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Atomic Testing in Mississippi

Project Dribble and the Quest for Nuclear Weapons Treaty Verification in the Cold War Era

David AllenBurke

Publication Year: 2012

In Atomic Testing in Mississippi, David Allen Burke illuminates the nearly forgotten history of America’s only nuclear detonations east of the Mississippi River. The atomic tests, conducted in the mid-1960s nearly 3,000 feet below ground in Mississippi’s Tatum Salt Dome, posed a potential risk for those living within 150 miles of the site, which included residents of Hattiesburg, Jackson, Gulfport, Biloxi, Mobile, and New Orleans. While the detonations provided the United States with verification methods that helped limit the world’s nuclear arsenals, they sparked widespread public concern. In 1964 and 1966 the Atomic Energy Commission conducted experiments at the salt dome—code-named Dribble—surrounded by a greater population density than any other test site in the United States. Although the detonations were not weapons tests, they fostered a conflict between regional politicians interested in government-funded science projects and a population leery of nuclear testing near their homes. Even today, residents near the salt dome are still fearful of long-term negative health consequences. Despite its controversy, Project Dribble provided the technology needed to detect and assess the performance of distant underground atomic explosions and thus verify international weapons treaty compliance. This technology led to advanced seismological systems that now provide tsunami warnings and detect atomic activity in other nuclear nations, such as Pakistan and North Korea.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v

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Acknowledgments and Dedication

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pp. vii-ix

This book is the result of nearly a decade of hard work and research. I could not have done it on my own. Throughout the process I have had the benefit of collegial feedback and the support of family and friends. It has made this process bearable and even enjoyable at times....

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Introduction: I Had No Idea

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pp. 1-10

On September 22, 1964, after years of careful planning and frustration, a nuclear device was detonated below the wooded countryside in south-central Mississippi. Unleashing a force roughly one-third that of the bomb that destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945,...

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1. Humble Origins

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pp. 11-21

On October 22, 1964, the earth shook near the small town of Baxterville, a hamlet of about 150 people in rural Lamar County in south-central Mississippi. The ground motion, though stronger than expected, was not a surprise. It had been caused by the long-planned...

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2. Timber, Oil, and Atoms

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pp. 22-35

Industry drove the Piney Woods unlike any other region of Mississippi. Aided by the area’s geology, several industries developed in succession. Timber, transportation, and later oil and gas all developed in the region, unlike in the rest of the state. Despite overwhelming...

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3. The Road to Dribble

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pp. 36-54

The interest in the Tatum Salt Dome was due to much more than a whim of the AEC. By 1960, despite a voluntary moratorium, it was clear that the days of atmospheric nuclear testing were numbered. This promised to lessen the global danger from increasing levels of highly...

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4. Cowboy and the Big Hole Theory

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pp. 55-68

The Advanced Research Projects Agency and the At omic Energy Commission had not been idle between October 31, 1958, and September 1, 1961, while the test moratorium was in effect. They were busily planning future weapons-tests series while exploring technical...

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5. MITRC, MCEC, and the Tatum Decision

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pp. 69-86

Frederick Mell en’s efforts to stop the tests in Mississippi involved criticizing one of the state’s newest administrative entities. The MITRC originated in 1960 in response to newly elected governor Ross Barnett’s inaugural address. Barnett reaffirmed his commitment...

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6. Salmon Run

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pp. 87-108

While the salt under the Dribble site was contested in the courts, Hattiesburg began feeling the effects of the impending test program. Well drillers, necessary for site surveying and sampling, had been active since late 1960, sinking shafts into the caprock, salt, and...

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7. Shoot That Damn Thing

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pp. 109-127

Claudette Ezell is laughing in the photographs, obviously enjoying the attention of the photographer and the reporter. The October 1, 1964, story in the Hattiesburg American focused on preparations for the Salmon test, which had already been postponed three times....

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8. A Silver Lining and a Miracle Play

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pp. 128-144

Project Dribble had undergone several configuration changes since it had first been announced in 1961. As originally conceived, it incorporated two phases of operation at the Tatum Dome. The series lost its higher-yield tests in 1962. This was a fortunate change, for...

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9. Nuclear Waste

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pp. 145-161

By the time of its decommissioning, the Dribble test site had changed from an enormous laboratory to a massive liability. Slated for six nuclear detonations, it had seen only two. It was then to host three methane-oxygen detonations, of which only two occurred. The cavity...

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Conclusion: Costly Success

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pp. 162-165

In the latt er part of 2008, I visited the front gate of the Dribble site. It was surrounded by tall fences and signs warning unauthorized personnel that they were being monitored. Faded, barely legible signs from the time of test activity still clung to posts near the front...


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pp. Image 1-Image 14


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pp. 167-184


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pp. 185-190


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pp. 191-194

E-ISBN-13: 9780807145845
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807145838

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2012