Today, no one wants to take a risk by being closer to where nuclear weapon test would take place. Nevertheless, 55 years ago, there were five men who volunteered to be filmed while a nuclear weapon was detonated above their heads.
The video was taken in Nevada on July 15, 1957, during a series of nuclear weapon tests (Operation Plumbbob). When the bomb lunched by a fighter jet was blown up 18,500 feet above the ground, five volunteering Air Force officers and one photographer were standing underneath the blast without any protective gears.
At the time, one of the five volunteers, who kept narrating in the video, shouted with excitement: “It happened! The mounds are vibrating. It is tremendous! Directly above our heads! Aaah!"1
55 years later, George Yoshitake, 83, who filmed the video, recalled the event, telling that the film was the government propaganda to demonstrate the safety of nuclear weapons in response to the people’s fear of a nuclear war against the Former Soviet Union.
“It was a publicity stunt to show the American public how safe it was during an atomic bomb,” Yoshitake said, “and if there was a war or something, with atomic bombs going off, that it was going to be safe for the general public.”1
However, the film did not prove the safety of nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapons that the US had at the time were much stronger than the bomb detonated in the film. The bomb in the film was the yields of 2 kiloton of TNT, which is equivalent to about one-eighth the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.1 On the contrary, during the nuclear weapon test conducted on July 4, 1957 (Hood Test), the bomb yielded 74 kiloton of TNT.
Moreover, Yoshitake said that all of the five volunteers and him were diagnosed with cancer at one time or another, despite the uncertainty of its relation to the blast.
Most people today do not believe that nuclear weapons are safe, mainly due to the efforts of international organizations and NGOs against nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, this video reminds me of the similar situations where false information is spread, for instance the one regarding the safety of nuclear power.
After the Fukushima nuclear incident following the earthquake and the tsunami hit in Japan, people in the world started questioning about the safety of nuclear power. On July 10, 2012, I attended the meeting hosted by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, where Chieko Shiima, a farmer in Fukushima who has evacuated from her town due to the radioactive contamination, shared her story and struggles after the incident. For example, she said that the government has not provided the whole information of how the radiation released from the Fukushima energy plant affects the environment and health, which makes people worry about their lives. Accordingly, with other citizens, she started the NGO aimed at proving reliable information that people need to know.
It might be hard to understand how dangerous nuclear power is because one cannot see radiation as well as its immediate effect on one’s health. Moreover, as the government attempted to promote the safety of nuclear weapons through the video, those who hold the truth would not provide such information to citizens. Therefore, the NGOs and other international organizations have the pivotal role of monitoring the government actions and providing people with reliable resources.
1 Stenovec, “George Yoshitake, Nuclear Test Photographer, Recalls Filming Nuclear Blast 55 Years Ago,” The Huffington Post, July 21, 2012.