These Newly Released Nuclear Test Videos Are Horrific And Beautiful At The Same Time

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory just posted a bunch of newly declassified and digitalized films of past nuclear tests. The high quality of the footage and the extent of it provides a whole new perspective on the ominous power of the world’s most destructive weapons.

The videos are taken from a number of above and below-ground nuclear detonations that took place in the 1950s. They include multiple angles covering different aspects of each detonation, from the initial shockwave that propagates just after the reaction, to the glowing fireballs that morph into towering mushroom clouds, to the shock effects that roar outward from the epicenter at high-speed. Some of the films are even in color, and one, in particular, is especially dreadful looking.

The Juniper test of Operation Hardtack I occurred on July 22nd, 1958. It was the last test at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. The 65 kiloton device was detonated on a barge just a dozen feet above the waterline and it sent a cloud rocketing up 40,000 feet into the sky. The conditions that day resulted in a film that looks incredibly bleak and foreboding, if not downright evil, with blast’s mushroom cloud appearing charcoal black as it rises from the sea. 

The film, posted below, is one of the most interesting nuclear test films I have ever seen. I also included another close-up video of the detonation:

There is so much other content worth watching, like the Sandford test of Operation Hardtack II, which is quite beautiful before you remember that you are watching a manmade device built to kill massive amounts of people and lay waste to large areas of the planet. Sandford was a 4.9 kiloton device that was detonated a few thousand feet in the air aboard a balloon over the Nevada Test Site.

The detonations that were part of Operation Teapot in 1955 provide some of the most amazing views of the early stages of a nuclear explosion. The Tesla and Turk tests, in particular, have videos that illustrate the physics behind these blasts just as the shockwave is created. The footage is eerily otherworldly looking. 

Maybe the best part is that with this latest video dump, Lawrence Livermore National Lab also posted a video explaining a bit about what we are seeing in these films and how they were captured.

The timing of the release of these once highly classified films is quite convenient as the specter of nuclear warfare, even on a limited scale, has definitely loomed larger in recent months. Following a Nuclear Posture Review, the Pentagon isn’t just working to freshen-up the nuclear arsenal it already has, but also to expand it with new weapons that are deemed by many as more ‘easily usable’ than most of those currently in the inventory. And all this comes at a very high, if not unsustainable cost. Just the updated B61 tactical nuclear bomb literally costs a multiple of its weight in gold. 

You can check out all the videos on youtube here, but you might want to pour yourself a stiff drink before diving in. 

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Tyler Rogoway Avatar

Tyler Rogoway


Tyler's passion is the study of military technology, strategy, and foreign policy and he has fostered a dominant voice on those topics in the defense media space. He was the creator of the hugely popular defense site Foxtrot Alpha before developing The War Zone.