The world's first atomic bomb, Trinity, was detonated by the U.S. in New Mexico on July 16, 1945. The explosion produced the cloud shown here and illuminated the skies. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trinity_atmospheric_nucleat_test_-_July_1945_-_Flickr_-_The_Official_CTBTO_Photostream.jpg" target="_blank">The Official CTBTO Photostream</a> / Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

A weapons physicist from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a team of experts spent five years acquiring and declassifying footage from the U.S. nuclear testing program.

In the aftermath of World War II and during the height of the Cold War – between 1946 and 1962 – the U.S. detonated more than 200 above-ground and undersea nuclear bombs. Many other underground tests were conducted.

Most of the tests were conducted at a test site in the Nevada desert and on the Marshall Islands.

“But in the decades since, around 10,000 of these films sat idle, scattered across the country in high-security vaults,” according to a report from the laboratory, which is located in Livermore, California. “Not only were they gathering dust, the film material itself was slowly decomposing, bringing the data they contained to the brink of being lost forever.”

So far, physicist Greg Spriggs and his team have located around 6,500 of the estimated 10,000 films created during atmospheric testing.

A selection of 750 films has been made available on YouTube. Spriggs estimated that it will take two years to scan the remainder of the films.

Last year, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting wrote about the troops involved in the nuclear tests. An estimated 400,000 service members witnessed the tests. Many became ill later because of radiation exposure.  Nearly all the participants interviewed said they could see the bones in their hands after detonation. They were sworn to secrecy until the mid-1990s and are still fighting to be recognized for their service.

Reveal also produced a documentary in collaboration with The Retro Report.

Jennifer LaFleur can be reached at jlafleur@revealnews.org. Follow her on twitter: @j_la28.

Jennifer LaFleur

Jennifer LaFleur worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until September, 2017. Jennifer LaFleur is senior editor for data journalism for Reveal. Previously, she was the director of computer-assisted reporting at ProPublica and has held similar roles at The Dallas Morning News, the San Jose Mercury News and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first training director for Investigative Reporters and Editors. She has won awards for her coverage of disability, legal and open government issues. LaFleur is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.