From 1945 to 1962 the American government detonated more than 210 nuclear bombs while cameras captured each test explosion at nearly 2,400 frames per second.
Since the legislative halt of atmospheric testing in 1963, 6,500 out of an estimated 10,000 films have been located with 4,200 scanned and now 750 declassified. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California set the project in motion in hopes of extracting all lost data that nuclear weapons physicists will use to analyze the magnitude of past and possible future atomic damage. The project launched out of necessity, has led to the best possible restoration of Cold War bomb footage that the Livermore National Laboratory has now made public on YouTube.
YouTube: The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Releasing the films was a result of locating and restoring classified Cold-War era films that were mostly nitrate-based, and often not stored properly. However, thanks to the incredible timing and partnership of film restorationists and nuclear physicists, this historic footage that decodes our past has been digitized and made ready for the public. Not only do these films – some of which were on the brink of complete decomposition – leave a legacy of benchmark data that will be used by future weapons physicists, they also bear the traces of a past where nuclear war seemed an always-immediate possibility.
In the midst of current power struggles and with America’s recent dropping of “the mother of all bombs” and North Korea’s continued nuclear tests, more and more filmmakers and disarmament activists are using restored atomic bomb footage to give humanity a window into our own violent past. Voices of the Manhattan Project, a joint project with the Atomic Heritage Foundation and the Los Alamos Historical Society, has created a public domain archive collection that holds over 400 audio-visual interviews with the men and women of the Manhattan Project – who worked to build the world’s first nuclear bomb in a race against the Nazis – as well as those who flew in bombing missions.