Experts are restoring 10,000 films chronicling over 200 nuclear blasts, which were performed by the United States between 1945 and 1962. As the films are restored, the once-classified footage is made available to the public on YouTube.
For years, the rare films – which range from a few seconds to seven minutes in length – were stored in the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Many were starting to deteriorate, so the California-based Lawrence Livermore Lab stepped in and has already restored 500 films.
The film archive is primarily composed of raw footage featuring nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. in the Nevada desert and the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.
“It’s just unbelievable how much energy is released,” Dr. Gregory Spriggs, a weapons physicist who heads up the film restoration project, told the New York Times.
“We hope that we would never have to use a nuclear weapon ever again,” he said. “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.”
The film archive can be found on the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory YouTube page.
The films create a visual history of the U.S. nuclear program following the atomic bombing of two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, during World War II. The two bombings killed between 129,000 and 226,000 people, and remain the only use of nuclear weapons in the history of armed conflict.
“You feel the heat blast from it,” said Frank Farmer, who witnessed more than a dozen atomic explosions in 1958 while stationed in the Pacific. “It’s so bright you actually see your bones in your hands.”
A 1963 treaty banned atmospheric tests, forcing the United States to shift to underground testing; although, nuclear tests are no longer conducted by the U.S. having been replaced by computer calculations and modeling.