What Is Atomic Tourism?

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Atomic tourism, also known as nuclear tourism, refers to the practice of visiting sites and locations that are associated with significant nuclear events, such as nuclear weapons tests, nuclear accidents, or the history of atomic energy.

These sites can have historical, scientific, or morbid significance, and they attract tourists interested in learning more about the impact and history of nuclear technology.

Some common examples of atomic tourism destinations include:

Nuclear Test Sites:

Many nuclear test sites gained notoriety during the Cold War when the United States and the Soviet Union conducted numerous nuclear tests.

Some nuclear test sites have become tourist attractions. These are often located in remote areas and were used for testing nuclear weapons during the mid-20th century.

Prominent examples include the Nevada Test Site, which offers guided tours to educate visitors about the history of nuclear testing, in the United States and the Semipalatinsk Test Site in Kazakhstan.

Surprisingly, tourism to the Nevada Test Site is nothing new and it first began when the tests were still being conducted in the 1950s. In fact, so many tourists flocked to Nevada during this time to watch the tests in persons that the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce issued a calendar for tourists listing the scheduled times of the tests and the best places to view them.

Many of these tourists packed “atomic box lunches” and had picnics as close to the test sites as government restrictions would allow. Some casinos even held “Dawn Bomb Parties” and the eve of the tests during which guests would drink and sing until the flash of the bomb lit up the night sky.

In New Mexico, after the Trinity Test took place during the Manhattan Project in 1945 and the radiation eventually decayed, the U.S. military held its first annual Trinity Test Site Open House in 1953 during which 600 members of the public visited the site.

Atomic Bomb Sites:

Atomic bomb sites are locations that are closely associated with the detonation of atomic bombs. These sites are historically significant and often serve as memorials or museums to commemorate the events and educate visitors about the devastating consequences of atomic warfare.

Some atomic bomb sites include locations tied to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan during World War II, such as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, the Nagasaki Peace Park and Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.

Nuclear Power Plants:

Some nuclear power plants offer guided tours to the public, allowing visitors to learn about the generation of nuclear energy and safety precautions.

These tours offer insights into the inner workings of a nuclear power plant and aim to promote transparency, educate the public, and address any concerns related to nuclear energy.

Many tours also cover topics related to the environmental impact of nuclear power generation, including discussions on waste disposal, radiation, and emission reduction measures.

Tours often highlight the advantages of nuclear energy, including its low carbon emissions, reliability, and its role in reducing reliance on fossil fuels for electricity generation.

These tours are part of public outreach efforts by the nuclear industry and government agencies to foster a better understanding of nuclear energy. They aim to address misconceptions and concerns about nuclear power.

It’s important to note that not all nuclear power plants offer public tours, and the availability of such tours can vary by country, facility, and local regulations. Safety is a paramount concern during these visits, and strict adherence to guidelines and procedures is essential.

Visitors interested in touring a nuclear power plant should contact the facility in advance to inquire about availability, scheduling, and any visitor requirements or restrictions.

Museums and Exhibitions:

Museums dedicated to atomic and nuclear history, technology, and the impact of nuclear weapons and accidents are common atomic tourism destinations.

These venues serve as educational resources and memorials, providing visitors with a deeper understanding of the significant events and developments related to atomic energy and nuclear history.

These museums and exhibitions offer historical context, often beginning with the development of atomic science in the early 20th century. They trace the progression of nuclear technology, from the discovery of atomic structure to the development and use of atomic bombs.

Prominent examples of atomic museums and exhibitions include the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum in Japan, the Atomic Museum in the United States, and the Chernobyl Museum in Ukraine.

These institutions serve to preserve historical memory, foster dialogue on the implications of atomic technology, and advocate for a world free from the threat of nuclear conflict.

Chernobyl Exclusion Zone:

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 resulted in the evacuation of the surrounding area, creating the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Guided tours now take visitors to see the abandoned town of Pripyat and the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

Despite its notoriety as one of the world’s most significant nuclear accidents, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone has become a popular destination for tourists interested in exploring the aftermath of the disaster, its impact on the environment, and the history of the region.

