Newly-digitized Nuclear Test Films Reveal More Data about Death and Destruction

❝ The film is silent, but it starts with a bang. The screen blows out white, then a tropical beach comes into view, before an explosion tears across the horizon. A two-tiered mushroom cloud flows skyward, revealing a dark, intense plume of smoke that smolders in the distance…

Another film, showing the charmingly titled “Operation Teapot,” is a black-and-white nightmare: A ball of fire comes into the frame over a mound in the distance, engulfing the sky and setting off a wave of soil or smoke or both, so powerful that the camera starts to shake.

❝ These are films of the nuclear age, and there are thousands of them. They document the 210 atmospheric nuclear tests the United States conducted between 1945 and 1962.

❝ Until recently, these government-commissioned films had been scattered around different archives, though the bulk of them sat in boxes at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Fortunately, a team of physicists and film archivists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California decided to digitize the films before it was too late…

❝ Gregg Spriggs and his team started digitizing the films using special scanners that move the film without gripping it by the holes in the edges. But as they watched the old films, they noticed something: The nuclear yield data based on the images was wrong.

These aren’t just any old government movies: They are scientific documents that are key to understanding nuclear power. And even though the films are very old, scientists don’t get access to these sorts of nuclear tests anymore. Atmospheric nuclear tests have been banned since 1963…

❝ So Spriggs and his team set about reanalyzing all of the old films, using new techniques. The indicators remain the same, in some ways: The double flash of light, the fireball and the shock wave captured on film all provide significant information for researchers on the energy generated by the nuclear blast…But the newly digitized films allow researchers to more clearly see the fireball’s edge, allowing for much more accurate yield estimates. “We were finding that some of these answers were off by 20, maybe 30, percent,” says Spriggs. “One of the payoffs of this project is that we’re now getting very consistent answers. 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 lab has posted a number of the films on YouTube, and the ability to watch these films from the cold remove of one’s desk chair is an arresting experience.

These brief portals to the Cold War are oddly devoid of context. Each film on Lawrence Livermore’s Atmospheric Nuclear Test playlist is accompanied by nothing more than its code name — no date, no location, no mention of lingering radiation. The films are silent, the explosions otherworldly. But they were in our world: enormous nuclear weapons, unleashed over Nevada and the Marshall Islands.

We have politicians, pundits and other political pimps for death and destruction who miss the Good Old Days depicted in these films. If only the ideology of hegemony over the world that sparks these thugs would die out with them.

I doubt that.

Nuclear Targets confirm White House/Pentagon agreed with Nazis on bombing civilians

Target category No. 275 from the nuclear target list for 1959 may be the most chilling. It is called simply “Population.”

For the first time, the National Archives and Records Administration has released a detailed list of the United States’ potential targets for atomic bombers in the event of war with the Soviet Union, showing the number and the variety of targets on its territory, as well as in Eastern Europe and China.

It lists many targets for “systematic destruction” in major cities…The targets are referred to as DGZs or “designated ground zeros.” While many are industrial facilities, government buildings and the like, one for each city is simply designated “Population.”

“It’s disturbing, for sure, to see the population centers targeted,” said William Burr, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, a research group at George Washington University that obtained the target list in response to a request first made in 2006. Mr. Burr, who specializes in nuclear history, said he believed it was the most detailed target list the Air Force had ever made public.

The targets are identified only generically, with code numbers that correspond to specific locations. The exact addresses and names of facilities from that period are in a still-classified “Bombing Encyclopedia,” which Mr. Burr said he was trying to get declassified…

❝Targeting civilians has often been viewed as a way of undermining enemy morale, prompting a revolt or surrender — and conceivably leading to a shorter war. And so the large-scale bombing of civilians has sometimes been defended on humanitarian grounds, even after the firebombings of Tokyo and Dresden, Germany, and the atomic bombs dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

One of the most contemptible events in the run-up to World War 2 was the deliberate bombing of civilians, of the city of Madrid in Spain by Hitler’s Condor Legion. Interceding on behalf of Franco’s fascist Phalange in the Spanish Civil War.

