For over 65 years over 10,000 films sat in a government archive, on them, footage of 750 secret nuclear tests that were carried out by the US government between 1945 and 1962. Despite being badly stored and on the verge of total decomposition, a team of film experts from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) led by nuclear weapons physicist Dr Gregg Spriggs, were able to salvage the reels, restore them and begin analyzing them.
During the time immediately after the conclusion of World War II, the United States, France and Britain were all heavily involved in nuclear research. When not testing their arsenal in the Mojave Desert, the US, like France, would use uninhabited Pacific islands as their staging ground, whilst the British preferred Australia’s Simpson Desert. Nuclear testing would eventually be banned by the United Nations in 1996, when the repercussions of these tests began to manifest themselves on local wildlife within the experimentation areas as well as the military personnel who were present.
For the most part, those nuclear tests were recorded by scientists to enable them to review and analyze certain data for future experiments or technological advances. Some of the film is available online, with the infamous Bikini Atoll footage being one of the most notable examples. However the footage recently declassified by the US government is of previously-unseen, and for the most part, unknown high-altitude test from the 1950s.
Dr Spriggs and his team have worked tirelessly to try and scan as much of the film as possible. They estimate that they have so far found 6,500 of the 10,000 cans of footage and have scanned about 4,200, with only 400 of those having been thoroughly analyzed. There is still much work to be done. That being said, Dr Spriggs has already been able to make some interesting discoveries.
“We found out most of the data which had been published was wrong and we decided we need to rescan and reanalyze all the films. But, we’ve also discovered that a lot of pieces of information were not analyzed in the 50s and we are discovering new things about these detonations we had never even seen before.”