For the last five years, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has been working tirelessly to preserve footage of the nuclear tests conducted by the United States between 1945 and 1962. The effort is led by nuclear physicists Dr Greg Spriggs and all the films are scanned, reanalyzed, and then made available to the wider public on the laboratory’s Youtube channel.
Last week, the lab released its largest batch of movies yet, with around 250 videos from eight different series of tests that cover a period of roughly a decade. The earliest of which was Operation Upshot-Knothole in 1953 and the last one was Operation Dominic, which took place in late 1962.
Operation Dominic is particularly significant as it happened during one of the tensest periods of the Cold War, after the Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion. It was the single biggest testing program conducted by the United States and the last of its atmospheric testing, only a few months before the US and the Soviet Union signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963.
This wasn’t the first time a ban on testing had been broached, though. In 1958, representatives of the US, the UK, the Soviet Union, Canada, and France among others agreed on a test ban; all countries were willing to suspend testing on a year-by-year basis and it would hold as long as no one resumed testing. Before this was finalized, however, most continued testing under various guises. In the US they were able to perform over 70 tests with Operation Hardtack 1 and Operation Hardtack 2. The footage of several tests from these operations is available to view in this new batch.
Testing was officially resumed by the USSR in 1961, including the Tsar Bomba the most powerful nuclear device ever designed. The US followed two weeks later with another operation featured in this release of footage: Operation Nougat that ran between 1961 and 1962.
In the same year, the US conducted another series of tests for smaller devices. This was known as Operation Sunbeam. The series of tests included a “portable” atom bomb, Davy Crocket, one of the smallest nuclear devices ever created.
Among the new footage, the team has included new videos from Operation Castle, which featured the most powerful device ever donated by the United States, as well as Operations Teapot from 1955, and Plumbbob – one of the longest and most controversial test series held in the US – from 1957.
Spriggs has stated in the past that this footage is deteriorating quickly so this work is very important. It keeps a record of a pivotal historical period in recent history and the footage also contains valuable scientific information about the explosions. It is also a stark reminder of just how powerful and destructive these weapons really are.