Nuclear tourism is travel to places connected with nuclear research and technology, places where there have been atomic explosions, or places related to peaceful or wartime use of nuclear energy. They include:
- Sites of nuclear explosions (bombed cities, weapon test sites, sites related to peaceful use of nuclear explosions)
- Sites of nuclear accidents and accidents of nuclear weapon carrying aircraft
- Atomic museums
- Otherwise remarkable sites of projects in nuclear technology
|“||I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.||”|
Although in many of the nuclear tourism sites only background radiation can be detected, in some other visitors are confronted with levels above natural background. These include mainly sites related to nuclear accidents and weapons testing. When visiting places with increased radiation, it is reasonable to be equipped with a radiation monitor in order to have control over radiation exposure. The most common devices in a reasonable price range usually contain a Geiger-Müller counter. They are suitable for detection of gamma, x-ray, alpha and beta radiation, typically expressed as counts per second. In other devices the registered gamma radiation is converted in units of dose rate or absorbed dose. These basic counters can not provide information about individual isotopes, natural or man-made, but simply sum up all registered radiation.
In order to be able to use the radiation monitor it is essential to get familiar with the units and ranges of the measured values to evaluate the information obtained from the counter. Additionally, one has to be aware of a strong variation of natural background radiation, which depends mainly on local geology.
Sites of nuclear explosions
1 Hiroshima, Japan, was a target of the first nuclear attack ever on 6 August 1945. Nowadays the event with 90,000–166,000 civilian victims is commemorated at the Atomic Bomb Memorial Museum and in Peace Memorial Park, including the iconic A-Bomb Dome and Children's Peace Monument covered by colorful paper cranes for bomb victim, Sadako Sasaki. Ground Zero is slightly outside of the park not far from the Atomic Bomb Dome.
Another nuclear bomb was dropped three days later on the industrial town of 2 Nagasaki, Japan, with more than 100,000 victims. Visitors can learn about the tragic piece of history in the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum or the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, both near ground zero.
The aircraft that dropped nuclear weapons on Japanese civilians are in US museums. Enola Gay (the plane which bombed Hiroshima) is displayed at the Udvar-Hazy Center (part of Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum) in Chantilly, Virginia ; Bockscar (which bombed Nagasaki) is on display at the U.S. Air Force Museum near Dayton, Ohio.
See the Pacific War article for the events leading up to the bombs.
Weapon test sites
Eight countries have carried out confirmed nuclear weapon tests to determine the capability of their weapons, mostly in their own respective territories. The United States conducted the first and the most numerous tests, mostly in Nevada. Others carrying out tests included Russia (then the Soviet Union), the UK, India, France, and China. Pakistan, followed by North Korea, conducted the last nuclear weapon tests. Sites where weapon tests were conducted can be visited in these countries for adventure.
- 3 Trinity site, New Mexico - the site of the world's first nuclear explosion on 16 July 1945, which started the Atomic age. The site, which was declared a National Historic Landmark district, is open for tours once a year (first Saturday in April). The ground zero, where the plutonium bomb was detonated from a tower, is marked with a plain stone monument. Careful visitors can spot glassy green pieces in the dirt. It is "Trinitite", sand fused by the enormous heat of the explosion into a crusty surface. Most of Trinitite was cleared away in the years after the test with a small piece of original surface preserved in a shelter. The small fractions of Trinitite left at the site do not pose any health hazard to the visitor from the external exposure point of view, but you are not allowed to take away any Trinitite from the inner fenced area. During the Trinity site open house days, you can view Schmidt/McDonald ranch house, where the plutonium core to the bomb was assembled shortly before the test.
- 4 Nevada National Security Site (formerly the Nevada Test Site) (near Las Vegas, Nevada, USA), ☏ . Tours to the site start from Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas and cover several areas of the test site. They take place approximately once in a month, but must be booked many months in advance. Free.
- 5 Semipalatinsk test site, Kazakhstan, can be visited from city of Semey by own means (taxi). The National Nuclear Center in nearby Kurchatov organizes official tours to the test area.
- Atolls 6 Bikini and 7 Enewetak are former US test sites at Marshall Islands. They are in the middle of the Pacific, far away from any mainland, so they are difficult to visit. Bikini Atoll is open for tourism from late April to November and welcomes divers participating in organized tours. These tours that start at Kwajalein Atoll are only available to experienced divers and the main attraction is the U.S. fleet sunk by the nuclear tests at Bikini. In the 1970s the U.S. Army performed a clean-up of contamination at Enewetak. As a result, radioactive materials from Enewetak and other contaminated atolls were dumped into the Cactus test crater at a tiny island Runit within the Enewetak Atoll and covered by a concrete structure, known as Cactus dome.