Tourism at the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone serves an educational purpose by raising awareness about the risks of nuclear energy and the importance of safety and preparedness in the nuclear industry.

An old factory at Chernobyl

It’s important to note that the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is still a radioactive area, and while radiation levels in most parts of the zone are relatively low, safety precautions are essential.

Visitors should strictly follow the instructions and guidance provided by the tour operators to ensure their well-being and minimize their exposure to radiation. Additionally, there may be age restrictions and other requirements for visitors.

Hanford Site:

The Hanford Site is a large and historically significant nuclear facility located in southeastern Washington state.

This location in the United States played a crucial role in the Manhattan Project and the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons.

While many areas of the Hanford Site remain off-limits to the public due to safety and security concerns, there are efforts to provide limited public access for educational purposes. Guided tours are available to visit the B Reactor, which has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Oak Ridge, Tennessee:

Oak Ridge was a secret city and key site in the Manhattan Project, which was the U.S. government’s top-secret research and development effort during World War II to develop the atomic bomb, and today, it offers educational tours related to the history of atomic research.

Oak Ridge is a central part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which commemorates the history of the project that led to the creation of the atomic bomb. The park encompasses various sites across different states.

Oak Ridge is home to the American Museum of Science and Energy, the K-25 History Center dedicated to preserving the history of the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant which was a key facility in the Manhattan Project and the X-10 Graphite Reactor, also known as the Clinton Pile, which was one of the world’s first operational nuclear reactors.

Atomic tourism can be controversial, as it involves visiting places associated with significant destruction, human suffering, and environmental consequences.

Nevertheless, many people are drawn to these sites to gain a deeper understanding of the history and impact of nuclear technology, as well as to reflect on the importance of nuclear disarmament and safety.

Visitors should be mindful of safety regulations and guidelines when visiting these sites, especially in areas with potential radiation hazards.

Sources:
“Nevada National Security Site Tour.” Travel Nevada, travelnevada.com/museums/nevada-national-security-site-tour/
Bliss, Laura. “Atomic Tests Were a Tourist Draw in 1950s Las Vegas.” Bloomberg, 8 Aug. 2014, bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-08-08/atomic-tests-were-a-tourist-draw-in-1950s-las-vegas
“Nuclear Tourism: When atomic tests were a tourist attraction in Las Vegas, 1950s.” Rare Historical Photos, rarehistoricalphotos.com/atomic-tourism-las-vegas/
“Atomic Tourism in Nevada.” PBS, pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/atomic-tourism-nevada/
Street, Francesca. “Chernobyl and the dangerous ground of ‘dark tourism’” CNN, 25 June. 2019, cnn.com/travel/article/dark-tourism-chernobyl/index.html
Shull, Benjamin. “‘Stalking the Atomic City’ Review: Tourists in Chernobyl.” Wall Street Journal, 20 May. 2022, wsj.com/articles/stalking-the-atomic-city-book-review-tourists-and-trackers-in-chernobyl-11653055631
“Atomic Tourism in Las Vegas.” Nevada Public Radio, 5 March. 2014, knpr.org/show/knprs-state-of-nevada/2014-03-05/atomic-tourism-in-las-vegas
Delgado, Kristi. “The atomic tourists who visit the eerie sites of nuclear disasters.”
iNews, 10 July. 2023, inews.co.uk/inews-lifestyle/tourists-sites-nuclear-devastation-2462887
Bywater, Thomas. “How Las Vegas tourism stopped worrying and learned to love nuclear bombs.” NZ Herald, 10 Nov. 2022, nzherald.co.nz/travel/how-las-vegas-tourism-stopped-worrying-and-learned-to-love-nuclear-bombs/I3HOVJ65JJP46ZNW4CY5SU7O44/
Burleigh, Nina. “The Day the Sun Rose Twice: A Tour of Atomic New Mexico.” New York Times, 4 Nov. 2022, nytimes.com/2022/11/04/travel/new-mexico-atomic.html
Davis, Bob. “‘It’s Pretty Horrific but Fascinating Nonetheless.’ Inside the New Wave of Atomic Tourism.” The Wall Street Journal, 3 June. 2023, wsj.com/articles/inside-atomic-tourism-c834b3f4

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