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Humble Beginnings - page 30 / 63





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Area 13

This map shows the location of the Project 57 site in Area 13 and its relation to Area 51. The groom lake airbase is shown much as it appears today. The first challenge of Project 57 was to select a test site. A lengthy discussion at the first project meeting focused on a choice between "Papoose Lake with adjoining valleys and the Groom Lake Valley lying due north of it," both outside the Nevada Test Site.

Both sites were considered equal from an operational viewpoint, but the decision was ultimately based on soil contamination levels from previous testing. Samples taken by K. H. Larson of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) indicated that "in the first inch of cover, maximum plutonium backgrounds differed by a factor of 60."

Soil in the Groom Lake area contained a maximum of 0.5-micrograms of plutonium per- square-meter versus 30-micrograms per-square-meter around Papoose Lake. After reviewing these results, according to the minutes of the first meeting, "the choice of Groom Lake Valley went uncontested."

The Project 57 test site was added to the NTS as Area 13, an approximately 10-by-16-mile block of land abutting the northeast boundary of the Test Site, and partially overlapping the Watertown facility. The overlap area was not considered part of Area 13. Ground Zero for the shot was only five miles northwest of Groom Lake and seven miles from the main cantonment area of the airbase. Personnel approaching the site from the NTS would drive over Groom Pass from Yucca Flat, then head north on Valley Road for about eight miles to reach the turnoff for Ground Zero.

A formerly secret AEC report dated 14 March 1957 described the new test area, stating that it, "is not contaminated to a degree that would effect the experiment, and, when contaminated, will not interfere with the conduct of the PLUMBBOB nuclear tests which are scheduled to begin in May 1957. The Armed Forces Special Weapons Project has obtained approval for the use of the land for the test." An appendix to the report contained a letter to Brigadier General Alfred D. Starbird from Maj. Gen. Alvin R. Luedecke, USAF, Chief of the AFSWP, further explained that "entry into the

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