18 Mar 2017

Secret footage of atom bomb tests made public

6:48 pm on 18 March 2017

After collecting dust in high-security vaults for more than 65 years, the United States has declassified hundreds of reels of film showing Cold War nuclear bomb tests.

From 1945 to 1962, the US detonated more than 210 nuclear bombs, with multiple cameras capturing each explosion at about 2400 frames per second.

For decades, about 10,000 of the films were locked away, sitting idle, scattered across the US in high-security vaults.

A team from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has worked for the last five years on finding, declassifying and preserving the films' content before it was lost.

Greg Spriggs, a weapon physicist at LLNL and head of the project, said when they got their hands on the film they could smell it wasting away.

The film was made of nitrate cellulose, an organic material that, when decomposing, smelled like vinegar.

"You can smell vinegar when you open the cans," Mr Spriggs said in a YouTube video.

According to the LLNL, the goal was to provide better data to post-testing-era scientists.

Mr Spriggs did not want nuclear weapons to be used. He hoped the films would be a deterrent.

"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 ... show what the force of these weapons are and how much devastation they can wreak, then maybe people will be reluctant to use them."

He estimated it would take another two years to scan the rest of the films. Completing the analysis and declassification would take longer.

To date, the team has found around 6500 of the estimated 10,000 films created during atmospheric testing.

About 4200 films have been scanned, 400 to 500 have been reanalysed and about 750 have been declassified.

View more of the declassified films here