CASE# 3 ‘Pro­ject 57’

World of Knowledge (Australia) - - World Events -

Once in­haled, plu­to­nium is one of the dead­li­est sub­stances known to man; one-mil­lionth of a gram in your lungs and it’s good­night. Un­leashed into the en­vi­ron­ment, it takes 24,000 years to de­cay by half.

For these rea­sons, the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment was para­noid that, at the height of the arms race in the late-1950s, a plane trans­port­ing atomic ma­te­rial could quite pos­si­bly crash on Amer­i­can soil, spark­ing a cat­a­strophic dis­as­ter the likes of which the world had never wit­nessed. They there­fore needed a place where they could se­cretly test the ef­fects of such a ‘dirty bomb’. It would need to be remote, away from pry­ing eyes, and big enough to ac­com­mo­date a nu­clear blast.

In 1957, the US mil­i­tary ear­marked a flat, 41-square-kilo­me­tre slab of land a few kilo­me­tres north­west of Area 51 as the perfect site to con­duct Pro­ject 57, nam­ing it Area 13. Handily, the land fell just out­side the le­gal bound­aries of the fa­mous Ne­vada Test Site, al­low­ing Pro­ject 57 to fall un­der the um­brella of a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion – thus re­mov­ing it from of­fi­cial Atomic En­ergy Com­mis­sion pub­lic dis­clo­sures.

On April 24 1957, a nu­clear war­head was det­o­nated over Amer­i­can soil, sim­u­lat­ing the plane crash the gov­ern­ment so feared at the time. To test the ef­fects on an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment, mock-ups of ur­ban pave­ments and curbs had been set out in the desert; cars and trucks were placed un­der trees; an­i­mals were caged and ready to face the dirty bomb.

Once the dust from the ex­plo­sion had set­tled, mea­sure­ments showed the plu­to­nium had spread out over 895 acres from Groom Lake – ad­mit­tedly a long way from the near­est big city, Las Ve­gas, 134 kilo­me­tres north­west. Area 13 was fenced off. Con­tam­i­nated ma­te­ri­als were buried deep un­der­ground. Job done.

Or so it seemed. A year later in 1958, Pro­ject 57’s di­rec­tor Dr James Shreve wrote a clas­si­fied report expressing his con­cerns over po­ten­tial con­tam­i­na­tion prob­lems; namely that at some time in the future, plu­to­nium-in­fected earth­worms could be car­ried by birds and dropped in sur­round­ing ar­eas, taint­ing the birds and, most cru­cially, soil and trees.

Ra­dioac­tiv­ity is­sues aside, re­cent years have seen sev­eral for­mer Area 51 em­ploy­ees file law­suits against the US gov­ern­ment, al­leg­ing they’re vic­tims of brazen en­vi­ron­men­tal crimes such as breath­ing poi­sonous smoke from burn­ing haz­ardous waste, which they claim causes can­cer, res­pi­ra­tory dis­ease and strange rashes.


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