- 8 Maralinga atomic test site, ✉ email@example.com. During 1956 and 1957, the British military, in cooperation with the Australian Government, tested 7 atomic bombs at Maralinga in the South Australian outback. The test range remains restricted land, but can be visited through Maralinga Tours, which is run by local Indigenous Australians. The site is very remote, and Maralinga Tours' website recommends that visitors use a four-wheel drive vehicle due to the condition of the approach roads. The company also requires that visitors arrive the day before their tour. Price varies - see the company's website.
- 9 Montebello Islands (Monte Bello Islands) (off the Pilbara coast in Western Australia, 135 km W of Karratha). A former British nuclear test site. It is possible to take nuclear safari tour. Another option for experienced sailors is chartering a boat and discovering the place by own means. Remains of the testing activities in the 1950s (e.g. bunkers) can be found at some islands (Trimouille Island), as well as elevated radiation. Therefore the authorities recommend to limit your stay to 1 hour per day in these zones. The area is a part of Montebello Islands Marine Park, where special conditions for protecting marine life apply.
- 10 Béryl Incident (about 150 km north of Tamanrasset, Algeria). France, the fourth country to produce a nuclear weapon conducted some of their early tests in Sahara as much of Western Africa still was a French colony into the 1960s. On 1 May 1962 an underground test at In Eker in today's Algeria went wrong and observers including soldiers and government officials were exposed to radiation. If you happen to drive north-south across the Sahara along the road from Algiers to Tamanrasset, you will pass right next to the area.
- 11 Lop Nur. Lop nur is a remote area in Xinjiang province, China where Chinese nuclear tests were conducted. The first Chinese atomic bomb test codenamed "596" and all subsequent tests were completed at this site. There is a museum built on the former Malan (马兰) base for nuclear and red tourism.
Peaceful use of nuclear explosions
In the USA, 27 peaceful nuclear explosions were conducted within Operation Plowshare to test the use of nuclear explosions for various civilian purposes, such as excavating channels or harbors and stimulating natural gas production from sediment layers. Most of the shots were performed at the Nevada test site; however, some of the test sites in Colorado and New Mexico are accessible for the public.
- 12 Gusbuggy test site (25 miles SW of Dulce, New Mexico, USA). A small monument with a plaque containing a brief description of the event at the surface round zero. The site is in Carson National Forest and open to public access.
- 13 Rulison test site (15 mi SW of Rifle and 9 miles from Hw. 70, Parachute, Colorado, USA, along a gravel road, Garfield County Route 338). A small monument with a plaque containing a brief description of the event at the surface ground zero.
- 14 Rio Blanco test site (50 mi NW of Rifle, USA, the last couple of miles via unpaved Rio Blanco County Route 29, but still easily accessible for non-4x4 vehicles). This was the final test in the Plowshare program, with three devices being detonated underground in order to stimulate natural gas production in 1973. While the prodution increased slightly, the gas was too radioactive to be used. A small monument was erected at the surface ground zero.
Sites of nuclear accidents
Some might find it unethical or at least controversial for tourists to visit sites where many people suffered following an accident, especially if local guides are repeatedly exposed to radiation when leading tour groups through exclusion zones too "hot" for residents to return.
Conversely, some welcome tourism as an alternative means to support local economies.
Accidents in nuclear power plants or nuclear materials production sites
- 15 Pripyat, Chornobyl Oblast, Ukraine. The Chernobyl disaster of 26 April 1986 is an event classified at level 7 (the highest) on the International Nuclear Event Scale. Pripyat and Chornobyl are now radioactive ghost towns, which can be visited as part of organized tours. Although the original decaying Chernobyl sarcophagus was constructed with lots of concrete by heroic workers, a 32,000-tonne stainless steel arch now covers the ramshackle original.
- 16 Sellafield, United Kingdom, has been the site of a number of accidents, including the 1957 fire of the original Windscale former nuclear reactor. During those accidents some radioactive waste ended up in the Irish sea, near Whitehaven. Also, during the reactor fire radioactivity was released through the chimney. However the major portion was contained by the high-capacity filters mounted on the chimney (known as "Cockcroft's Folly" after the Nobel prize winning physicist Sir John Cockcroft, who insisted on having them mounted at great expense, although they hadn't been included in the original design. Their shape contributed to the iconic silhouette of the nuclear complex. However, in 2014 the second of two chimneys was decommissioned and is no longer part of the Sellafield skyline.)
