Newly declassified footage of US nuclear tests has been published online, showing dramatic fireballs and mushroom clouds from experiments conducted between 1945 and 1962.
The 62 videos were released by the Lawrence Livermore National Library in California on Thursday.
“We’ve received a lot of demand for these videos and the public has a right to see this footage,” LLNL nuclear weapon physicist Gregg Spriggs said. “Not only are we preserving history, but we’re getting much more consistent answers with our calculations.”
Each of the tests were captured by some 50 cameras, providing different vantage points and backup in the event of a camera malfunction.
“The common thread between these films is that they contain a great deal of quality scientific data, data that can never be reproduced,” the release says.
Preserving the videos required the expertise of rare film expert Jim Moye, particularly as some were suffering from physical decay. His job was to prep and clean the film before scanning it with a customized Hollywood film scanner.
The preservation of the films will now allow scientists to better understand the yield (amount of energy released) of each test, and to provide more accurate data for those who are responsible for certifying the nuclear stockpile every year.
“It’s been 25 years since the last nuclear test, and computer simulations have become our virtual test ground. But those simulations are only as good as the data they’re based on. Accurate data is what enables us to ensure the stockpile remains safe, secure and effective without having to return to testing,” Spriggs said.
The videos published on Thursday include the “Harlem event,” a 1.2 megaton test that took place 13,645 feet (4,158 meters) over the Christmas Island area of the Pacific on June 12, 1962. The “Turk event” of March 1955, which took place 508 feet above the desert floor of a Nevada test site, is also included in the released footage.
The new release represents the second batch of Cold War-era footage to be published by LLNL this year. Sixty-three films were released as part of the first batch in March.
The mission to preserve the historical films and provide the data offered by the tests is far from over for Spriggs and his colleagues, who are determined to find, scan, and analyze the 210 atmospheric tests conducted by the US between 1945 and 1962. Most of the videos have been kept in high security vaults located across the country, becoming more affected by age every year.