The Years of Atmospheric Testing: 1945-1963


From 1945 to 1963 the U.S.A. conducted an extensive campaign of atmospheric nuclear tests, grouped into roughly 20 test "series." After 1963 when the Limited Test Ban Treaty was signed testing for the U.S., Soviet Union, and Great Britain moved underground. France continued atmospheric testing until 1974 and China did so until 1980. This page focuses mainly on U.S. testing because those documents are most readily available.

Summary Table of U.S. Nuclear Test Series

This table shows the year, location, number of detonations, and approximate number of personnel for each of the twenty named atmospheric nuclear test series.

U.S. Nuclear Testing from Project TRINITY to the PLOWSHARE Program

This document gives a historical overview of the U.S. atmospheric nuclear testing program. It lists every detonation by name and summarizes the radiation exposures of test participants. Also available as Adobe Acrobat PDF [592Kb].

Map of Nuclear Test Sites Worldwide

This map shows the name, approximate location, and years tests were conducted for each site of atmospheric nuclear tests through 1963.

Videos of Nuclear Tests

Note: These video clips were digitized from the best available copies of U.S. Government films. For additional information about these films, see the Historical Nuclear Test Films page at the DOE Nevada Test Site.

[Able Blast]

Crossroads ABLE Test

The ABLE test in 1946 was an air drop of the same Fatman-type weapon dropped on Nagasaki.
(160 x 120 QuickTime, 1.9 MBytes)

[Baker Blast]

Crossroads BAKER Test

The BAKER test in 1946 was a Fatman-type weapon detonated 96 feet below the surface of the ocean.
(160 x 120 QuickTime, 2.1 MBytes)

[Buster-Jangle Detonation]

Buster-Jangle Test

This video clip shows one of the test detonations from the Buster-Jangle series in Nevada. The narrator describes the visible characteristics of a nuclear detonation.
(160 x 120 QuickTime, 3.3 MBytes)

[Tumbler Snapper Dog]

Tumbler-Snapper DOG

Tumbler-Snapper DOG was a 20 kiloton airdrop detonated on May 1, 1952. Army and Marine troops participated in four of the eight Tumber-Snapper shots.
(160 x 120 QuickTime, 2.9 MBytes)

[Desert Rock IV]

Desert Rock IV

Marine troops observed DOG shots at Tumbler-Snapper from trenches just 7,000 yards from ground zero.
(160 x 120 QuickTime, 1.9 MBytes)

[Desert Rock IV dust]

Desert Rock IV

This video shows the blast wave crossing the desert and hitting the troop trenches.
(160 x 120 QuickTime, 1.4 MBytes)

[Mike Fireball Close-up]

Ivy MIKE, slow-motion closeup of fireball

The Ivy MIKE shot was the first U.S. thermonuclear test using the Teller-Ulam radiation-implosion principle. It used liquid deuterium as the fusion fuel and yielded 10.7 megatons. The fireball reached a diameter of 3.5 miles.
(160 x 120 QuickTime, 900 Kb)

[Ivy MIKE distant fireball and cloud]

Ivy MIKE distant fireball and cloud

This clip shows a real-time view of MIKE from a safe distance.
(160 x 120 QuickTime, 1.9 MBytes)

[Ivy MIKE Cloud]

Ivy MIKE, later cloud stage

The MIKE cloud eventually rose to a height of 20 miles (into the stratosphere) and spread out to a width of 100 miles.
(160 x 120 QuickTime, 1.1 MBytes)

[Ivy KING]

Ivy KING detonation

Ivy KING was an air-drop of the "Super-Oralloy" all-fission bomb, with a yield of 500 kilotons.
(160 x 120 QuickTime, 3.1 MBytes)

[Castle BRAVO test]

Castle BRAVO test

The Castle BRAVO test on March 1, 1954, yielded 15 megatons, the largest nuclear weapon ever detonated by the United States. By accident the inhabited atolls of Rongelap, Rongerik and Utirik were contaminated with fallout, as was the Japanese fishing trawler Fukuryu Maru or Lucky Dragon. The controversy over fallout that simmered around the Nevada Test Site erupted into international alarm.
(160 x 120 QuickTime, 2.7 MBytes)

[Castle ROMEO test]

Castle ROMEO test

The Castle ROMEO test yielded 11 megatons. It was detonated from a barge in the BRAVO crater
(160 x 120 QuickTime, 2.1 MBytes)

Atmospheric Test Photo Web Sites

Gallery of Nuclear Test Photos

[Mirror--Original server has gone off-line indefinitely.]

This site has a large number of atmospheric nuclear detonation photos.

Nevada Test Site Historical Photos and Films

This site has a large number of photos and some video clips showing atmospheric detonations. There is also information on how to order VHS videos of recently declassified DOE nuclear test films.

Other Web Sites about Nuclear Testing

Chart of Global Nuclear Weapons tests, 1945-1996

This year-by-year chart of the number of nuclear weapons tests is one example of the information available at the Brookings Institution's U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project.

Table of Known Nuclear Tests Worldwide: 1945-1996

This table breaks down the number of worldwide nuclear tests by country, year, and whether it was atmospheric or underground. There is a wealth of information, particularly about nuclear weapons stockpiles, at the home page for the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) Nuclear Weapons Program.

Nuclear Test Personnel Review

This page at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency describes the study that was done to catalog radiation exposure to participants in U.S. atmospheric nuclear tests. Also online are detailed documents about various atmospheric test series.