- The nuclear site has been hosting a number of nuclear reprocessing operations. There used to be a visitors' centre, but it is no longer open.
- When spending time on nearby beaches (for example the one in Seascale), you might be lucky enough to spot the Sellafield environmental monitoring workers beachcombing for "hot particles" using a special all-terrain vehicle.
- 17 Three Mile Island, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA, was the worst commercial nuclear power plant accident in the USA on 28 March 1979. During the reactor core meltdown, radioactivity, mainly in the form of radioiodine and noble gases, was released to the surrounding environment. There is no visitors' center commemorating the event, only a historic marker (at the given coordinates in Middletown) with a fine view across the Susquehanna river towards the power station.
- 18 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan was seriously damaged by a tsunami following a magnitude 9 earthquake on March 11, 2011. Large areas of Fukushima prefecture coast are being decontaminated, while some 80,000 inhabitants had to be resettled. Tours are offered to the visitors to get first-hand impressions from areas affected by the great Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident. The participants can experience, how local people and businesses are coping with the recovery from the disasters.
Accidents of nuclear weapon carrying aircraft
During the Cold War there were several accidents involving thermonuclear weapons, and some of them led to local environment contamination. These are a few of them.
- In 19 Faro near Goldsboro (North Carolina), USA, a B-52 crash dropped a hydrogen bomb which failed to detonate in 1961. The event is commemorated by a historical road marker in the town of Eureka, 3 miles (4.8 km) north of the crash site.
- A 20 crater about 23 m wide and 11 m deep was left after another accident, in which a B-47 "Stratojet" crew mistakenly released a Mark 6 bomb while flying over Mars Bluff, South Carolina, USA, on March 11, 1958 afternoon. The bomb went off by a conventional explosion at the property of local family Gregg and injured several family members. The crater can be visited from SC Highway 76 (East Palmetto Street) via a marked trail. There is an informational board and mock up of the bomb's size at the site. Nearby 21 museum in Florence has the story to tell including some historical artifacts connected to the event.
- In 1966 after an unsuccessful inflight refueling operation an US bomber B-52 carrying four hydrogen bombs crashed in 22 Palomares between Almería and Cartagena, Spain. Now, after cleanup operations, the area is used extensively for agricultural production. Two of the "hot areas" are closed to the public by a fence.
- Another accident occurred in 1968, when B-52 "Stratofortress" with four hydrogen bombs on board crashed onto the sea ice near the 23 Thule Air Base, Greenland. The nearest civilian settlement is Qaanaaq, 100 km to the north.
|“||We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed... A few people cried... Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form, and says, Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds. I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.||”|
"Manhattan Project", named for the Manhattan Engineering District of the US Army Corps of Engineers, is a cover name for a war-time US military effort to develop an atomic weapon. Geographically, the project was spread over about 30 sites across the United States (and Canada). The best known are the secret laboratory in Los Alamos and factories to supply the fissile materials by enriching uranium and producing plutonium in reactors in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Hanford site near Richland, Washington. These three sites are also formally recognized as Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
- 24 Chicago Pile-1 site, South Ellis Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, USA. A monument at a site of the first fission reactor constructed by team of Enrico Fermi (originally under the stands of Stagg Field, the university's abandoned football stadium) was successfully tested.
- 25 Site A/ 26 Plot M Disposal Site, Illinois, USA (Red Gate Woods). Radioactive waste disposal sites at former grounds of Argonne National Laboratory. At site A Chicago Pile-1 reactor along with other radioactive waste was buried. Monuments commemorate the event.
- 27 Hanford Site near Richland, Washington, USA (Halfway between Othello and Sunnyside). Location of the B Reactor (U.S. National Historic Landmark since 2008) which produced some of the plutonium for the Trinity test and the Fat Man bomb. The tours to the B Reactor building connected to a bus tour through the Hanford site (Apr-Sep) must be booked in advance.
- 28 George Herbert Jones Laboratory, Chicago, Illinois, USA, 5747 S Ellis Ave, Chicago. This is a laboratory at the University of Chicago, where trace quantity of plutonium, the first artificial element, was isolated and characterized in 1942. Room 405 was named a National Historic Landmark in 1967. In the 1980s Department of Energy remediated the lab from World War II-era radioactive waste. The building is private property, but open during the daytime and it is possible to enter the lobby of the laboratory and view a collection of the specialized equipment used to perform the measurements.
