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Operation Storax, Sun Beam, and Roller Coaster

1962-1963: Nevada Test Site, Nellis Air Force Range (Nevada)

Last changed 20 September 1997
Operation Storax was the second fiscal year based "test series", running from 1 July 1962 and through 30 June 1963. This series was concluded before the signing of the Atmospheric Test Ban Treaty on 5 August 1963, and included the last U.S. atmospheric tests of any description (the last zero-yield plutonium dispersal test Roller Coaster Clean Slate III was fired 9 June 1963).

Although the two limited test series Sunbeam (aka Dominic II) and Roller Coaster were conducted in Nevada and were simultaneous with Storax, it may be that these were not actually part of Operation Storax. I have included them on this page for convenience, although I list these test operations separately from the other Storax shots.

The majority of the Storax tests were conducted underground, just as had been true during Nougat, although with better confinement of radiation than practiced at that earlier series. Storax included several Plowshare tests, including the spectacular (and thus very well known) Sedan shot. These tests were intended to develop nuclear explosives for non-military uses.

"They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks:
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more."

Isaiah 2:4


Operation Storax

Test:Sedan
Time:17:00 6 July 1962 (GMT)
Location:NTS, Area 10h
Test Height and Type:Subsurface, -635 feet
Yield:104 kt

Sedan was one of the most spectacular nuclear test ever fired in the continental U.S. It was an LRL test conducted under the auspices of the Plowshare program, which was an attempt to develop non-military uses for nuclear explosives. The purpose of Sedan was to investigate the potential of "clean" thermonuclear devices for producing large craters cheaply (for canal or harbor construction for example).

Up to a point, the more deeply buried an explosive charge is, the larger the crater it will make. Beyond this point much of the material is thrown with insufficient force to clear the crater and falls back in, reducing the final size. At the optimal crater depth though quite a lot of material actually ends up back in the crater bottom. This is an advantage for a Plowshare-type crater experiment since much of the radioactivity gets returned to the crater and buried. The radiation release (as measured in terms of I-131, the most important from human health risks) was 880,000 curies, about equivalent to a 3-4 kt atmospheric fission test.

Sedan was detonated at what was estimated to be the optimal crater depth in alluvial soil. 12 million tons of soil and rock were lifted into the air, 8 million tons of it falling outside the crater. The final crater was 1280 feet wide and 320 feet deep. The force of the detonation released seismic energy equivalent to an earthquake magnitude of 4.75 on the Richter Scale. The device used was similar to that used in Dominic Bluestone and Swanee and was thus a variant of the W-56 high yield missile warhead. The device had a fusion yield of 70%. The Sedan device had a diameter of 17.1 inches, a length of 38 inches, and a weight of 467.9 lb.

Storax SedanStorax Sedan (95 K)

Storax SedanStorax Sedan (17 K)

Sedan CraterSedan Crater (93 K)

Sedan CraterSedan Crater (38 K)

The crater as seen today from the viewing site on its edge (it is very impressive to visit).

Sedan Crater TodaySedan Crater Today (80 K)


Operation Sunbeam

Sunbeam was a DOD sponsored operation planned to provide weapons effects data on low yield tactical explosions. An estimated 2900 DOD military and civilian personnel participated in Sunbeam either in Exercise Ivy Flats (held in conjunction with Little Feller I), or to provide technical or administrative support.

Test:Little Feller II
Time:19:00 7 July 1962 (GMT)
Location:NTS, Area 18
Test Height and Type:Surface, 3 feet
Yield:22 Tons

Used a stockpile W-54 Davy Crockett warhead suspended above the ground. The plutonium warhead had a diameter of 10.9 inches, a length of 15.7 inches, and weighed 50 lb.

Below are pictures of the Davy Crockett, the first shows it mounted on a stand-alone recoilless rifle launcher.

Davy CrockettDavy Crockett on Launcher (37 K)

Davy CrockettDavy Crockett (38 K)

Test:Johnnie Boy
Time:16:45 11 July 1962 (GMT)
Location:NTS, Area 18
Test Height and Type:Surface, -2 feet
Yield:500 Tons

This was test of the W-30 TADM (tactical atomic demolition munition). The W-30 had a diameter of 22 inches, a length of 46.5 inches, and weighed 435 lb. The device was similar to that fired in Plumbbob Stokes.

Test:Small Boy
Time:18:30 14 July 1962 (GMT)
Location:NTS, Area 5
Test Height and Type:Surface, 10 feet
Yield:1.65 kt

Test of missile silo hardening principles. Device similar to those fired in Nougat Ermine, Chinchilla I/II, and Armadillo. The device diameter was 15 inches, length was 15.5 inches, and the weight was 63.9 lb.

