by Leisl Carr Childers
This semester, I have asked my students to explore the history of nuclear testing through the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project and related digital collections through the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Nevada Field Office of the National Nuclear Security Administration in Las Vegas, which operates the Nuclear Testing Archive and the OpenNet platform.
The online Library run by the Nevada Field Office, in conjunction with physical collections at the archive, has been one of the most important resources in my research and lately, in the classroom. Sadly, the online library is no longer available and it’s wealth of historic photographs, fact sheets, films, publications such as Origins of the Nevada Test Site, The Nevada Test Site Guide, and the one affectionately called “The Big Book” (United States Nuclear Tests July 1945 to September 1992) are largely no longer available. As of this week, the library’s webpage only takes researchers here:
There is nothing more frustrating as a researcher, whether professor or student, than seeing critical resources and source material disappear. The new website for the Nevada National Security Site Library offers plenty of information on the administration’s programs over the past decade, but contains little historical material. The NNSA has a YouTube channel where some historic videos can be found, but the new Flickr page that features the agency’s photographs does not contain any images from the nuclear testing era between 1945 and 1992. The publications are nowhere to be found. Those are the resources that I and my students find most valuable. They were easy to access and they were in the public domain.
In a world filled with a multitude of digital resources, I find it remarkable that the loss of these images is so staggering. Sure, I can hunt for them on Wikipedia (entries such as Nevada Test Site and Sedan (nuclear test) feature some of these photographs) and I can email personnel at the testing archive and ask to have images sent to me, but that is less desirable than having them readily accessible all in one place. Besides, how will I or my students know what to ask for? Without the online collection, there is no more perusing through sequences of images that detail specific testing operations, no more directing students to sets of digital images that address the differences between atmospheric and underground testing, no sending them to the archive to discover the visual history of nuclear testing and its siting in Nevada.
As I sit here considering all that I no longer have access to and the ramifications this has on the course I am teaching and on my research, I am struggling to understand why this has happened. Does the administration and the DOE even know what they have done? Do they know how many of us have come to rely upon this collection? I can only hope that the email I sent to them today gets someone’s attention and the agency migrates those images and reports to the new website. I guess we will have to wait and see.