- 29 Memorial complex of Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant, Obninsk, Kaluga Oblast, Russia, ☏ , . The first nuclear power plant in the world.
- 30 American Museum of Science and Energy, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA, 300 South Tulane Ave, Oak Ridge, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Sa 9AM-5PM, Su 1-5 PM. History of the Manhattan Project and the role of Oak Ridge plant within the project. There are bomb casings on display. $5 adults, $3 children.
- A three-hour-long guided bus tour departs from the museum on some working days in summer season (March to November, for detailed schedule check the AMSE webpage). The tour takes visitors to the U.S. Department of Energy facilities: Y-12 (Uranium enrichment plant) Visitor Center or Oak Ridge National Laboratory Graphite Reactor, also known as 31 X-10 Graphite Reactor. It was the second nuclear reactor after Enrico Fermi's Chicago pile, now the world’s oldest nuclear reactor preserved as national historic landmark. X-10 was the first nuclear reactor to produce Plutonium 239 within the Manhattan Project. Only U.S. citizens can join the tour.
- 32 National Atomic Testing Museum, 755 E Flamingo Road, Las Vegas, USA, ☏ . M-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su noon-5PM. Artifacts, pictures, maps and video footage presenting nuclear weapons testing and development in the southwestern US. If you're interested in science and history it's definitely worth visiting, and it's also a great break if you've become tired of the Strip. Videography requires special permission. Museum $14, museum and Area 51 exhibit $20.
- 33 Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos, USA, 1350 Central Avenue, Los Alamos, New Mexico, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Tu-Sa 10AM–5PM, Su M 1–5PM. The museum is devoted to the history and the current research in the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Great part of the exposition covers the history of the Manhattan Project. Free.
- 34 Los Alamos Historical Museum, 1050 Bathtub Row, Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA (just north of Fuller Lodge), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Summer: M-F 9:30AM-4:30PM, Sa Su 11AM-4PM; winter: M-F 10AM-4PM, Sa Su 11AM-4PM. History of life in the Secret City during the Manhattan Project. (In 2016, a Temporary Museum Site is open at 475 20th Street as the museum is under renovation and expansion.) Free.
- 35 National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, USA (National Atomic Museum), 601 Eubank at Southern Blvd Albuquerque, New Mexico, ☏ . Daily 9AM-5PM, closed on vacation days. The museum serves as America's resource for nuclear history and science. The Museum exhibits and educational programs convey the diversity of individuals and events that shaped the historical and technical context of the nuclear age. $8.
- 36 Experimental Breeder Reactor I, Arco, Idaho, USA - the first nuclear reactor to produce electrical power, first breeder reactor, and first reactor to use plutonium as fuel
- 37 Savannah River Site, South Carolina, USA (30 mi SE of Augusta (Georgia)), ☏ (tours). Production site of plutonium and tritium. A limited number of bus tours are offered, and must be reserved in advance. Free.
- 38 Titan Missile Museum, 1580 W Duval Mine Rd, Sahuarita, Green Valley, Arizona, USA (30 minutes south of Tucson), ☏ . Daily 8:45AM-5PM. Site south of Tucson preserves a Cold-War-era underground silo housing an unarmed Titan-II ICBM, the only remaining Titan Missile silo in the US. Part of a larger field of such silos, this was one of the places from which nuclear war on the Soviet Union would have been waged. Visitors can take a tour of the underground facilities where USAF crews spent decades living underground waiting for the launch order which never came. $9.50 (adults).
Several sites operate nuclear reactors for either nuclear reactor safety training or for nuclear science experiments using them as neutron sources. Neutron scattering is an effective ways to obtain information on the structure and the dynamics of condensed matter. These days accelerators like the Spallation Neutron Source based in Oakridge allow more intense neutron beams. Nevertheless several reactors are in on-going operations. Fundamental and solid state physics, chemistry, materials science, biology, medicine and environmental science pose scientific questions that are investigated with neutrons.
In contrast to nuclear fission, where unstable atoms decay into smaller atoms, there exists also an attempt of nuclear fusion, where energy would be gained by processes similarly to what happens in the core of stars by the fusion of two light elements in a heavier one. ITER is an international nuclear research and engineering project to build the first the world's largest experimental tokamak nuclear fusion reactor.
- 39 CROCUS, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Switzerland. A light-water, zero-power nuclear reactor for research and teaching at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.
