Xeni on NPR — SIMNUKE: Having a Blast in the Nevada Desert

For today's edition of the NPR program "Day to Day," I filed a report on SIMNUKE, an art-tech-protest event in Nevada's Black Rock desert this weekend commemorating 60 years since the first nuclear bomb explosion.

On July 6, 1945 at 5:29AM Mountain War Time, the Trinity test took place — a plutonium bomb nicknamed "gadget" was detonated. On July 16, 2005, at around the same time, SIMNUKE took place. About 400 gallons of gasoline and biodiesel (converted restaurant grease — some batches smelled like egg rolls, other tanks like tacos) burned in less than 20 seconds. Propelled by liquid nitrogen, the mixture was blown by giant fans into a column of flame to simulate the look and feel of a nuclear explosion.

This was only 1/10,000 the power of the 19-kiloton test in 1945. But organizers say the point was to recreate the essence of what the real thing felt like. If more people sense this personally and physically, their logic goes, more will better understand the power and destructive reality of nuclear weapons. In 1945, there was one such bomb in the world. Today, there are about 30,000.

The vibe surrounding the event was a little like a nuke-themed Burning Man. Lots of el-wire, body paint, downbeat techno, and colorful surreality in the white alkaline dust. The desert scene at night before the dawn blast was a mellow chillfest. But for the socially-conscious geeks behind SIMNUKE who've been toiling on the project for three years, this was about something much more serious than a playa party.

Link to NPR "Day to Day" radio feature, with pictures, videos, and background on both SIMNUKE and the Trinity tests which marked the culmination of the Manhattan Project. Archived show audio will be available after 12PM Pacific/3PM ET.

Very special thanks to my NPR producer Robert Sachs, to video director/cinematographer Jeff Porter, to Sasha Magee, Michael Williams, Daniel Terdiman — and to the Paiute lady at the reservation gas station near Pyramid Lake who helped us when we got lost on bumpy dirt backroads.

Previously on Boing Boing: Xeni headed to Simnuke, and Simnuke snapshots.

Reuters photos here, Flickr pool here, Xeni's snaps here, video clip here.

SIMNUKE team member Kiki says,

I am not a pacifist. I do believe violence is sometimes necessary — especially when dealing with those who only understand violence. But the bomb is
not an appropriate weapon for war. It is simply not a weapon that can be used against an army. It is too large. It is a weapon that is used against a civilian population only. For that reason, it should be banned globally. A raw human feeling of the weapon we wield — and the sorrowful impact it has — is necessary for making decisions on how to use it. That is the essence of SimNuke.

I strongly recommend you look for Barefoot Gen and read it. It is a manga (a Japanese graphic novel) which you can find in any good comicbook store. Art Spiegelman (who wrote Maus) wrote the introduction to American readers. Barefoot Gen is the foundation for my views on war. It is
*necessary* for all citizens to read, IMHO.

I also suggest The Making of the Atomic Bomb, a gripping book describing the drama of the Manhattan Project, from the discovery of the atom, through the epilogue of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I could not put it down through all 800 pages. [SIMNUKE founder Camron Assadi, aka] Teiwaz and [fellow team member Scott Bartlett, aka] Sparky each said it was because I gave that book to them to read that sparked their collaborative brainstorming on the idea of SimNuke so many months ago.

A fascinating interview with Keiji Nakazawa, author of the Barefoot Gen (Hadashi no Gen) manga (amazon link), is here. And here's another. Here's the 1983 anime movie directed by Mori Masaki.

Reader comments: Jodi says,

To go along with the Trinity anniversary: this site has pictures and video of many of the above ground nuclear tests done after WWII, not to mention other great stuff. It's in the "news and publications" section, and then you can go to photo library, or video. My favorite: I've always been a fan of Priscilla (6/24/57).

Ilkka Poutanen says,

While on the subject, you might want to consider mentioning Trinity and Beyond, a great documentary about the history of nuclear weapon development. The visuals and audio in this movie are just amazing, and really communicate the incomprehensible power of these devices that we wield and, it sometimes seems, have all but forgotten about.