How can we have videos and tests of nuclear weapons without the effects of a nuclear bomb going off?


I have seen videos of nuclear testing. The majority of these show testing into the ocean. Are these full nukes? How does the radiation effect the water and the air? Do we still do these kinds of tests?

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Those were full tests yes, and no we don’t do them anymore. The only country that possibly did nuclear tests in the last 10 years was north korea (and they did them underground)

The effect on the sea can be severe. The bikini atoll is full of radioactive leftovers, and they have a weirdly behaving shark population.

The overall ocean is too big to be affected in a serious way, but locally they were an enviromental nightmare that still lasts until today ~65 years later. Especially radioactively contaminated coral dust is the main issue.

>How does the radiation effect the water and the air?

Not a lot. Radioactive material is usually in the form of solid dust particles. Water and air only transport these.

The real video footage was all captured from real nuclear testing. However, we stopped doing a lot of this testing decades ago – first, tests in outer space and above ground were banned. Then, tests underground were banned. The last real tests by nuclear powers (such as Russia and the US) were conducted in the early 1990s. Real tests were of real “full” nuclear weapons, though reportedly at least one missile was scaled down because it was considered *too* powerful to test and there were fears about what it might do if detonated at full potential.

As far as “radiation” goes, you have to first understand that there is a difference between “radiation” (energy) and “contamination”. Radiation itself does not really affect water or air, it is just some form of energy or particle-carrying energy that travels through the air (not so much through water). The contamination of ground and soil is the dangerous part, this is when you have radioactive matter that gets mixed in to soil, for instance. This can remain radioactive and dangerous for many, many years. It can also be picked up into the air and carried by the wind and settle elsewhere, causing radioactivity to go up in places you don’t want it to, like regular towns… which did happen (look up “downwinders” of nuclear test sites).

These days, explosions are all simulated using very advanced computers. Except for in North Korea where they are trying to develop nuclear weapons and they are ignoring international law and actually testing real devices.

To see a lot of the tests of actual nuclear weapons, watch the movie Trinity And Beyond. It has a lot of footage taken before, during and after nuclear explosions.

As you’ll hopefully soon learn, radiation is one of those things that is very poorly understood and whose danger is simultaneously grossly overstated and underestimated.

To answer the question in your title: The videos and observers of nuclear tests were located quite a distance away from the actual explosion – literally miles. They were also heavily shielded to protect observers and their equipment from the radiation and explosive force of the bomb.

> Are these full nukes?

Yes. They range in power from the original Trinity test (only a little bit more powerful than a Daisy Cutter fuel-air explosive) to the *Tsar Bomba*, the most powerful bomb ever detonated with a force equal to 55 megatons of TNT. Sometimes the tests deliberately didn’t attempt to detonate the nukes, sometimes the tests fizzled, and sometimes the nukes had their yields dialed down for a given test. But regardless – yes, they were real tests with real nuclear warheads that were actually detonated.

> How does the radiation effect the water and the air?

Exactly like you would expect. The local environment is completely vaporized. It’s blasted with ionizing radiation, and local debris is contaminated with nuclear fallout. Sometimes local populations were evacuated ahead of the tests, and sometimes they were pelted with fallout from the tests. Sometimes the local populations were allowed to simply experience the joys of being downwind from a nuclear test – the city of St. George, UT is thought to have been badly impacted by nuclear tests done in Nevada, and John Wayne (a very influential actor from the mid-20th century) is possibly among those whose cancer was caused by nuclear fallout.

> Do we still do these kinds of tests?

Mostly not. The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty limits what kind of tests its signatories can conduct. Where tests are done these days, it’s usually underground in abandoned (or purpose-dug) mine shafts and similar locations. Most ‘testing’ is done by simulation these days, but that’s not to say that no testing happens – we still will detonate the occasional warhead to ensure that our simulations are still accurate.

A part of your question might be answered by the size of nukes. They are massive bombs that destroy huge areas. But when you consider that in context of even a single ocean, they are minescule.

Consider the biggest nuclear weapon ever tested, the Tsar Bomba. The blast radius was 65 *miles*. This bomb was so big that the blast radius actually went off the curve of the Earth (the explosion was straight out, but the Earth continued to curve).

That is certainly enough to kill a city. Chicago for instance is about 50 miles wide.

But they don’t test in cities. The pacific ocean is 12,500 miles wide. It is 63 *million* square miles. Even the largest bomb ever made would be literally a splash in the ocean.

Now, consider that the Tsar Bomba is too big to actually use outside of a test. Most nukes are *significantly* smaller.

To answer a follow up question, this is exactly why nuclear powers like the US and Russia have so many weapons. If you want to get into a nuclear war, you need a lot of bombs to cover enough ground. Especially when you expect a large portion to get intercepted.