The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) recently released a set of previously classified videos of United States atmospheric nuclear tests. The videos have gone viral since being posted, with millions of views, and were recently covered in the Washington Post. The initial set of films, which can be viewed on YouTube, is just a start. For the past five years, weapon physicist Greg Spriggs and his team have been working to locate, scan, and analyze an estimated 10,000 films of 210 U.S. tests conducted between 1945 and 1962. According to Spriggs, LLNL has thus far located approximately 6,500 films, of which they have scanned 4,200 and analyzed 400 to 500. He says they will need at least another two years to scan the rest of the films.
“You can smell vinegar when you open the cans, which is one of the byproducts of the decomposition process of these films," noted Spriggs. “They’re made out of organic material, and organic material decomposes. So this is it. We got to this project just in time to save the data.” Jim Moye, a film expert now working at LLNL, shared a similar sentiment: “I enjoy very much being involved in preserving the film and the history, because it is going to be gone at some point, and we don’t have forever to do this.”
From an analytics standpoint, Spriggs hopes to improve upon data mostly calculated by hand in the 1950s and the 1960s. “One of the payoffs of this project is that we're now getting very consistent answers,” Spriggs asserted. “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.”
“The legacy that I’d like to leave behind is a set of benchmark data that can be used by future weapon physicists to make sure that our codes are correct so that the U.S. remains prepared,” said Spriggs. “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 are and how much devastation they can wreak, then maybe people will be reluctant to use them.”
To see more videos of Cold War nuclear tests, please visit AHF’s YouTube channel.