments are often showcased on television, and this is what foreign visitors see. The Korean economy has made gains in the development of precision computer numerical control systems and the processing of raw materials like magnesium, graphite and zinc. They are also increasing trade with African countries who care little about sanctions. However, much of the North Korean population lives in a non-industrialized society and suffers from malnutrition. Satellite imagery of the Korean peninsula at night shows the DPRK void of electrical light except for the area of Pyongyang. South Korea, in contrast, shows the illumination of extensive industrialization.

Kim is doing too good a job managing military advances. He has continued to field a million-man army with vast amounts of heavy artillery while developing advanced weapons development projects. These represent steady progressions in ballistic missile and nuclear research that are not mere posturing by a madman, though perhaps that affect has made its impression to Kim’s benefit. The consensus therefore concludes that Kim is rational. Most experts see him utilizing the Songun or “military first” policy adhered to by his father Kim Jong Il. This puts North Korea on a constant war footing to overcome two inescapable challenges which it has faced since the end of the Cold War.

First, China, although not totally unsympathetic to North Korea, has been more focused on relations and trade with the West. Second, the amazing success of a democratic South Korea seems to make North Korea look almost insignificant. So, the North (from its perspective) must make itself relevant to the world. Professor Victor Cha of Georgetown University who served on George W. Bush’s National Security Council states North Korea is savagely cruel as well as coolly calculating. These are not mutually exclusive in his view.

North Korea of course is banned by the United Nations from conducting any type of nuclear or ballistic missile tests. Yet this has not deterred Kim Jong Un. In recent months North Korea has made dramatic advances in missile technology evidenced by recent trials. Just last summer in 2016, Korea made the watershed step of launching a solid fuel ballistic missile from a submerged submarine. Then, a week before the latest and sixth nuclear test early last September, they launched three missiles into the Sea of Japan with an apparent high degree of precision. Japan’s Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said, “Looking at the fact that the three missiles have landed on almost the same spot at almost the same time, I think their missile technology has substantially improved.”
A BBC News article from January 6, 2017 quotes Professor Siegfried S. Hecker of Stanford University. He is an experienced voice on North Korea’s weapons’ development and a longtime National Atomic Testing Museum supporter and guest lecturer. Professor Hecker stated, “We must assume that the DPRK has designed and demonstrated nuclear warheads that can be mounted on some of its short-range and perhaps medium-range missiles.”

Melissa Hanham, senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California stated her greatest fear is that North Korea could launch a live nuclear warhead on a missile and the resulting atmospheric explosion would be hard to differentiate between an act of war or a test.

The implications are clear that any aggressive action by North Korea would be met by overwhelming force, although that does not mean Kin Jong Un will heed such a warning. The logical assumption is that despite Kim’s youth and inexperience, in the final analysis, he will be motivated by the instinct of self-preservation above all else. If not for his country, at least for himself. The two are now inseparable because he has nowhere else to go. Kim has not even attempted to visit China since assuming power in 2011.

Strategic analysts warn that Korea must not become a flash point. All agree the level of tension is dangerously high and the situation unpredictable. With the annual military joint American and South Korean military exercises coming up in March, North Korea is already using sharp rhetoric. None of the experts on Korea have a crystal ball. What Kim Jong Un will do next is unknown.

As an additional update to this story, events continue to move quickly. Since I wrote this article a week ago, five more state-level officials are said to have been executed in North Korea. Like in other similar state purges these executions are said to have been conducted in an extraordinarily brutal manner. The story of the assassination of Kim’s brother is also taking on bizarre twist and turns.

On Saturday, March 4th, Malaysia expelled the South Korean Ambassador Kang Chol with a forty-eight-hour deadline after he publicly criticized the integrity of the police investigation into Kim Jong Nam’s assassination, now confirmed to be the result of a VX nerve agent. As Kang Chol returned on Monday, March 6th, North Korea expelled Kuala Lumpur’s ambassador which had in fact already exited the country following his recall in late February. North Korea is now also reportedly holding a number of Malaysian citizens against their will in retaliation.

In addition, on Monday, March 6th, North Korea protested the annual joint American and South Korean military exercises with four more ballistic missile launches. According to North Korean news stories, Kim Jong Un personally supervised the launches from the Dongchang-ri long-range missile site in North Pyongan Province. Three of the missiles covered 620 miles on a course into the Sea of Japan. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga confirmed three missiles fell into their territorial waters.

On Tuesday, March 7th, the long awaited and highly controversial Thaad missile system started arriving in South Korea. This is the Lockheed Martin Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-ballistic missile system which can shoot down short, medium, and intermediate range ballistic missiles. It will supplement existing SAM or surface to air and Patriot PAC-3 missile systems already in place, bringing a radical new three-tiered defense posture. Unfortunately, none of these systems can adequately contend with an overwhelming number of simultaneous missile launches nor do they protect completely against the low trajectory of submarine launched missiles.

The Thaad missile deployment is extremely controversial. The primary issue rests with China whose Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang stated today, “We will firmly take necessary measures to preserve our own security interest, and the US and South Korea must bear the potential consequences.” Both China and Russia are concerned about the advanced radar system used by Thaad’s radar-controlled firing system. This system can reach into neighboring Chinese and Russian territory, and is thus considered, from their perspective, to be an “invasion of national security.”

On Wednesday, March 8th, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned that “the United States and North Korea are set for a head-on collision.” Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is heading to the region to supposedly try and defuse the situation.

We need to all stay tuned to these important developing stories.



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