- 40 Forschungsreaktor München II (FRM II), Lichtenbergstraße 1, Garching bei München, Germany (U6 to Garching-Forschungszentrum), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. The reactor is an optimised neutron source. Almost 50% of experiments are performed using cold neutrons. The compact construction of the fuel element means that more than 70% of the neutrons leave the uranium zone and build up to a maximum thermal neutron flux density at a distance of 12cm from the surface of the fuel element. From where they are distributed to the experiments. Please register early in advance your visit either by email or phone. The visitor needs to be older than 16 years, not pregnant and no phones or cameras are allowed inside.
- 41 Institute of Atomic and Subatomic Physics (Atominstitut), Stadionallee 2, Vienna, Austria (Vienna/Inner East), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The 250 kW TRIGA Mark II reactor in the Viennese Prater started operation in 1962. The reactor is a training ground for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors and neighbouring countries. The Atominstitut offers guided tours for groups upon previous registration. €4/person.
- 42 ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor or "the way" (Latin)), Route de Vinon-sur-Verdon, St. Paul-lez-Durance, France (CPA bus line 150 (Aix-en-Provence--St Paul lez Durance)), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. The ITER project aims to make the transition from experimental studies of plasma physics to an electricity-producing fusion power plants. ITER is designed to produce 500 megawatts of output power. Visitors are welcome year round on the first Friday of every month at the ITER site. General public visits include a stop at the Visitor's Centre for a presentation of the project followed by guided tour of the ITER platform where the ITER scientific facilities are under construction. Visit requests should be made at least four weeks in advance via on-line tool. Free of charge, groups larger than 8 must book a bus.
- 43 Wendelstein 7-X fusion device (Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik), Wendelsteinstraße 1, Greifswald, Germany, ☏ , , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. In Greifswald the large Wendelstein 7-X fusion reactor (stellarator) is under construction. The device as well as technology and workshops can be toured upon previous booking.
- 44 Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, Germany. The 10 MW research reactor BER II delivers neutron beams for a wide range of scientific investigations. On open house day, interested visitors are allowed to take guided tours through the experimental halls around the research reactor. Scientists and reactor experts will be there on these days to answer questions about the facility and the safety measures.
- 45 Swiss Spallation Neutron Source (SINQ), Paul Scherrer Institut bldg. WHGA/147, Villigen PSI, Switzerland (about 10 km north of Brugg). SINQ is designed as a neutron source mainly for research with extracted beams of thermal and cold neutrons, but hosts also facilities for isotope production and neutron activation analysis.
- 46 TRIGA Mark I (at the University of California, Irvine, in Irvine, California, USA). The original prototype for the TRIGA (Training Research Isotopes General Atomic) reactor, one of the safest reactor designs. 66 such reactors are or have been operational worldwide, mostly at universities for educational use. The reactor has been declared a nuclear historical landmark.
- 47 [dead link] F-1 (Kurchatov Institute, Moscow, Russia). The first functioning nuclear reactor in Europe (Dec 1946) is still running.
- 48 PLUTO reactor (in Harwell, Oxfordshire, England). PLUTO was a materials testing reactor based on the DIDO design. It had an output of 26 MW and operated from 1957 to 1990.
- ZEEP (Zero Energy Experiment Pile) (in Deep River, Ontario, Canada). Built by the Chalk River Laboratories, ZEEP operated from 1945 to 1973 and was the first functioning nuclear reactor outside the United States. Dismantled in 1997, ZEEP is on display in Ottawa at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.
- 49 The Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (IAE) (in Visaginas municipality, Lithuania). It had two reactors - the first one was in operation from 1983 and was decommissioned in 2004, the second from 1987 until 2009. INPP will be fully dismantled in 2038. INPP offero excursions to its controlled INPP zone, home to the plant’s reactor room, turbine room, and block control panel. These excursions have become popular following the broadcast of the HBO miniseries Chernobyl, much of which was filmed on the site of the first reactor at INPP.
Nuclear power plant building sites never finished
Some nuclear power plants never had a nuclear fission reaction happening on their site, as they were not turned on.
- 50 Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. The Philippines' only attempt to build a nuclear power plant, this USD2.3 billion plant was completed in 1984, at which point testing of systems began. In 1986, the authoritarian Marcos government behind the project was overthrown and, following the Chernobyl disaster later that year, the new government decided to mothball the plant. The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was completed and has been maintained since then, but was never fuelled to operate. All uranium was removed by 1997. Due to the high cost of maintaining the plant, the Philippine government announced in 2011 that the plant would be turned into a tourist attraction. The tour admission fee of ₱200 includes use of the adjacent private beach of WestNuk Cove which also has some accommodation and recreation facilities. ₱150 (2012).
