Christopher Nolan’s new movie Oppenheimer, eponymously named after the creator of the atomic bomb, has renewed public interest in America’s dark history with nuclear weapons. Nolan’s movie focuses primarily on the “Trinity” test—the first test of a nuclear bomb to occur in the U.S. But for years after Trinity, the U.S. continued to spend a ludicrous amount of time and money detonating nuclear bombs all over the southwestern United States and in various parts of the Pacific Ocean. No, the government was not trying to give us all cancer; it was just preparing for what it presumed was an inevitable nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union. The dozens and dozens of tests that took place after 1945 were conducted secretly, under various conditions, with an ever-evolving, ever more destructive roster of bombs.
Fascinatingly, the government also secretly filmed footage of these explosions and then squirrelled the footage away in government vaults. Decades later, the videos have been declassified and is now all over the internet. Watching the footage is awe-inspiring and horrifying—a window into the awesome powers that modern governments possess, and which we all hope will never have to be used. Scroll through to see some of the largest and most terrifying explosions ever recorded.
Operation Crossroads: Baker
Nuclear test at Bikini Atoll – 25.07.1946
Operation Crossroads was a series of nuclear tests that took place in Bikini Atoll in 1946. “Baker,” the test shown above, took place on July 25, 1946, and was set off next to a fleet of unmanned naval vessels. The bomb unleashed exponentially more radioactive material than the government had predicted and a Joint Chiefs of Staff report later noted that Baker had transformed the nearby ships into “radioactive stoves” that would have “burned all living things aboard them with invisible and painless but deadly radiation.”
Operation Upshot Knothole: Grable
Atomic Bomb blast with shock and effects in HD
The footage above shows “Grable,” part of Operation Upshot Knothole—which was a series of nuclear tests that took place in Nevada in 1953. The Grable test was unique due to the type of weapon involved: the bomb was fired in an MK-9 artillery shell from a cannon (nicknamed “Atomic Annie”). The shell flew a distance of seven miles before it made impact and exploded. Buses and cars can be seen being thrown around like toys, while the shockwave from the bomb spins outwards, warping and utterly transforming the surrounding landscape.
Operation Castle: Bravo
Operation Castle was a series of high-yield nuclear tests that took place at Bikini Atoll in 1954. The test shown above, “Bravo,” took place on March 1, 1954, and is considered the largest nuclear test ever carried out by the U.S. government. “Bravo” involved a high-yield thermonuclear bomb, and the blast from the explosion was immense. The planners for the test “seriously miscalculated the yield of the device,” Brookings Institute commentator Ariana Rowberry writes, which led to huge amounts of radiation contamination.
Aerial shot of a hydrogen bomb
This footage is believed to be from either the Operation Castle series (which took place in 1954) or the Operation Redwing test series (which took place in 1956), both of which involved the ignition of large hydrogen bombs. The footage, shot from a plane flying over the site of the test, clearly shows the bomb’s radioactive cloud pluming out in all directions.
Operation Teapot: Turk
Operation Teapot – Turk 28100
Operation Teapot took place in Nevada in 1955, the fifth in a series of atmospheric nuclear tests. Teapot involved 15 total tests. The test captured in the video above, “Turk,” took place on March 7, 1955.
Operation Teapot: Hornet
Operation Teapot shot hornet 1955
This test, “Hornet,” was also part of the Teapot program. It took place on March 12, 1955.
Operation Hardtack: Juniper
Operation Hardtack-1 – Juniper 53070
Operation Hardtack I was a series of nuclear tests that took place at the Pacific Proving Grounds in the Marshall Islands in 1958. Each test was named after a particular kind of tree. This test, “Juniper,” took place on July 22, 1958. The detonation cloud reportedly rose some 40,000 feet in the air.
Operation Dominic: Sunset
Operation Dominic Sunset (1962)
Operation Dominic I was a series of 36 nuclear tests that were carried out in the Pacific in 1962. Tests included “airbursts,” underwater, and high-altitude shots. Many of the bombs that were set off led to explosions that were reportedly 700 times the size of the one used the destroy the city of Hiroshima. The test shown in the video above, Sunset, took place on July 10, 1962.
USA: ZERO HOUR IN DOOMTOWN – ARTIFICIAL TOWN IN NEVADA DESTROYED BY ATOMIC BOMB (1955)
The newsreel video above shows footage of nuclear tests in Yucca Flats, Nevada, where “dummy” communities were blown up to test a bomb’s impact on a “typical” U.S. town.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull Nuketown Scene
Okay, okay so this nuclear test didn’t actually happen…but I felt it had to be included. I also wouldn’t recommend trying to survive a nuclear blast by climbing into a refrigerator. That’s an urban myth.
The Government Made This Fake News Broadcast About a Nuclear Attack
A nuclear bomb was set off in Indianapolis in December of 1986…or so the super-secret “Mighty Derringer” exercise would have you believe. Long after the government was done nuking Nevada, New Mexico, and the Marshall Islands to test its own weapons, it was still simulating the impacts of nuke attacks on American cities. The video above shows a fake news broadcast used in one such simulation—“Mighty Derringer”—a 1986 exercise that simulated what a nuclear terrorist attack on a major American city might look like. Evidence of the exercise was dug up by former longtime Gizmodo reporter Matt Novak via a Freedom of Information Request.