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Originally published Saturday, April 2, 2011 at 7:03 PM

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Japan disaster prompts 'atomic tourism'

Peek into a 320-foot blast crater in the Nevada desert or descend a Titan II missile silo in Arizona for a look at two of many "atomic tourism"...

The Associated Press

If You Go

Atomic sites, museums

Hanford nuclear reservation

The world's first full-scale nuclear reactor is one stop on tours of the Southeast Washington nuclear reservation created as part of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. Now, more than two decades after it stopped producing plutonium, Hanford is the nation's most contaminated nuclear site. From a distance, visitors watch white-suited workers bury mercury-tainted soil in a landfill and see cranes building a plant to encase radioactive waste in glass. Hanford tours are already fully booked for this year, but slots occasionally open. See

Titan Missile Museum

The only Titan II missile silo open to the public — — in what was once among the most secret locations in the country. About 20 miles south of Tucson, Ariz., take a guided tour into a Titan II silo about 35 feet underground. Experience a simulated launch. Among special tours: Museum staff will lead you and a group on a desert hike to explore the ruins of a missile site virtually untouched since it was abandoned more than 20 years ago.

National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

In Albuquerque, N.M., the museum — — spans the dawn of the Atomic Age through the Cold War to modern nuclear medicine. It covers the secret Trinity test in the New Mexico desert and has planes, rockets and missiles on display outside. Featured are casings of "Fat Man" and "Little Boy" bombs, the types dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Learn about the uranium cycle and take "Radiation 101." Little Albert's Lab offers hands-on science for kids. (Also in New Mexico is the Bradbury Science Museum at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where scientists worked on developing the atomic bomb:

Trinity Test Site

Site of the first atomic-bomb test on July 16, 1945, on the northern end of the White Sands Missile Range in south-central New Mexico. The 19-kiloton explosion led to a quick end to the war in the Pacific and ushered in the Atomic Age. White Sands hosts two "open houses" on the Trinity site every year, in April and October. Tours are self-guided. The next date is Oct. 1. Included is Ground Zero, where the bomb was placed on a 100-foot steel tower. For visitor details, contact the base public-affairs office,

The Atomic Testing Museum

Minutes from the Las Vegas Strip, the museum — — covers the Nevada Test Site, now the Nevada National Security Site, where atmospheric weapons tests were conducted from 1951 to 1962. Tours of the site — — 65 miles northwest of the city start at the museum but book up more than six months in advance. Visitors can see remnants of a house and bridge used for tests and peek inside one of the many craters that left the area a moonscape.

American Museum Of Science & Energy

In Oak Ridge, Tenn., a wartime Manhattan Project "secret city," fuel was enriched for the first atomic bomb. A 20-minute video at the museum — — goes into depth on the town's story. The museum includes photos, documents, models and hands-on activities.

Peek into a 320-foot blast crater in the Nevada desert or descend a Titan II missile silo in Arizona for a look at two of many "atomic tourism" sites around the world that offer history and sometimes lessons from the deadly aftermath of the nuclear age.

The crisis in Japan has boosted interest in nuclear-related museums and plants, once-secret Manhattan Project complexes and areas laid waste by disaster.

"Anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a great interest in things nuclear in general, and specifically about the Japanese situation," said Allan Palmer, executive director of the Atomic Testing Museum and Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation in Las Vegas.

Attendance was up 12 percent on a recent weekend at the museum, minutes from the Strip.

At the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, N.M., attendance jumped about 20 percent on a recent weekend as work continued at the Japanese reactors damaged by the earthquake-caused tsunami.

"Folks definitely want information about nuclear reactors and nuclear radiation," said Jeanette Miller, a spokeswoman for Albuquerque museum.

One of the museum's docents, retired physicist Duane Hughes, said visitors seem confused about reports of the dangers in Japan. The museum hosted a specialist to brief docents on what's going on.

Nuclear sites and virtual tours

The Japanese disaster comes close to the expected start of this year's government-sponsored tours of Chernobyl in Ukraine later in the spring. The tours of the site will include a look at nearby Pripyat 25 years after the worst nuclear power-plant accident in history turned it into a ghost town. Tours through private operators began about a year ago and can cost up to $250 per person.

In Japan, Nagasaki and Hiroshima have museums about the World War II atomic-bomb attacks by the United States as well as reconstruction and peace efforts. The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum — — and the Hiroshima Peace Site — — offer minute-by-minute accounts, artifacts and memorials.

For virtual tours and information on nuclear power, traffic on U.S. nuclear engineer Joseph Gonyeau's website,, has skyrocketed. The site usually has about 94,000 unique visitors a month. but the number of visits in March was up 119 percent, he said.

"People are asking a lot more questions," Gonyeau said.

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