Mataeriel Culture: The Archaeology of 20th Century Conflict

By John Schofield; William Gray Johnson et al. | Go to book overview

20

Archaeological examination of Cold War architecture: a reactionary cultural response to the threat of nuclear war

WILLIAM GRAY JOHNSON

Fear was probably the single most important characteristic of the Cold War. It drove nations to unprecedented spending on defence, fuelled ideological battles and, for the first time in human history, threatened the very existence of our planet. As much as it was a placeless war, its effects are now everywhere. We, in the historical sciences and preservation community, are just beginning to review and assess these effects on material culture. Examination of the remains from atomic weapons tests provides a stark contrast between science and engineering capabilities and cultural reaction to the threat of nuclear annihilation.


COLD WAR REMAINS AT THE NEVADA TEST SITE

Starting in 1991, the United States (US) Department of Energy's Nevada Operations Office (DOE/NV) took a bold step in the direction of historic preservation of the remains from nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site (NTS). In recognition of the exceptional importance of the historic value of two properties associated with the Cold War, DOE/NV initiated historical evaluations of the Underground Parking Garage and BREN Tower under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

The BREN Tower was used in a non-explosive nuclear weapons programme where the US government studied the effects of radiation on survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. BREN is an acronym for Bare Reactor Experiment, Nevada in which an open reactor was placed on a hoist car and mounted on the tower. Japanese-style analog houses, outfitted with moveable dosimetry devices, were placed 686 m from its base. Systematic exposures from the bare reactor provided dose calculations for each victim to understand and treat the health consequences of radiation from those weapons.

The Underground Parking Garage was built for an atmospheric nuclear weapons test, called Priscilla, to determine which types of edifices had the best chance of surviving a nuclear detonation. Tests of this type were known as Civil Effects Tests, the purpose of which was to establish the ability of a typical urban structure to protect the civilian population in the event of nuclear attack.

In 1992, DOE/NV provided funding to complete a preliminary inventory of the

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