Declassified US atmospheric nuclear test footage
March 15, 2017 4:24 PM   Subscribe

For the past five years, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) weapon physicist Greg Spriggs and a crack team of film experts, archivists and software developers have been on a mission to hunt down, scan, reanalyze and declassify films of the 210 US atmospheric nuclear tests conducted between 1945 and 1962. Around 4,200 films have been scanned, 400 to 500 have been reanalyzed and around 750 have been declassified. An initial set of these declassified films -- tests conducted by LLNL -- were published today in an LLNL YouTube playlist.
posted by figurant (25 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
This is great. (I mean, terrifying, but great.) Thanks for posting.

Every time I read the phrase "Operation Plumbbob, " I automatically add the word "Squarepants."
posted by compartment at 4:38 PM on March 15, 2017 [7 favorites]

Huh. There are some tests I don't think I've ever heard of. It's scary how captivating these are.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:43 PM on March 15, 2017

Operation Hardtack-II Rushmore: 0.188kT 500ft suspended from a Balloon. Definitely a different type of explosion.
posted by Chuckles at 4:51 PM on March 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've never seen anything quite like Number 64 on the playlist. It looks like a scene from the apocalypse as directed by Luis Buñuel.
posted by sobarel at 4:52 PM on March 15, 2017 [11 favorites]

Thank goodness we left all that behind with the end of the Cold War.
posted by My Dad at 5:05 PM on March 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Acclimatisation for the years to come?
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 5:09 PM on March 15, 2017

Every time I read the phrase "Operation Plumbbob, " I automatically add the word "Squarepants."

Plumbbob was in Nevada. Bikini was sent to the bottom by Crossroads, Castle, Redwing, and Hardtack 1.
posted by radwolf76 at 5:16 PM on March 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Unfortunately, a lot of these were shot by unmanned cameras with the f-stop dialed wayyyyy back to accomodate the initial bright blast. Once that was over, the rest of the film is pretty much black.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:18 PM on March 15, 2017

Wow. Definitely not a tempest in a Teapot
posted by cosmac at 5:21 PM on March 15, 2017

Yes yes, but who deleted the soundtrack?

Also, they can build and deploy a thermonuclear device, but they have no way of adjusting the exposure over time? I somehow think there's a different explanation.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 5:26 PM on March 15, 2017

You have to remember that most of these tests were filmed in the 1950's and early 1960's. A lot of high-speed film technology was invented to analyze these tests, and many of them have no sound because the minute or so of film represents a fraction of a second in real time.
posted by Bringer Tom at 5:49 PM on March 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

(clicks through to Omon Ra's link) OH haha.
posted by Bringer Tom at 5:50 PM on March 15, 2017

How is this not the soundtrack to all of them?
posted by ejs at 6:09 PM on March 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

(thought that link was gonna go to Atom Bomb Baby)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:12 PM on March 15, 2017

It's amazing on the color films that the sky gets as blue as if it was the middle of the day, in the middle of the night.
posted by hwyengr at 7:13 PM on March 15, 2017

Soundtrack? Yakety Sax? Link provided for the one or two people who have yet to be exposed to this tune, the universally and inappropriately recommended soundtrack for nearly everything.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:43 PM on March 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Every time I read the phrase "Operation Plumbbob, " I automatically add the word "Squarepants."

Who lives in a pinapple under the sea?
No one. Bikini bottom was wiped out in 1958.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:56 PM on March 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've never seen anything quite like Number 64 on the playlist. It looks like a scene from the apocalypse as directed by Luis Buñuel.

Those boiling lobes shooting out from the fireball are the result of the steel cables essentially vaporizing and burning from being saturated with high energy photons, neutrons and rays in microseconds.

The really eerie part about it to me is how smooth and uniform the rest of the fireball is for those brief few fractions of a second before convection takes over. Explosions, hot gases and plasma and stuff just aren't supposed to be that unnaturally uniform in my opinion.
posted by loquacious at 12:30 AM on March 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

There have been a crapton of good declassified DoE/AEC/DOD videos coming out about this era, and they're all public domain and all over YouTube.

So, if you like this kind of stuff and you, uh, like getting the dickens scared right out of you, here's one of the scariest, craziest things I've learned from watching and reading a lot about the Cold War.

