Atomic tourism guide

Atomic tourism is a relatively new type of tourism in which visitors learn about the Atomic Age by traveling to significant sites in atomic history such as museums with atomic weapons, vehicles that carried atomic weapons or sites where atomic weapons were detonated.

In the United States, the Center for Land Use Interpretation has conducted tours of the Nevada Test Site, Trinity Site, Hanford Site, and other historical atomic age sites, to explore the cultural significance of these Cold War nuclear zones. The book Overlook: Exploring the Internal Fringes of America describes the purpose of this tourism as “windows into the American psyche, landmarks that manifest the rich ambiguities of the nation’s cultural history.” A Bureau of Atomic Tourism was proposed by American photographer Richard Misrach and writer Myriam Weisang Misrach in 1990.

The phenomenon is not exclusive to North America. Visitors to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone often visit the nearly deserted city of Pripyat. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome), which survived the destruction of Hiroshima, is now a UNESCO World Heritage site at the center of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Bikini Atoll was at one time the site of a diving tourism initiative. As of 2012, China planned to build a tourist destination at its first atomic test site, the Malan Base at Lop Nur in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Get ready
Although in many of the nuclear tourism sites only background radiation can be detected, in some other visitors are confronted with levels above natural background. These include mainly sites related to nuclear accidents and weapons testing. When visiting places with increased radiation, it is reasonable to be equipped with a radiation monitor in order to have control over radiation exposure. The most common devices in a reasonable price range usually contain a Geiger-Müller counter. They are suitable for detection of gamma, x-ray, alpha and beta radiation, typically expressed as counts per second. In other devices the registered gamma radiation is converted in units of dose rate or absorbed dose. These basic counters can not provide information about individual isotopes, natural or man-made, but simply sum up all registered radiation.

In order to be able to use the radiation monitor it is essential to get familiar with the units and ranges of the measured values to evaluate the information obtained from the counter. Additionally, one has to be aware of a strong variation of natural background radiation, which depends mainly on local geology.

Stay safe
One obvious concern in touring nuclear sites is radiation. In fact, good news is that most of the sites listed above are safe from this point of view. Where obvious danger exists, you should be usually stopped by fence and other security measures.

In case you happen to find yourself in a less safe situation or unknown suspicious area, you will hopefully be equipped with a radiation monitor and good knowledge of how to use it. It’s important to know how to interpret the readings and/or convert the units. Although officially there is nothing like a safe level or radiation, there are some levels that can help to put the numbers into context. These are some examples:

The typical yearly dose from purely natural background, consisting mainly of radon gas we breathe, building materials surrounding us, radionuclides in food we eat and from the cosmic radiation that keeps bombarding us. This value is 2.4 thousandths of Sievert (mSv) on average, with a large range between 1–13 mSv depending mainly on the geological background of the place you live.

Additionally to natural sources, artificial radiation contributes to radiation exposure of some of us. The main contributor here is medical diagnosis and treatment using radiation or radionuclides. Here the exposition varies widely based on number and type of such measures. Globally, an average person receives 0.6 mSv/yr, while in countries with well developed medical systems the numbers are higher, for example 3.14 mSv in the USA, which relies heavily on testing like CT scans and X-rays. One bone scintigraphy scan with the use of medial isotope Tc-99m results in a one-time dose of about 5 mSv. A chest CT scan can give a dose of 5–10 mSv, which is much higher than a simple chest x-ray of 0.2 mSv.

Members of flight crews receive some 1.5 mSv annual dose due to increased cosmic radiation in high altitudes.

The limit for members of the public in the Fukushima exclusion zone was set as 20 mSv/yr.
Occupational limits for radiation workers are usually at 50 mSv/yr.
The way to protect yourself against external radiation exposure (like radiation coming from soil polluted with radioactive fallout) is to limit the time spent in the polluted area and keep your distance from the source (hot spots).

During your exploration you certainly want to avoid internal contamination, that means ingesting radionuclides by eating or drinking contaminated food, or inhaling radioactive particles. Some easy protective measures are therefore avoiding eating and drinking and wearing a respirator. If there may be radioactive dust or water, you also want to avoid carrying that out from the area in your clothes or hair. Be sure to get clean before touching any food or anything that you will regard clean.

Another kind of more general risks can arise from exploration of abandoned or off-limits urban locations. These include injuries or possible legal consequences. For more details check the Urbex article.

