Category Archives: Cold War

Atomic Snapshots: Radar Hill

During the Cold War, three lines of defense protected North America from the “imminent” threat against Soviet long-range bombers. These consisted of radar stations along the DEW line (Distant Early Warning), the MCL (Mid-Canada Line), and the Pinetree Line. These joint ventures by Canada and the U.S. were staffed by U.S. Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force personnel from 1951 to 1991.

U.S. Navy diagram from All Hands magazine, September 1956 (Department of Defense).

With the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles by 1960, however, most of these defenses became obsolete and were gradually dismantled.

Radar Hill is part of Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. The decommissioned RCAF Station Tofino provides hiking trails and scenic viewpoints. The site was operated as a Pinetree Line radar station from 1955 to 1958.

Remnants of the base are still visible, whether guy wire hooks, concrete pads, embedded radio tower piping, foundation walls, or the decking laid on top of the old building foundations.

The History Guy: The Distant Early Warning Line and Forgotten History

Atomic Snapshot: CEMP

The Community Environmental Monitoring Program (CEMP) is a network of 29 monitoring stations surrounding and downwind of the Nevada Test Site (now the Nevada National Security Site or NNSS) where United States nuclear tests were conducted. The program is a joint venture between the Desert Research Institute and the Department of Energy’s Nevada Field Office.

CEMP readings in Delta, Utah

The stations provide continuous measurements of gamma radiation and collect air particulate samples that are analyzed for radioactivity and meteorological measurements that aid in interpreting variations in background radiation. The CEMP stations provide evidence to the public that no releases of radiation of health concern are occurring from the NNSS to the stations.

Of the 29 stations, 23 upload data in real-time to a public website as well as digital readout displays at the stations, providing transparency to the public. The other 6 stations upload hourly.

The CEMP station pictured, above, is in Delta, Utah. The CEMP stations are designed to reduce the public perception of risk through community involvement. Be sure to visit the real-time data from the station: Delta, Utah (DRI-CEMP) Weather Station.

40th Anniversary of the Community Environmental Monitoring Program with William “Ted” Hartwell, sponsored by the National Atomic Testing Museum (January 7, 2021)

Atomic Snapshots: San Rafael Swell & Uranium Fever

San Rafael Reef, the eastern edge of the San Rafael Swell.

Uranium fever hit Utah as the Cold War was raging. Between 1950 and 1956, over 50,000 uranium claims were filed by prospectors for mines in the San Rafael Swell — a giant dome-shaped geologic feature made of sandstone, shale, and limestone that was pushed up during the Paleocene era as a result of subduction and deformation.

About 15 miles west of Green River, Utah, I-70 cuts through the San Rafael Reef, which is the eastern edge of the Swell. The San Rafael Reef View Area (westbound) and the Spotted Wolf View Area (eastbound) provide magnificent views of the feature.

Uranium fever was everywhere in the 1950s, as prospectors flocked to the Southwest to seek their fortunes. Green River was the staging area for mining, along with processing facilities. Moab became a bustling tourist destination, not only for its natural beauty, but also because Charlie “The King of Uranium” Steen, with the success of his Mi Vida uranium deposit, brought development.

Flying above the B-29 Superfortress, Enola Gay, is the AEC’s Piper PA-18 Super Cub at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum.

The Atomic Energy Commission surveyed the area in modified Piper PA-18 Super Cubs as part of its uranium exploration program in the 1950s. The AEC’s fleet of 10 low, slow, and inexpensive Super Cubs had scintillation counters in the rear of the plane to detect gamma radiation.

Uranium Fever by Elton Britt, 1955