Test:Little Feller I
Time:17:00 17 July 1962 (GMT)
Location:NTS, Area 18
Test Height and Type:Surface, 40 feet
Yield:18 Tons

Last atmospheric test at NTS, used a stockpile W-54 Davy Crockett warhead. 1000 DOD personnel took part in Exercise Ivy Flats which included an observer program and troop maneuvers. Five participants in the Ivy Flats maneuver task force launched the weapon from a recoilless rifle mounted on an armored personnel carrier. Robert F. Kennedy and General Maxwell D. Taylor were on hand to observe the detonation.

Below is a picture of the Davy Crockett mounted on a stand-alone recoilless rifle launcher.

Davy CrockettDavy Crockett on Launcher (37 K)


Operation Roller Coaster

Roller Coaster was a joint US (DOD)-UK test program to collect data on the safety of weapons due to accidental detonation. unlike most other weapon safety tests, this was not concerned with the question of one-point safety and the possibility of nuclear yields. The warheads used in these tests were known to be one-point safe. Instead the concern was the hazard presented by the dispersal of plutonium if the explosives were accidentally detonated (as happened in the 1966 hydrogen bomb accident at Palomares Spain).

These tests are arguably the last U.S. atmospheric tests. Although they produced no nuclear reactions, and were not expected to, the U.S. government counts them in the official list of nuclear tests. See table summary below for list of Roller Coaster tests.


Operation Storax Summary

Legend:WD=Weapons Development, WE=Weapons Effects, ST=Safety Test, TN= Thermonuclear, LASL=Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, UCRL=University of California Radiation Laboratory (later Lawrence Livermore), DOD = Department of Defense.
Test Name Time and Date (GMT) Location Test Type Height (Ft) Yield (kt) Sponsor Purpose Comments
Sedan 17:00 6-Jul-62 NTS, Area 10h Subsurface -635 104 LRL PS 2nd Plowshare test, cratering experiment, TN device sim. to Dominic Bluestone and Swanee, 12 million tons of soil displaced, crater was 1280 feet wide and 320 feet deep
Merrimac 16:00 13-Jul-62 NTS, Area 3bd Shaft -1,356 20-200 LRL WD Accidental release of radioactivity detected on site only
Wichita 21:00 27-Jul-62 NTS, Area 9y Shaft -493 <20 LRL WD Accidental release of radioactivity detected on site only
York 15:00 24-Aug-62 NTS, Area 9z Shaft -744 <20 LRL WD
Bobac 17:00 24-Aug-62 NTS, Area 3bl Shaft -676 <20 LASL WD
Raritan ? 6-Sep-62 NTS, Area 9u Shaft -525 <20 LRL WD
Hyrax 17:10 14-Sep-62 NTS, Area 3bh Shaft -711 <20 LASL WD
Peba 17:00 20-Sep-62 NTS, Area 3bb Shaft -792 <20 LASL WD
Allegheny 17:00 29-Sep-62 NTS, Area 9x Shaft -692 <20 LRL WD Accidental release of radioactivity detected on site only
Mississippi 17:00 5-Oct-62 NTS, Area 9ad Shaft -1,622 115 LRL WD
Roanoke 15:00 12-Oct-62 NTS, Area 9q Shaft -510 <20 LRL WD Accidental release of radioactivity detected on site only
Wolverine ? 12-Oct-62 NTS, Area 3av Shaft -250 <20 LASL WD Accidental release of radioactivity detected on site only
Tioga ? 18-Oct-62 NTS, Area 9f Shaft -200 <20 LRL WD
Bandicoot 18:00 19-Oct-62 NTS, Area 3bj Shaft -792 12.5 LASL WD Accidental release of radioactivity detected off site
Santee 15:00 27-Oct-62 NTS, Area 10 Shaft -1,048 <20 LRL WD
St.Lawrence ? 9-Nov-62 NTS, Area 2b Shaft -550 <20 LRL WD Accidental release of radioactivity detected on site only
Gundi 16:30 15-Nov-62 NTS, Area 3bm Shaft -800 <20 LASL WD
Anacostia 18:00 27-Nov-62 NTS, Area 9i Shaft -747 <20 LRL PS 3rd Plowshare test, device development, accidental release of radioactivity detected on site only
Taunton ? 4-Dec-62 NTS, Area 9aa Shaft -750 <20 LRL WD
Tendrac 19:00 7-Dec-62 NTS, Area 3ba Shaft -993 <20 LASL/UK WD 2nd UK involved test
Madison 17:25 12-Dec-62 NTS, Area 12g Tunnel -1,320 <20 LRL WD
Numbat 18:45 12-Dec-62 NTS, Area 3bu Shaft -761 <20 LASL WD
Manatee 13:10 14-Dec-62 NTS, Area 9af Shaft -200 <20 LRL WD
Casselman 16:00 8-Feb-63 NTS, Area 10g Shaft -994 <20 LASL WD
Acushi 18:30 8-Feb-63 NTS, Area 3bg Shaft -856 <20 LASL WD
Ferret ? 8-Feb-62 NTS, Area 3bf Shaft ? <20 LASL WD
Hatchie ? 8-Feb-62 NTS, Area 9e Shaft ? <20 LASL WD
Chipmunk ? 15-Feb-62 NTS, Area 3ay Shaft ? <20 LASL WD
Kaweah 19:47 21-Feb-63 NTS, Area 9ab Shaft -745 <20 LRL PS 4th Plowshare test, device development
Carmel 19:47 21-Feb-63 NTS, Area 2h Shaft -536 <20 LRL WD
Jerboa 19:00 1-Mar-63 NTS, Area 3at Shaft ? <20 LASL WD
Toyah 16:22 15-Mar-63 NTS, Area 9ac Shaft ? <20 LRL WD
Gerbil 15:49 29-Mar-63 NTS, Area 3bp Shaft -917 <20 LASL WD
Ferret Prime 17:52 5-Apr-63 NTS, Area 3by Shaft -793 <20 LASL WD
Coypu ? 10-Apr-62 NTS, Area 3af Shaft ? <20 LASL WD
Cumberland 16:03 11-Apr-63 NTS, Area 2e Shaft ? <20 LRL WD
Kootanai 16:09 24-Apr-63 NTS, Area 9w Shaft ? <20 LRL WD Accidental release of radioactivity detected on site only
Paisano ? 24-Apr-62 NTS, Area 9wi Shaft ? <20 LRL WD Accidental release of radioactivity detected on site only
Gundi Prime 18:19 9-May-63 NTS, Area 3db Shaft ? <20 LASL WD
Harkee 14:55 17-May-63 NTS, Area 3bv Shaft ? <20 LASL WD
Tejon ? 17-May-62 NTS, Area 3cg Shaft ? <20 LASL WD
Stones 15:40 22-May-63 NTS, Area 9ae Shaft -1,289 20-200 LRL WD
Pleasant 15:03 29-May-63 NTS, Area 9ah Shaft ? <20 LRL WD Accidental release of radioactivity detected on site only
Yuba 17:00 5-Jun-63 NTS, Area 12b Tunnel -796 3.1 LRL WD Accidental release of radioactivity detected on site only, operational release of radioactivity detected off site
Hutia 14:00 6-Jun-63 NTS, Area 3bc Shaft -442 <20 LASL WD
Apshapa 14:12 6-Jun-63 NTS, Area 9ai Shaft ? <20 LRL WD Accidental release of radioactivity detected on site only
Mataco 14:10 14-Jun-63 NTS, Area 3bk Shaft -642 <20 LASL WD
Kennebec 23:00 25-Jun-63 NTS, Area 2af Shaft -740 <20 LRL WD Accidental release of radioactivity detected on site only


