On 10 December 1961, a crowd of several hundred people, including officials from the US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), scientists, reporters, members of the public, and guests from 13 nations, gathered roughly 40 kilometers southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico, and eagerly waited for the countdown. The nuclear testing moratorium initiated in November 1958 between the US and the Soviet Union had ended four months earlier (see the timeline in figure 1), and Project Gnome, the first nuclear explosive test detonated as part of the AEC’s Project Plowshare, was finally about to occur after years of delay. Information acquired from Gnome was intended to support research on using nuclear explosives to produce recoverable energy, to mass produce radioisotopes for scientific and medical uses, and to demonstrate that such devices could be utilized for “peaceful” purposes—Plowshare’s primary objective.

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