Jeffrey LewisProject Dribble (Uniform Vela)

There is something unsettling about seeing a Confederate flag fluttering above a nuclear test site.

No, this isn’t some alternate history where the South rises again, armed with nuclear weapons.  It’s a (cropped) image after the October 1964 Salmon shot — one of the pair of nuclear tests conducted in the Tatum Salt Dome in Mississippi.

Arms control wonks will know that the United States conducted a pair of tests to examine Albert Latter‘s notion that a state could “decouple” nuclear tests by conducting them in large chambers.  You will sometimes see a decoupling factor of 70 in salt — that comes directly from the Sterling shot inside the Salmon cavity. I don’t want to revisit the decoupling debate here, other than to note that the National Academies and others have  discussed decoupling at length.

Project Dribble is enjoying a resurgence because David Allen Burke has written a new history of Atomic Testing in Mississippi: Project Dribble and the Quest for Nuclear Weapons Treaty Verification in the Cold War Era.

Burke noticed, and explains, the presence of the offending item:

A large Confederate flag flew overhead, beneath which an unknown airman had reenlisted several days before.  The flag had been raised not by locals but by imported Dribble personnel, as a good-natured joke and a salute to local hospitality.  Other souvenirs marked Station 1A, including a sign bearing a defiant southern slogan left “by an AEC wag.” … At the Dribble test site near Purvis, Mississippi, on October 22, 1964, in keeping with the spirit of the flag and the sign, the South did rise again — by approximately four inches.

Oh, the amusing Confederate battle emblem! So funny.  Guess what else happened in October 1964?  Sheriff Lawrence Rainey found himself being escorted into the Federal Courthouse in Meridian, Mississippi.  Here is a picture of Rainey outside the courthouse, followed by a slightly more famous image.

Rainey would be one of 21 men the FBI arrested for the June 1964 murder of three civil rights workers, well for violating their civil rights by murdering them. (He was acquitted.) In case you are wondering, the murders happened about two hours away, near Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Oh, that hilarious Confederate battle flag.  It does make an awfully nice symbol of local hospitality, though.

There is apparently some declassified color footage of Project Dribble.  I can’t find it at the moment, but some of it is used here.  I bet there is a color shot of that Confederate battle flag, flapping in the wind.


It’s pretty hard to find the Project Dribble site in satellite images, largely because the tree line has changed so dramatically (something that also bedevils Civil War battlefields). Ground zero is located at: 31.14229°N 89.57001°W (Wikipedi has the correct ground zero, which I learned the hard way.)

You can see the changes starting with a 1964 image, followed by shots from 1996, 2007 and 2013:


  1. BJR (History)

    Page two of the fact sheet on the site posted by the DOE Office of Legacy Management ( contains a cross section diagram of the cavity created by the Salmon test in the Tatum dome (the direct link to the PDF is here:

    • Jeffrey (History)

      There is also footage from inside the cavity — although it’s pretty poor. But still, when have you seen footage from inside a cavity created by a nuclear explosion?