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Map to Location of Salmon Site, Location of Tatum Salt Dome
Spectators Anticipating the Test
Horace Burge Assesses Damage to His Home Following First Test
Monument (Photo courtesy of mensetmanus.net) For more information on the Tatum Salt Dome, Click Here
 
 
  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.