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Tour the site of the world’s first atomic bomb explosion

Editor’s Note: Tuesday on the NewsHour, special correspondent Kathleen McCleery reports from south central New Mexico on the 70th anniversary of the first nuclear bomb test, and why one group — called the Downwinders — isn’t celebrating.

The apex of this obelisk points up to where the apex of the 100-foot tower was. It was there that the device called “The Gadget” was placed and then detonated. Photo by Kathleen McCleery

This obelisk points to the former location of the apex of a 100-foot tower. It was there a device called “The Gadget” was detonated.


At 5:29:45 a.m. Mountain Time on July 16, 1945, a 19-kiloton explosion was set off that would portend the end of World War II. Today, the site of the world’s first atomic bomb test is a National Historic Landmark. The 51,500-acre Trinity Site in south central New Mexico sits on the White Sands Missile Range, where government and private tests are still conducted.

The Trinity Site is open to the public twice a year, once in April and once in October. The PBS NewsHour, along with several other media organizations, were given a private tour allowing our cameras to capture Ground Zero — where the bomb was detonated — and the McDonald ranch house where the scientists assembled the plutonium core.

The remains of some rebar from the legs of the tower. Photo by Kathleen McCleery

The remains of some rebar from the legs of the tower. Photo by Kathleen McCleery

The shock waves from the explosion blew out the windows here and in homes as far as 120 miles away. These were replaced in a 1984 restoration. Photo by Kathleen McCleery

The shock waves from the explosion blew out the windows here and in homes as far as 120 miles away. These were replaced in a 1984 restoration. Photo by Kathleen McCleery

Green glass called trinitite still litters the ground and is still slightly radioactive. An hour at Ground Zero delivers about 1/2 millirem of radiation. Americans average 620 millirems of exposure each year. By comparison, a flight from New York to California gives an exposure of about 2 millirems. Photo by Kathleen McCleery

Green glass called trinitite still litters the ground and is still slightly radioactive. An hour at Ground Zero delivers about 1/2 millirem of radiation. Americans average 620 millirems of exposure each year. By comparison, a flight from New York to California gives an exposure of about 2 millirems. Photo by Kathleen McCleery

It’s illegal to take trinitite off the Trinity site, though visitors -- people who lived nearby, tourists, even scientists -- have gathered it for years. Photo by Kathleen McCleery

It’s illegal to take trinitite off the Trinity site, though visitors — people who lived nearby, tourists, even scientists — have gathered it for years. Photo by Kathleen McCleery

A warning to scientists that this door, left, led to the master bedroom, which had been turned into a clean room where scientists assembled the plutonium core on July 13, 1945. Photo by Kathleen McCleery

A warning to scientists that this door, left, led to the master bedroom, which had been turned into a clean room where scientists assembled the plutonium core on July 13, 1945. Photo by Kathleen McCleery

An old photo showing the participants in the bomb test relaxing after the detonation. Photo by Kathleen McCleery

An old photo showing the participants in the bomb test relaxing after the detonation. Photo by Kathleen McCleery

This is what the ranch house looked like after the bomb test. Windows have been shattered, and the stone wall destroyed. Photo by Kathleen McCleery

This is what the ranch house looked like after the bomb test. Windows have been shattered, and the stone wall destroyed. Photo by Kathleen McCleery

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