- 51 Kalkar (Schneller Brüter), Griether Straße (Kalkar, Germany). Intended as a prototype fast breeder reactor, it is now an amusement park. One can climb on the outside of the big concrete cooling tower
- 52 Zwentendorf Nuclear Power Plant, Zwentendorf, Austria (small town in Lower Austria between Krems and Tulln next to the Danube river). The boiling-water reactor rated at 692 megawatts electric power output was completed, but never turned on because it was not approved in a public vote. There are tours showing the interior, when not reserved for training.
- 53 Żarnowiec, Poland. Żarnowiec Nuclear Power Plant was built as the first nuclear power plant in Poland with 4 Soviet design VVER-440 pressurized water reactors planned. The construction started in 1982, but after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the plant was not completed because of public opposition. At that time, the supporting infrastructure was almost complete, and the first reactor block was about 40% complete. The ruins of the plant are still standing.
- 55 Huemul Project (on Huemul Island, just outside San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina). In the early 1950s, an Austrian scientist named Ronald Richter attempted to build the world's first fusion power plant on an island in a lake in the Andes, the undertaking being known as the Huemul Project. A couple of years and an equivalent of several hundred million US dollars later it came into light that Richter never had got any proof of his design actually functioning in the first place. As the patron of the project, President Juan Perón, was ousted in 1955, Richter was arrested for fraud. Today the ruins of the project can be visited on the island, and the city itself remains a center of Argentinian nuclear research.
Germany, which had had some leading nuclear scientists before the war (some of whom fled the country after the Nazi takeover due to being Jewish, opposed to the regime or both), developed a much more modest and less advanced nuclear program than the Allies. It received less funding and was hampered by Nazi ideology which rejected some of Albert Einstein's findings as "Jewish Physics", but its speculated existence during the war was one of the driving factors for the Manhattan project.
- 56 Haigerloch, Germany (Atomkeller Museum). A site of a former research reactor during World War II called Atomkeller (Atomic cellar), which never went critical. The museum tells the story of the Uranverein (Uranium society), a German attempt to develop a nuclear weapon, and shows the Haigerloch nuclear reactor replica.
- 57 Vemork, Norway. : Heavy water production site and location of war-time heavy water sabotage. Heavy water is an important component in certain nuclear applications and was seen as critically necessary for the development of a nuclear bomb during World War II. Despite the German occupation of Norway, Norwegian underground fighters ultimately managed to keep the heavy water out of the hand of the Nazis, thereby delaying the nuclear program of Nazi Germany which failed.
Nuclear bunkers were meant to protect in the case of nuclear weapon explosions. During the cold war this threat was considered imminent, hence many key figures would need access to such bunkers. While nothing was likely to withstand a direct hit, bunkers were built far underground to survive a nuclear strike which landed as close as 1 mile (1.6 km) away.
Fallout shelters were intended to shelter populations in areas far from the targets of a nuclear strike; these communities were likely to be spared direct blast damage but still become dangerously radioactive in the initial days or weeks after an attack. Often, civil defence authorities would make provision for a posted fallout shelter in the basement of a library, post office, school or other large public building. In some countries building regulations even pushed for bunkers in the cellars of small domestic buildings.
- 58 Dienststelle Marienthal (Government bunker), Ahrweiler near Bonn, Germany. Apr-Oct: W Sa Su 10:00-17:00, last guided tour 16:30 for individual visitors. Nuclear bunker built in the 1960s to house the West German federal government in case of nuclear war. Constructed inside two railway tunnels beneath 110m of slate rock. After the end of Cold War the bunker was dismantled and today only 203 m of the original bunker exists near Ahrweiler. This existing part was converted into the Government Bunker Documentation Site Museum. €8.
- 59 Atombunker Harnekop (Nuclear governmental shelter) (65 km NE from Berlin, Germany), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Regular guided tours (in German) Mar-Oct: Sa,Su & public holidays 10:00, 12:00 & 14:00. One of the East German shabby relics of the Cold War located within 1 hour's drive from Berlin at an area of a former military barracks. The bunker in Harnekop was prepared for a possible war as the underground command post of the Ministry of National Defence of the GDR. You can join a guided tour in the bunker after an e-mail or phone registration.