So, there are the highly controversial and so-called "rainbow bomb" tests like Starfish Prime, which is surreally documented in this William Shatner narrated doc.

Starfish Prime happened on July 9, 1962. You know what else was happening in the summer of 1962? The Cuban Missile Crisis, with Soviet missile deployments starting in May of 1962.

So the Soviets and the US are doing a bit of saber rattling with this whole high altitude nuclear explosion thing while basically openly threatening each other over Cuba.

The tests from both nations were ostensibly scheduled long before things started heating up in Cuba, and staff on both sides were reportedly suggesting that continuing with these tests with so much tension going on might not be such a good idea because it was really kind of nerve-rattling to have all of these test missiles and detonations going on while both sides were on high alert, with the US effectively at Defcon 1 - but the momentum of everyone involved was apparently just too much and they just kept on going, shooting off nukes like so many firecrackers.

But wait, there's more! So, in 1961 the US deployed the underwater hydrophone submarine detection network SOSUS.

Now I don't have a handy reference for this, and my memory may be faulty - but if I'm recalling correctly somewhere in here between SOSUS and The Cuban Missile Crisis, and in addition to the Soviet subs intercepted during the CMC - there's an incident where one of the US Navy's own much quieter and stealthier subs is shadowing and following a Soviet sub around for days thanks to SOSUS tracking and somehow they accidentally revealed their presence to the Soviet submarine by accidentally making a noise or lighting them up with a sonar ping or something, and the reaction of the Soviet sub basically/metaphorically went something like "Uh, shit, We're not alone. And apparently the US has figured out how to make a silent submarine." which wasn't a known thing to the Soviets at that point.

Which, of course, the US did have such a sub. But it wasn't (and still isn't, really) known to the Soviets or anyone else exactly how quiet, how stealthy or how difficult it was to detect.

Now keep in mind you've got Gary Powers being shot down in a U2 in 1960, and Rudolf Anderson being shot down during the CMC itself in October of 1962. Oh, and there's Project Corona popping off at the same time, hidden under the Discoverer project name.

Busy, busy, busy.

And all of this high stakes Cold War insanity is packed into a few months over the summer of 1962, and for I have never seen these events being properly recounted as the tightly knit story that it is. Because they are all directly related to each other.

Due to the classification and secrecy involved on both sides, we're really just starting to piece together a much larger picture, and it's even more terrifying, hubristic and utterly insane than we thought it was, with the reality being far worse than anything Kubrick could have come up with for Dr. Strangelove.
posted by loquacious at 1:22 AM on March 16, 2017 [15 favorites]

And I think there's some essential component to this story I'm forgetting. If I'm remembering correctly there was also at least one incident in 1962 where a missile was tested (I think maybe by the Soviets) and the US thought it was a live attack and we basically came within a few minutes of a really hot war. It might have been the other way around, or it might have been one of the Rainbow Bomb tests that triggered the Soviet alerts.
posted by loquacious at 1:26 AM on March 16, 2017



posted by Sebmojo at 1:51 AM on March 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you for the trip down Cold War A-Bomb Paranoia memory lane.

Looking thru other LLNL videos, I was amused to find this one, in which they use the pop culture concept of a zombie outbreak to explain statistical disease modeling (not unlike how used the idea of preparing for a zombie outbreak to suggest assembling a basic disaster preparedness kit). What amused me most was the fact that that six-minute video contained no fewer than three disclaimers that no, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories do not do research on zombies or zombie outbreaks.
posted by Gelatin at 5:33 AM on March 16, 2017

  I've never seen anything quite like Number 64 on the playlist

Those weird tentacles are so-called “rope tricks”: shot-tower guy wires vaporising from the light emitted by the bomb.
posted by scruss at 7:53 PM on March 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Last evening I followed loquacious' link to the Shatner-narrated documentary, and then followed the suggested links to two others, A Very British Bomb about Britain's all-out push to stay in the nuclear club after the US tried to kick them out, and then (skimmed) a flick covering much of the same territory but leading up to the the Windscale fire and disaster. That's some quality TV on the Internet there, folks.
posted by Bringer Tom at 2:43 PM on March 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

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