Free enamel pin when you buy any two Atlas Obscura products. Shop now.

Nye County, Nevada

Sedan Crater

The largest man-made crater in the U.S. marks the spot where we once tested mining with nukes. 

The Sedan Crater is the result of a massive underground nuclear test, the fallout of which may have ended up irradiating more people than any other U.S. nuclear test. Whoops.

Nuclear energy wasn’t always for controversial power plants and devastating bombs. Early in our experimentation with nuclear energy, researchers wanted to test its viability in industrial applications such as mining. Part of Operation Plowshare, so named to reflect the use of the destructive energy for good instead of as a weapon, the Sedan explosion was meant to see if nukes could be used to displace large amounts of Earth. As they found out, it can, but there are some pretty nasty side effects.

In 1962, a shaft descending over 600 feet into the desert floor was created, and the Sedan bomb was lowered into it. When the 104 kiloton bomb was detonated, it lifted the ground above it into a dome over 300 feet high before it broke the surface, sending a massive shockwave of dirt cascading from its epicenter. According to the informational site that sits at the site today, over 12 million tons of dirt got blown away.

The fallout that emanated from the blast traveled for hundreds of miles on the wind, and according to some reports ended up irradiating more US people than any other domestic nuclear test. This result made the concept of nuclear mining seem definitively unfeasible. 

Today the giant crater is still there in the middle of the desert, and monthly tours of the site are given. A small amount of plant life is even returning to the crater, making it seem a little less bleak.   

Important: Please read the tips for visiting below carefully as ignoring them can lead to getting fined or even imprisonment.

Know Before You Go

Located on the Nevada Test Site. Public access is restricted. Do not attempt to drive up to the guarded gate as it is already considered trespassing and they do call the sheriff immediately. Also, do not take pictures of any military sites while you visit as it is considered a crime. It is extremely important to follow these instructions, especially if you are a foreign national. Contact the DOE/NNSA Field Office in Las Vegas, NV for monthly public tours. Tours originate from the Atomic Testing Museum near UNLV in Las Vegas.