- 60 F4 Object (Rákosi bunker), Budapest, Hungary. Several kilometres long, formerly secret nuclear shelter, 45-50 m below central Budapest. The number of entrances is unknown. It is owned by the state and controlled by the BKV (Budapest Transport Company).
- 61 D-0 ARK, Konjic, Bosnia and Herzegovina. 611m² bunker secretly built between 1953 and 1979 in Konjic, 50 km southwest from Sarajevo, to house Josip Tito and other members of the Yugoslav elite. Dug 300 m into a mountain, since 2011 houses D-0 ARK Underground Biennial of Contemporary Art
- 62 Diefenbunker, 3911 Carp Rd, Carp, Ontario, Canada, ☏ , toll-free: . Atomic bomb shelter built in 1959-61 (during the cold war Diefenbaker era) at the now-closed Canada Forces Station Carp as an Emergency Government Headquarters to house Canadian leaders during a nuclear attack. Now open as Canada's Cold War Museum, the Diefenbunker appears in one scene in the 2002 film Sum of all Fears. Carp is in a rural area of West Carleton, west of Ottawa.
- 63 Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker, Kelvedon Hall Ln, Kelvedon Hatch, Brentwood, England. Decommissioned in 1992, this former British government 'emergency regional defence' site located below an inconspicuous bungalow now serves as a Cold War museum.
- 64 Underground Project 131 ("131"地下工程; "131" Dìxià gōngchéng), Gaoqiao Township (高桥镇) in Xianning in Hubei, China. A nuclear bunker and set of tunnels built in 1969 in order to provide shelter from a possible nuclear attack from the former USSR. Although now a museum, some visitors reported that non-Chinese nationals may not be allowed to visit; others just were asked to pay the double admission price.
- 65 The Bunker at the Greenbrier, USA, toll-free: . This nuclear bunker was built as a top secret relocation facility for Congress carved in the mountainside at one of America`s oldest resorts. Tours are about 90 minutes in length and pre-registration is required. Adults $34, youth $17 plus tax.
Nuclear weapon sites
- 66 Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Interstate-90 exit 131, east of Wall (South Dakota), USA, ☏ . Daily 08:00-16:30 (visitor centre), closed weekends in winter. 1960s Delta-01 Launch Control Facility, Launch Facility/ Missile Silo: Delta-09, visitor centre with information on Cold War history. This Minuteman ICBM site 75 miles east of Rapid City South Dakota could rain down nuclear devastation six thousand miles away in 30 minutes. Guided free tours of launch control are available from the visitor centre but numbers are limited so large groups will need to book a few weeks ahead.
- 67 Strategic Missile Forces Museum, вул. Одеська, 121, Первомайськ, Миколаївська обл. (Pervomaisk, Mykolayiv Oblast, Ukraine), ☏ . Former missile base (46th Missile Nizhnedneprovsk Order of the October Revolution, Red Division). Samples of rocket engines, auxiliary vehicles, mock nuclear warhead. Missiles: SS-24 "Scalpel" silo-based and RS-20 missile (SS-18 "Satan"). Guided tours to Missile Forces Museum from Nikolaev Ukraine.
- 68 . An incredible Soviet submarine graveyard can be seen here, with diesel and nuclear vessels literally dumped in the waters, some with intact nuclear reactors.
- 69 816 Nuclear Military Plant (816地下核工厂), Baitao Town, Fuling District, Chongqing, China (中国重庆涪陵区白涛镇) (catch a high-speed train from Chongqing North to Fuling North. From there, take bus no. 101 to Luojia Gardens (罗家花园) and then transfer to bus no. 208A or 208C to get to the destination). 09:00-17:30. An immense underground facility that was intended to be used for the production of nuclear weapons. Construction began in 1966 and was almost completed at the time the project was cancelled in 1984. Since no plutonium or other radioactive materials were processed here, it is safe for visitors. Unlike other nuclear sites in China, the 816 Nuclear Military Plant is open to both Chinese and foreign visitors. ¥60.
Nuclear waste is a big headache in all nuclear applications as it remains dangerous for timespans humans cannot generally oversee. There are various philosophies as to what to do with the waste, including putting it into abandoned salt mines as salt has high stability to waste heat (nuclear waste produces a lot of heat) and salt tends to naturally seal cavities. However, salt is vulnerable to water entering and there is the danger of that water connecting to groundwater, as has happened at several salt mines.
- 70 Asse II, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. This site, a disused salt mine, was used as a nuclear repository for weakly radioactive material by West Germany - perhaps in part due to lying close to the former German-German border - but has subsequently had major problems with entering water. There is political consensus to remove the waste when safe, but there are still questions as to how this is to occur and when. You can get tours of parts of the site, including underground parts.
