Rare Nuclear Test Films Are Saved, Declassified, and Uploaded to YouTube


Spriggs says that he ultimately hopes that the information gleaned from the tapes helps to improve our knowledge of nuclear weapons while serving as a powerful reminder of what they're capable of.

Extraordinary archive footage has been released of a nuclear test performed by the United States government after World War Two, showing a massive explosive ball hitting the ground then wiping out everything in its path.

To see more videos, visit the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's YouTube page. Up until today the films of these tests have been classified.

Experts have estimated the USA nuclear arsenal to possess about 6,970 warheads, second only to Russian Federation, which is believed to have about 7,300 nuclear weapons.

But the effort was laborious, and imprecise by modern standards. But the analog cameras, and the manual analysis accomplished in the 1950s and 1960s, resulted in the data being as much as 30 percent off, said Griggs.

Back when these tests were done, researchers were calculating by hand.

"The only data we have are these old tests".

The US government has declassified about 750 of the estimated 10,000 films created during the 210 atmospheric nuclear weapon tests conducted by the country between 1945 and 1962.

And those recordings, along with the scientific data contained, were about to be lost forever.

A team of physicists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), in California, hunted down these films, rescued them from decomposition, and painstakingly reanalysed and declassified them for public release.

Jim Moye, a film expert with four decades of experience in the motion picture industry who was brought on to the project, says the films are remarkably well preserved, given that they weren't stored particularly carefully. It just takes a ton of time to declassify them. But Spriggs and two software developers at LLNL developed custom tools with MatLab and Python to automate some of the time-consuming operations - reducing that time to minutes. With just a few hundred videos analyzed, the team is already uncovering revelations. Though this data will be used for the U.S. nuclear weapons program, Spriggs hopes that the new videos will make using such devices less likely.

And they've still got a long way to go.

Spriggs and the team of restorers have found about 6,500 out of 10,000 reels from the era of aboveground nuclear tests, according to the news release.