Mississippi now owns nuclear testing grounds

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

LAMAR COUNTY, MS  (WLOX) – The state of Mississippi has taken ownership of a 1500 acre tract in Lamar County, where the federal government once conducted nuclear tests.

The Tatum Salt Dome was the site of two nuclear tests in the 1960s. A clean-up and decontamination of the land began back in 1972.

Mississippi Secretary of  State, Delbert Hosemann, announced the transfer of ownership from the federal government to the state. He says the large tract of land contains some $2 million worth of timber.  Testing of the area found no evidence to restrict the harvesting of that timber.

WLOX News aired a documentary in 2008 that took a close up look at the nuclear testing and its impact on the people who live nearby.

The Tatum Salt Dome site is located between Purvis and Baxterville, about 20 miles southwest of Hattiesburg. The nuclear tests conducted there mark the only time this country has tested a nuclear weapon east of the Mississippi River.

A government operation called "Project Dribble" involved two separate nuclear bomb explosions beneath the Tatum Salt Dome. The testing took place during the height of the cold war and the first blast was a bomb one third the size of the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

The salt dome was "ground zero" for a pair of nuclear explosions called "Salmon" and "Sterling." Film from the old Atomic Energy Commission shows the massive test site, tucked away between Purvis and Baxterville and surrounded by hundreds of acres of piney woods.

People who recall the testing, say the biggest blast shattered windows and made the ground "roll like a wave."

The "Salmon" explosion triggered a jolt like an earthquake. Although the five kiloton bomb was detonated 2700 feet, or a half mile underground, it shook the ground all the way to Hattiesburg.

A granite marker and government plaque can still be found at the site, and are the only remaining official reminders of the historic testing.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.