- 71 Morsleben radioactive waste repository, ✉ email@example.com. The nuclear waste disposal site of East Germany (again, sited - perhaps by chance, perhaps not - close to the former border with West Germany) that remained in use after reunification
- 72 Konrad Mine, Germany, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. A depository for weakly and moderately radioactive waste in a former iron ore mine.
Black hole's shelves were filled with all kinds of second hand scientific equipment for sale: any use for a Dewar bottle or a photomultiplier tube? Or at least a can of "organic plutonium"?
Black hole was scaled down after Ed Grothus's death in 2009 and closed down altogether in 2011.
- 73 Ship Lucky Dragon 5, Tokyo, Japan (Daigo Fukuryū Maru), Yumenoshima Park, 3-2 Yumenoshima, Koto Ward, Tokyo, ☏ . Tu-Su. The restored fishing boat Lucky Dragon the crew of which became unfortunate victims of nuclear fallout fallowing a thermonuclear test at Bikini Atoll is on display at Tokyo Metropolitan Daigo Fukuryū Maru Exhibition Hall. On 1 March 1954, 23 fishermen were hunting tuna near the Marshall Islands, when they witnessed the larger than predicted Castle Bravo nuclear test conducted by the US. Later on the fishermen were subjected to a strange white rain containing particles of radioactive fallout mixed with the coral reef debris. Unaware of the danger of the contamination on their bodies and the ship's surfaces, the fishermen headed back to Japan and over the following days developed symptoms of acute radiation syndrome. One crew member died later in hospital. Free.
- 74 A Memorial to the X-ray martyrs of the world in Hamburg, Germany (Ehrenmal der Radiologie) (Garden of St. Georg hospital). This monument is devoted to researchers, physicians, physicists, radiographers, laboratory technicians and nurses who died from injuries or illnesses caused by prolonged exposure to radiation used in medicine. On the list of about 360 names of radiologists from 23 countries perhaps the best known are Marie Sklodowska-Curie and her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie.
One obvious concern in touring nuclear sites is radiation. In fact, good news is that most of the sites listed above are safe from this point of view. Where obvious danger exists, you should be usually stopped by fence and other security measures.
In case you happen to find yourself in a less safe situation or unknown suspicious area, you will hopefully be equipped with a radiation monitor and good knowledge of how to use it. It's important to know how to interpret the readings and/or convert the units. Although officially there is nothing like a safe level or radiation, there are some levels that can help to put the numbers into context. These are some examples:
- The typical yearly dose from purely natural background, consisting mainly of radon gas we breathe, building materials surrounding us, radionuclides in food we eat and from the cosmic radiation that keeps bombarding us. This value is 2.4 thousandths of Sievert (mSv) on average, with a large range between 1–13 mSv depending mainly on the geological background of the place you live.
- Additionally to natural sources, artificial radiation contributes to radiation exposure of some of us. The main contributor here is medical diagnosis and treatment using radiation or radionuclides. Here the exposition varies widely based on number and type of such measures. Globally, an average person receives 0.6 mSv/yr, while in countries with well developed medical systems the numbers are higher, for example 3.14 mSv in the USA, which relies heavily on testing like CT scans and X-rays. One bone scintigraphy scan with the use of medial isotope Tc-99m results in a one-time dose of about 5 mSv. A chest CT scan can give a dose of 5–10 mSv, which is much higher than a simple chest x-ray of 0.2 mSv.
- Members of flight crews receive some 1.5 mSv annual dose due to increased cosmic radiation in high altitudes.
- The limit for members of the public in the Fukushima exclusion zone was set as 20 mSv/yr.
- Occupational limits for radiation workers are usually at 50 mSv/yr.
The way to protect yourself against external radiation exposure (like radiation coming from soil polluted with radioactive fallout) is to limit the time spent in the polluted area and keep your distance from the source (hot spots).
During your exploration you certainly want to avoid internal contamination, that means ingesting radionuclides by eating or drinking contaminated food, or inhaling radioactive particles. Some easy protective measures are therefore avoiding eating and drinking and wearing a respirator. If there may be radioactive dust or water, you also want to avoid carrying that out from the area in your clothes or hair. Be sure to get clean before touching any food or anything that you will regard clean.
Another kind of more general risks can arise from exploration of abandoned or off-limits urban locations. These include injuries or possible legal consequences. For more details check the Urbex article.