Declassified films show nuclear weapons in their infancyJanuary 15, 1997
Web posted at: 7:10 p.m. EST
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From Correspondent Jamie McIntyre
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Energy Department is declassifying more than a dozen films containing hours of footage of U.S. nuclear weapons tests conducted since World War II.
The government films -- locked away for 50 years or more -- were made for an exclusive audience of military and civilian officials with top-secret clearances. They offer a unique look at the nuclear age in its infancy.
Some of the films are straightforward, such as the following introduction to the first nuclear test after World War II near the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific.
"Not since the discovery of gunpowder," intones a narrator, "has the world wondered over the ability of man to create such an agent of destruction."
What follows is a swelling movie score, the crashing of waves and the announcement that "Joint Task Force 132 presents ... Operation Ivy!"
There are also dramatic, Hollywood-style moments, including footage of Los Alamos physicist Alvin Graves documenting the race against the Soviets to develop the first hydrogen bomb.
"It's obvious we don't want them to have a hydrogen bomb before we do, so time is urgent," Graves says. "Time is the thing we have to beat."
In another clip, a narrator announces, "This is the first full-scale test of a hydrogen device. If the reaction goes, we're in the thermo-nuclear era."
At the climax of a countdown, there is a thunderous nuclear explosion and a musical score to match. An enormous orange dome-like bubble vaporizes a coral atoll, shock waves radiate away from the island and a crater is left in the sea bottom big enough to hold the Empire State Building.
"Elugelan is completely gone," says a helicopter pilot maneuvering near the site. "Nothing there but water and what appears to be a deep crater. Water dark blue in color."
The declassified films graphically illustrate two misconceptions from the very dawn of the nuclear age.
One is an underestimation of the deadly effects of radioactivity.
"Current designs for simple military and civilian shelters will provide servicemen in the field and their families at home with reasonable protection against the blast," a narrator says.
The accompanying footage shows men in regulation uniforms with what look like primitive metal detectors crossing a radiation-baked plain, and a frame house dismantled and blown away by a brutal nuclear wind.
The other is the belief that atomic bombs were viable options, rather than horrific weapons of last resort. One film ends with brisk, Chamber-of-Commerce-like optimism, as if the narrator were talking about the latest kitchen appliance:
"It must be remembered that these experiments are not a contest between bomb and ships, but an earnest effort to determine what changes must be made in this new age of atomic power."
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