Nuclear Test Sites You Can Visit Today

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For those who love a little atomic warfare history, there are several nuclear test sites you can visit. However, be warned — these sites aren’t exactly easy to get to for the most part. After all, that’s kind of the point. For the intrepid traveler, though, no obstacle is too large to visit a place unseen by most, whether that means crossing an icy ocean or a horrifically hot desert. Check out the below and start planning your next international journey.

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1. Malden Island

Malden Island, once a nuclear test site in the Pacific, is now a nature preserve and protected breeding ground for seabirds.

Malden Island, once a nuclear test site in the Pacific, is now a nature preserve and protected breeding ground for seabirds.

Malden Island (sometimes also called Independence Island) is located way out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It belongs to the Republic of Kiribati, but was used in the 1950s as an h-bomb testing site for the British. It’s one of only a few places in the world that are considered to be far removed from large human populations. Since the testing, the island has become a nature habitat, and also gained attention for its prehistoric ruins and its large deposits of guano.

2. Trinity

The Trinity Site Obelisk. The spot is open to tourist only one day a year, the first Saturday each April.

The Trinity Site Obelisk. The spot is open to tourist only one day a year, the first Saturday each April.

Of course, there’s really no need to leave the country to see an atomic testing site. Trinity is located within the New Mexican desert. There, the U.S. military detonated a close relative of the same bomb that hit Nagasaki in 1945. Even though the military conducted their experiments far from human populations, the huge blast was capable of destroying windows up to 120 miles away. Typically, yes, you can’t get into the Trinity site, but it is open one day every year — the first Saturday in April. Guests are treated to an obelisk with a plaque calling the site “where the world’s first nuclear device was exploded.”

3. Bikini Atoll

Bikini Atoll as seen in the late 1970s. The archipelago remains a beautiful spot, even after the testing. Dive tours are available to traveling visitors, but only a handful of residents still live on the islands.

Bikini Atoll as seen in the late 1970s. The archipelago remains a beautiful spot, even after the testing. Dive tours are available to traveling visitors, but only a handful of residents still live on the islands.

Another U.S. testing site, this one is a little more fitting for a tropical getaway than Trinity, Bikini Atoll is located within the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. It’s made up of 23 islands, and 23 nuclear devices were detonated here over a course of 12 years, not only on the islands, but also on the reef, in the air and underwater. The original residents who resided on Bikini Atoll were relocated, being told they would be able to come back soon. However, this wasn’t the case, and they were relocated again after their first new home was unable to support them. Now, only a handful of caretakers live on the island, and most of the visitors are also scientists. Dive tours of the area, including an extensive nuclear history lesson, are available, for a hefty price.

4. Semipalatinsk

The Semey central square. Unlike many former nuclear test sites, Semey continues to operate as a city, regardless of the danger that was once posed to the citizens. Many stayed after the testing took place, continuing life as normal.

The Semey central square. Unlike many former nuclear test sites, Semey continues to operate as a city, regardless of the danger that was once posed to the citizens. Many stayed after the testing took place, continuing life as normal.

Located in what is now known as Semey, Kazakhstan, the Soviet site called Semipalatinsk was the primary atomic testing grounds for the Soviet Union. Between 1949 and 1989, almost 500 tests were conducted, with more than half being underground. The landscape is now littered with craters that are partially filled with water. Unfortunately, the tests occurred far too close to residential areas, and more than a million people who were living nearby when the first tests occurred have shown serious health issues. Many of the residents never left, however. Like the Bikini Atoll tours, these are additionally rather pricey, but they can be had.

5. Reggane

A road sign south of Reggane. The town lies within the Sahara Desert, on the edge of an oasis. Algeria is attempting to bring more tourism to the area.

A road sign south of Reggane. The town lies within the Sahara Desert, on the edge of an oasis. Algeria is attempting to bring more tourism to the area.

The French used Reggane, located in Algeria, as a testing site during the 1960s. There were four tests total during the Algerian War, but once the African country claimed independence, the tests obviously ceased. If you’ve ever wanted to catch a glimpse of the Sahara, this is your chance. While it may be a little difficult to get to, Algeria has recently been attempting to grow their tourism industry, and projects are underway to increase access to the entirety of the country. Do yourself a favor, though, and don’t visit between May and September. The town is one of the hottest spots in the entire world, earning itself a local nickname as part of the triangle of fire.

6. Lop Nur

A satellite image of Lop Nur.

A satellite image of Lop Nur.

Another otherworldly landscape to add to your travel bucket list is Lop Nur, a dry plain which sits on what was once a Chinese salt lake. While now it’s used mostly for mining potash, during the 1960s until 1996, it was a Chinese nuclear test site, causing what has guessed to be as many as 190,000 deaths. The site is undergoing cleanup and is a red tourism site now, which is the term used for any site which has historical Chinese communist significance. Most of the red tourism sites are located in more rural areas of the country, and it’s hoped that these types of projects will bring more socioeconomic development to the areas.

7. Novaya Zemlya

One of the shores of Novaya Zemlya, an icy and rather barren wasteland that's now used as Russian military base, but also a prime spot for arctic and polar tours and cruises to stop.

One of the shores of Novaya Zemlya, an icy and rather barren wasteland that’s now used as Russian military base, but also a prime spot for arctic and polar tours and cruises to stop.

Home to the easternmost point of Europe, Novaya Zemlya is a series of islands in the Arctic Ocean, north of Russia. it was here that the Russians detonated the Tsar Bomb, which became known as the largest, most powerful nuclear bomb ever to be detonated. It continued to be used as a military base, and still is, but you can visit nonetheless. In fact, arctic cruises often visit the archipelago and you can hook a ride with many polar tour providers.

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About Author

Holly Riddle is a freelance writer and editor focusing on a myriad of topics, but one of her many passions has always been history, both war-related and otherwise. You'll always find her with a biography of some royal figure or significant historic female in hand. She's currently based out of Philadelphia, a city with its own intriguing past, where she lives with her husband and two dogs.

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