I thought this article might be a reasonable follow-on to discussions about the TV series, Manhattan – with the posting just below this one about journalistic agitprop on behalf of the project leading up to the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagaski. In one of this season’s last episodes, a scientist chartered by peers to attempt to convince the military not to drop the bomb on a civilian population – instead reverses the policy and calls for killing as many civilians as possible so the horrors of nuclear weapons shows the world what awaits the stupidity of a nuclear arms race.

We now have confirmation how well that worked out. At least from “our side”. You know, the one with the moral high ground.

US to finish cleaning up Spanish site we turned radioactive 49 years ago


Nearly 50 years after a US air force B-52 bomber carrying nuclear weapons crashed in Palomares in south-east Spain, Washington has finally agreed to clean up the radioactive contamination that resulted from the crash.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, and the Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, signed an agreement in Madrid on Monday to clean up the site and “store the contaminated earth at a suitable location in the United States”…

The Palomares crash was the worst nuclear accident of its time. On 17 January 1966, at the height of the cold war, the B-52 bomber collided with a KC-135 tanker plane during mid-air refuelling off the coast of Almería, Spain, killing seven of the 11 crew members.

The B-52 was carrying four hydrogen bombs more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Two were recovered intact from the sea but the others leaked radiation into the surrounding countryside when their plutonium-filled detonators went off, strewing 3kg of highly radioactive plutonium 239 around Palomares.

Shortly after the accident, the US shipped 1,700 tonnes of contaminated earth to South Carolina, after which the incident was largely forgotten. Worries that it would destroy the budding Spanish tourist industry led the minister of tourism under the dictator Gen Franco, Manuel Fraga, to take a much-photographed swim in the sea with the American ambassador to prove that the waters were safe…

Concern over the site was reawakened in the 1990s when tests revealed high levels of americium, an isotope of plutonium, and further tests showed that 50,000 cubic metres of earth were still contaminated. The Spanish government appropriated the land in 2003 to prevent it being used.

Meanwhile, our government made it clear to the people of Spain how much of a priority we assign to cleaning up after the messes made by our military. Actually, we already have a pretty consistent record around the world.

How close did we come to nuking North Carolina?

A secret document, published in declassified form for the first time by the Guardian today, reveals that the US Air Force came dramatically close to detonating an atom bomb over North Carolina that would have been 260 times more powerful than the device that devastated Hiroshima.

The document, obtained by the investigative journalist Eric Schlosser under the Freedom of Information Act, gives the first conclusive evidence that the US was narrowly spared a disaster of monumental proportions when two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro, North Carolina on 23 January 1961. The bombs fell to earth after a B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air, and one of the devices behaved precisely as a nuclear weapon was designed to behave in warfare: its parachute opened, its trigger mechanisms engaged, and only one low-voltage switch prevented untold carnage.

Each bomb carried a payload of 4 megatons – the equivalent of 4 million tons of TNT explosive. Had the device detonated, lethal fallout could have been deposited over Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and as far north as New York city – putting millions of lives at risk.

Though there has been persistent speculation about how narrow the Goldsboro escape was, the US government has repeatedly publicly denied that its nuclear arsenal has ever put Americans’ lives in jeopardy through safety flaws. But in the newly-published document, a senior engineer in the Sandia national laboratories responsible for the mechanical safety of nuclear weapons concludes that “one simple, dynamo-technology, low voltage switch stood between the United States and a major catastrophe”…”It would have been bad news – in spades,” he wrote…

Jones found that of the four safety mechanisms in the Faro bomb, designed to prevent unintended detonation, three failed to operate properly. When the bomb hit the ground, a firing signal was sent to the nuclear core of the device, and it was only that final, highly vulnerable switch that averted calamity. “The MK 39 Mod 2 bomb did not possess adequate safety for the airborne alert role in the B-52,” Jones concludes.

The document was uncovered by Schlosser as part of his research into his new book on the nuclear arms race, Command and Control. Using freedom of information, he discovered that at least 700 “significant” accidents and incidents involving 1,250 nuclear weapons were recorded between 1950 and 1968 alone.

Heartwarming to find my cynicism perfectly justified. All the lies we are fed about the need for classifying tons of military and spy tales – significantly distorted by the amount of crap classified as secret to keep anyone from discovering what bumbling idiots we have running our government, our military.