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Map to Location of
Salmon Site, Location of Tatum Salt Dome
Horace Burge Assesses
Damage to His Home Following First Test
|Monument (Photo courtesy
of mensetmanus.net) For more information on the Tatum Salt
||Following World War II, the U.S. was involved
in what became known as the cold war, a situation in which the two
superpowers, the US and the USSR were in direct competition in military
and political fields. Among these fields was the development of nuclear
weapons. Each, trying to get the upper hand on the other.
Initially, testing of these powerful weapons was done at ground
level in the most remote locations. In the US, as these bombs evolved
into more powerful weapons, they were exploded in the desert areas
of the western states. In the USSR they were tested, at ground level,
in areas such as Siberia. In time, a concern over the radiation
emissions from such tests began to become apparent and the safety
of ground level testing became questionable.
In 1963, the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet
Union agreed to and signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty. The treaty
forbade the testing of these bombs in the atmosphere and underwater.
As a result of the treaty, these countries began to seek out underground
facilities for testing nuclear bombs. The treaty contained no restrictions
against underground testing and it was not certain how to determine
if a nation had or had not been testing underground.
In 1964 the Atomic Energy Commission sent representatives
to the Hattiesburg area. They were there to explore the possibilities
of using the Tatum Salt Dome near Baxterville, Mississippi as a
test site for Project Dribble. As a result of their assessment,
work on the salt dome was begun to transform it into a test facility,
2,700 feet below ground level.
About four-hundred residents of the Baxterville, Mississippi area
were evacuated and paid ten dollars per adult and 5 dollars per
child for their inconvenience.
The original test, Project Salmon, was to have been conducted on
September 22, 1964, but was postponed to a later date due
the wind direction. The test would involve a bomb equivalent to
5,000 tons of TNT.
At approximately 10 a.m on October 22, 1964, residents felt
three shock waves, heard the sound of the explosion and some reported
seeing the ground heave and fall, like waves at sea. Pecans fell
from trees, dogs barked, livestock became startled and birds took
to flight. Utility poles swayed and the editor of the Hattiesburg
American newspaper reported that the newspaper building swayed for
several minutes! Water in nearby creeks turned dark from the silt
that had been freed by the explosion. The shock had been far greater
than what was expected by the residents.
About two miles from the test site, Horace Burge returned home
that day to discover that his house was flooded with water that
was escaping from broken pipes. His fireplace and chimney were badly
damaged and bricks were strewn about the floor. His dishes were
broken and his stove was covered with ash and pieces of concrete.
With a week, over four-hundred residents had filed claims with
the government to recover their losses.
Two months after the test, researchers drilled a hole into the
void through which they lowered instruments into the dome to measure
the radioactivity. While drilling, radioactive soil and water surfaced.
The government made an effort to clean up the site.
The first test was over and the next, and final test, Project Sterling,
would be conducted two years later. This bomb was much smaller than
the original test bomb. On December 3, 1966 Project Sterling was
conducted using a bomb equivalent to 350 tons of TNT, producing
a shock that was barely noticeable. This was the last of the nuclear
tests conducted at the Tatum Salt Dome. Following this test, researchers
again drilled into the dome and got the same results as before.
Again, the government set about trying to clean it up.
In 1969 and 1970 Project Miracle Play was conducted
in the salt dome. This involved conventional weapons.
In 1972, the buildings and structures on the site were leveled.
The building material was transported to a Nevada test site, where
many other radioactive materials are stored. Smaller materials such
as rocks and sand were put back in the salt dome, where they remain
today. The government erected a large stone monument at the site
of the testing. It carries a message warning future generations
not to drill or dig in the vicinity of the test area.
In the decades that followed, the residents of the area complained
to the government about health problems that lingered following
the tests. Many complained that the cancer rate near Tatum Salt
Dome was higher than the national average. To help alleviate the
concerns of the residents, the government built a pipeline which
carried water to the area from a distant source.