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March 19, 2017

Physicists declassified thousands of nuclear test films, and they’re on YouTube

by John_A

Why it matters to you

Nuclear test footage has been classified for decades, but now, some of it has been digitized, reanalyzed, and published on YouTube.

Poring over declassified materials may not generally sound like a fun weekend plan, but when those materials are comprised of Cold War nuclear test films, you may want to clear your schedule. So whether you’re a History Channel geek or a sucker for action movies, you may just have a new plan for your Saturday evening.

Earlier this week, a team of physicists and film archivists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California published the results of a recent project — the digitization of thousands of films that document some of the 210 atmospheric nuclear tests carried out by the United States between 1945 and 1962.

As the team, led by Greg Spriggs, began to take the (nearly decomposing) films into the modern era, they realized that some of the nuclear yield data based on the images they saw was simply incorrect. And as such, Spriggs and his team began to not only preserve the footage, but also reanalyze its contents using 21st century techniques.

More: Watch this terrifying robotic LaserSnake destroy a nuclear power cell

While these tests are many decades old, they still hold valuable information for scientists, particularly because atmospheric nuclear tests (like those seen in these old films) have been banned since 1963.

“One of the payoffs of this project is that we’re now getting very consistent answers,” Spriggs told NPR. “We’ve also discovered new things about these detonations that have never been seen before. New correlations are now being used by the nuclear forensics community, for example.”

And there are more discoveries yet to be made. While 10,000 or so films are thought to have been made during the 17-year testing period, Spriggs and his team have only found about 6,500 of them. And of these, only a few have been reanalyzed, declassified, and posted to YouTube, where you can enjoy them at your leisure.

Spriggs hopes that he’ll be able to continue his project, and in some ways, use the footage as a warning against using such weaponry in years to come.

“It’s just unbelievable how much energy’s released,” he said. “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 [is] and how much devastation they can wreak, then maybe people will be reluctant to use them.”

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