The U.S. military detonated more than 200 atomic bombs during the Cold War era as part of nuclear weapons testing. Each detonation was carefully recorded by multiple cameras filming at 2,400 frames per second. In 1962, that footage effectively became some of the only data available to scientists studying nuclear weapons after the U.S. agreed to stop all above-ground nuclear testing.
But over the years those films were scattered across the country in various classified archives.
Recently, a team at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), a federal research facility, released about 250 declassified videos of U.S. nuclear tests as part of a long-term project to restore and digitize the footage, which might have been lost to time had it not been for the preservation effort.
“The goals are to preserve the films’ content before it’s lost forever, and provide better data to the post-testing-era scientists who use computer codes to help certify that the aging U.S. nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective,” reads a press release published on the LLNL website.
The U.S. is estimated to have created about 10,000 nuclear test films from 1945 to 1962, which was when the Partial Test Ban Treaty stopped above-ground nuclear testing. So far, the LLNL has located about 6,500 of those films, scanned some 4,200, reanalyzed 400 to 500, and declassified about 750.
In past decades, scientists had to manually analyze nuclear testing footage. It was a long and often inaccurate process.
“When you go to validate your computer codes, you want to use the best data possible,”…
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