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Start The New Year With Newly Declassified Nuclear Test Footage

Decades-old films show the sheer power of nuclear warheads.
Image: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 

Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory posted hundreds of declassified nuclear test footage on the organization’s YouTube channel over the past few months, with a new batch of 62 videos uploaded in mid-December.

A team of archivists and software engineers led by LLNL weapon physicist Greg Spriggs is working to find and digitize thousands of archival films before they completely decompose in storage.


The morbidly awe-inspiring videos—126 are currently on YouTube out of the 210 total blasts conducted between 1945 and 1962—are comprised of footage taken of atmospheric tests. Since then, around 10,000 films have sat disintegrating in high-security vaults. As of March, the group has scanned and digitized 4,200 films, reanalyzed 400 to 500 of them, and around 750 have been declassified.

When these tests were ongoing, researchers analyzed the films to study how nuclear weapons are stored and, in the worst possible scenario, could be used in war. It being the 50s and all, the tools for measuring blast footage weren’t super accurate. Scientists enlarged the images from a single frame, projected them onto a grid, and measured the fireball and shockwave manually. Yep, they “eyeballed” it.

“It's just unbelievable how much energy's released,” Spriggs said in a press release. “We hope that we would never have to use a nuclear weapon ever again. I think that if we capture the history of this and show what the force of these weapons are and how much devastation they can wreak, then maybe people will be reluctant to use them.”

Here are some of the standout blast videos:

Operation Hardtack I was a series of 35 nuclear tests conducted in 1958 at the Pacific Proving Grounds. The “Nutmeg” test shows a bomb detonated on a barge in the ZUNI crater.

Operation Teapot was a series of 14 test on the Nevada Test Site in 1955. These tests were conducted with the specific purpose of developing ways to strategically deliver the bomb in war.

At the height of Cold War tensions, Operation Dominic was something of a fireworks grand finale: A series of 31 tests conducted in 1962, done in rapid-fire succession. It was a response to the Soviet Union resuming their own tests once the 1958–1961 test moratorium ended. Some of the weapons were detonated mid-air over Christmas Island, and give the effect of an expanding, exploding Sun.

Here’s another from Operation Teapot because goddamn.