Scientists still monitor nuclear detonation site in Lamar County - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

Scientists still monitor nuclear detonation site in Lamar County

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) -

If you are a baby boomer you may remember it: the day Mississippi's ground shook, rattling for seconds, cracking foundations of homes, shifting chimneys five and six inches. A nuclear device was detonated under Magnolia State soil, making news across the world during the Cold War arms race.

The 1960s explosions came from devices placed 2,700 feet below ground by a team of scientists  researching whether it was possible to detect nuclear bomb tests being done deep underground - in secret.

"Before this, our main source of intelligence on Soviet nuclear weapons was sampling the fallout from the tests, and when they pushed the tests underground, there was no fallout," said historian David Burke.

Hundreds of forest acres leased by the government for the nuclear experiment, were fenced off and - for the last 48 years - tested constantly for traces of radiation

Today, ground zero of Lamar County's Salmon Nuclear Test Site, is not what you would think; wildlife is all over, trees are prospering and no one wears a biohazard suit.

Department of Energy officials, research scientists and Mississippi authorities say the site is absolutely safe. Mississippi Department of Health physicist Karl Barber has been testing radiation levels on the land since 1994.

"We've never seen anything above normal," said Barber.

When asked whether ground zero is dangerous: "I was just eating a blackberry growing right over there just a few minutes ago, so I don't think so," Barber says.

In fact it is on its way to becoming a test forest - open to students, scientists, the forestry service, researchers and even private landowners; valuable now, not because it used to be a nuclear test site, but because for decades is has been an untouched Forest.

"It's kind of like a canvas, it doesn't have anything on it," said Mississippi State University extension professor Glenn Hughes. "We've got a blank canvas here and there's an opportunity from an historical standpoint, a cultural standpoint, a health, forestry, natural resources, to do a lot of education."

Copyright 2012 WDAM. All rights reserved.

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