Operation Sunbeam Summary

Legend:WD=Weapons Development, WE=Weapons Effects, ST=Safety Test, TN= Thermonuclear, LASL=Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, UCRL=University of California Radiation Laboratory (later Lawrence Livermore), DOD = Department of Defense.
Test Name Time and Date (GMT) Location Test Type Height (Ft) Yield (kt) Sponsor Purpose Comments
Little Feller II 19:00 7-Jul-62 NTS, Area 18 Surface 3 0.022 DOD WE Used a stockpile W-54 Davy Crockett warhead
Johnnie Boy 16:45 11-Jul-62 NTS, Area 18 Surface -2 0.5 WE W-30 TADM (tactical atomic demolition munition) test, Sim. to Plumbbob Stokes
Small Boy 18:30 14-Jul-62 NTS, Area 5 Surface 10 1.65 WE Test of missile silo hardening principles, sim. to Nougat Ermine, Chinchilla I/II, Armadillo
Little Feller I 17:00 17-Jul-62 NTS, Area 18 Surface 40 0.018 WE Last atmospheric test at NTS, used a stockpile W-54 Davy Crockett warhead


Operation Roller Coaster Summary

Legend:WD=Weapons Development, WE=Weapons Effects, ST=Safety Test, TN= Thermonuclear, LASL=Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, UCRL=University of California Radiation Laboratory (later Lawrence Livermore), DOD = Department of Defense.
Test Name Time and Date (GMT) Location Test Type Height (Ft) Yield (kt) Sponsor Purpose Comments
Double Tracks ? 15-May-62 NAFR Surface 0 0 US-UK ST Storage-transportation safety experiment, measured plutonium dispersal risk
Clean Slate I ? 25-May-62 NAFR Surface 0 0 US-UK ST Storage-transportation safety experiment, measured plutonium dispersal risk
Clean Slate II ? 31-May-62 NAFR Surface 0 0 US-UK ST Storage-transportation safety experiment, measured plutonium dispersal risk
Clean Slate III ? 9-Jun-62 NAFR Surface 0 0 US-UK ST Storage-transportation safety experiment, measured plutonium dispersal risk


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