Atomic museums
Research and production
Los Alamos Historical Museum, Los Alamos, New Mexico – items from the Manhattan Project
Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos, New Mexico – history of the Manhattan Project
X-10 Graphite Reactor, Oak Ridge, Tennessee – first nuclear reactor to produce Plutonium 239
Savannah River Site, South Carolina – production site of plutonium and tritium
Experimental Breeder Reactor I, Arco, Idaho – first nuclear reactor to produce electrical power, first breeder reactor, and first reactor to use plutonium as fuel
Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant, Obninsk – the first nuclear reactor in the world that produced commercial electricity
Hanford Site, Washington – location of the B Reactor which produced some of the plutonium for the Trinity test and the Fat Man bomb
George Herbert Jones Laboratory, Chicago, Illinois – where plutonium was first isolated and characterized
American Museum of Science and Energy, Oak Ridge, Tennessee – bomb casings
National Atomic Testing Museum, Las Vegas, Nevada – Nevada Test Site
Strategic Missile Forces Museum, Ukraine
National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Delivery vehicles
Tinian Airfield, Northern Mariana Islands – launch site for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan during World War II
Titan Missile Museum, Sahuarita, Arizona – public underground missile museum
Nike Missile Site SF-88, Marin County, California – fully restored Nike missile complex
Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site, Cooperstown, North Dakota – last surviving complete facilities from USAF 321st Missile Wing (01Nov63-30Sep98), namely Oscar-Zero Missile Alert Facility (4 mi N of Cooperstown) and November-33 Launch Facility (missile silo, 2 mi E of Cooperstown)
National Museum of Nuclear Science & History, Albuquerque, New Mexico – missiles and rockets
National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, Ohio – the Nagasaki B-29 bomber (Bockscar) and missiles
National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C. – the Hiroshima B-29 bomber (Enola Gay)
White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico
Air Force Space & Missile Museum, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Air Force Armament Museum, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Wall, South Dakota – Launch Control Facility Delta-01 with its corresponding underground Launch Control Center and Launch Facility (Missile Silo) Delta-09
South Dakota Air and Space Museum, Ellsworth Air Force Base, Box Elder, South Dakota – Minuteman Missile Transporter truck, 44th Missile Wing Training Launch Facility (Training Missile Silo)
Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum, Ashland, Nebraska – a museum focusing on aircraft and nuclear missiles of the United States Air Force

Greenbrier Bunker, Greenbrier County, West Virginia – underground bunker for the United States Congress
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima – contains the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and related memorials
Nagasaki Peace Park and Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, Nagasaki
The Daigo Fukuryū Maru ship, a Japanese fishing boat that was contaminated after the Castle Bravo detonation in 1954, it is now on display in Tokyo at the Tokyo Metropolitan Daigo Fukuryū Maru Exhibition Hall.
CFS Carp – also known as The Diefenbunker, a cold war nuclear museum in a former underground Canadian military facility outside of Ottawa
Chernobyl Museum, Kiev
Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker, Cheshire countryside near the town on Nantwich, UK
Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker

Atomic Mines
Port Radium on Canada’s Great Bear Lake site of a uranium mine important to the Manhattan Project

Explosion sites
Trinity Site, Socorro County, New Mexico – site of the first artificial nuclear explosion
Nevada Test Site, Nye County, Nevada – US nuclear test site
Pacific Proving Grounds, US nuclear test site
Carson National Forest, Rio Arriba County, New Mexico – site of Project Gasbuggy
Carlsbad, New Mexico – site of Project Gnome
Rio Blanco County, Colorado – site of Project Rio Blanco
Parachute, Colorado – site of Project Rulison
Hiroshima, first wartime use of an atomic bomb
Nagasaki, last wartime use of an atomic bomb
Maralinga, South Australia – site of Operation Buffalo and Operation Antler
Pokhran, Rajasthan – site of the Pokhran-II test

Atomic accidents
The Chernobyl disaster was the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. Tourists can access the exclusion zone surrounding the plant, and in particular the abandoned city of Prypiat.
Three Mile Island was the site of a well publicized accident, the most significant in the history of American commercial nuclear power. The Three Mile Island Visitor Center, in Middletown, PA, educates the public through exhibitions and video displays.
Windscale fire On October 10, 1957, the graphite core of a British nuclear reactor at Windscale, Cumbria, caught fire, releasing substantial amounts of radioactive contamination into the surrounding area. The event, known as the Windscale fire, was considered the world’s worst reactor accident until the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. Both incidents were dwarfed by the magnitude of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. The Visitor Center was closed in 1992, and the public may no longer visit, it has been turned into a center for supplier conferences, and business events.

Literary and cinematic works on atomic tourism
The novel O-Zone, by Paul Theroux, involves a group of wealthy New York tourists who enter and party in a post-nuclear disaster zone in the Ozarks.

Source from Wikipedia