Crater from the “Sedan” underground nuclear test as part of Operation Plowshare in Nevada. The 104 kiloton blast displaced 12 million tons of earth and created a crater 320 feet deep and 1,280 feet wide; ca. 1962
There’s an urban legend that says that this blast is responsible for John Wayne’s death (and most of the film crew) due to cancer:
Of the 220 persons who worked on The Conqueror on location in Utah in 1955, 91 had contracted cancer as of the early 1980s and 46 died of it, including stars John Wayne, Susan Hayward, and Agnes Moorehead, and director Dick Powell. Experts say under ordinary circumstances only 30 people out of a group of that size should have gotten cancer. The cause? No one can say for sure, but many attribute the cancers to radioactive fallout from U.S. atom bomb tests in nearby Nevada.
The Conqueror, a putative love story involving Genghis Khan’s lust for the beautiful princess Bortai (Hayward), was a classic Hollywood big budget fiasco, one of many financed by would-be movie mogul Howard Hughes. Originally director Powell wanted to get Marlon Brando for the lead, but John Wayne, then at the height of his popularity, happened to see the script one day and decided he and Genghis were meant for each other. Unfortunately, the script was written in a cornball style that was made even more ludicrous by the Duke’s wooden line readings. In the following sample, Wayne/Genghis has just been urged by his sidekick Jamuga not to attack the caravan carrying Princess Bortai: “There are moments fer wisdom, Juh-mooga, then I listen to you–and there are moments fer action — then I listen to my blood. I feel this Tartar wuh-man is fer me, and my blood says, ‘TAKE HER!'” In the words of one writer, it was the world’s “most improbable piece of casting unless Mickey Rooney were to play Jesus in The King of Kings.”
The movie was shot in the canyonlands around the Utah town of St. George. Filming was chaotic. The actors suffered in 120 degree heat, a black panther attempted to take a bite out of Susan Hayward, and a flash flood at one point just missed wiping out everybody. But the worst didn’t become apparent until long afterward. In 1953, the military had tested 11 atomic bombs at Yucca Flats, Nevada, which resulted in immense clouds of fallout floating downwind. Much of the deadly dust funneled into Snow Canyon, Utah, where a lot of The Conqueror was shot. The actors and crew were exposed to the stuff for 13 weeks, no doubt inhaling a fair amount of it in the process, and Hughes later shipped 60 tons of hot dirt back to Hollywood to use on a set for retakes, thus making things even worse.
Many people involved in the production knew about the radiation (there’s a picture of Wayne himself operating a Geiger counter during the filming), but no one took the threat seriously at the time. Thirty years later, however, half the residents of St. George had contracted cancer, and veterans of the production began to realize they were in trouble. Actor Pedro Armendariz developed cancer of the kidney only four years after the movie was completed, and later shot himself when he learned his condition was terminal.
Howard Hughes was said to have felt “guilty as hell” about the whole affair, although as far as I can tell it never occurred to anyone to sue him. For various reasons he withdrew The Conqueror from circulation, and for years thereafter the only person who saw it was Hughes himself, who screened it night after night during his paranoid last years.
The 1965 Chagan nuclear explosion was part of Russia’s Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy program. The idea was to use nuclear explosions for peaceful civil engineering projects. The 140 kiloton explosion created a 100 metes (328 ft) deep lake and dammed a nearby river.
Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves inspect the melted remnants of the 100-foot steel tower that held the Trinity bomb. Ensuring that the testing of a bomb with unknown strength would remain completely secret, the government chose a location that was so remote they had to import their water from over 150 miles away.
An underwater nuclear test being conducted during Operation Dominic, Pacific Coast off California; ca. May 11th 1962
This isn’t even the impressive part. The impressive part comes right afterwards…
Watch this video of the explosion:
Here is a video of the shot. It was the fifth largest nuclear shot by the US ever, at 9.3 megatons. It really does look like a sunrise/set (only at 1000x speed).
(I recently read Command and Control, would recommend it, covers a lot of the insanity regarding nuclear weapons. Apparently, up until the 80’s they were surprisingly easy to to set off, none of the PAL stuff you see in movies these days. Right after World War Twi they were still trying to figure out how to work nuclear war into scenario planning, it leads to a lot of crazy phrases like “limited nuclear war” or “progressive escalation” in terms of how to use the weapons not just against the soviets but also against weaker world powers. I think the USA did get a bit of a God complex for a bit, but once the cold war started it balanced it out to a more muted insanity and paranoia as they realized that just about any major power could drop a nuke and it might just set off the rest of the world, intentional or not…)
Crossroads Baker nuclear explosion of July 25, 1946, test fired at 27m underwater. Photo taken from a tower on Bikini Island, 3.5 mi (5.6 km) away.
This is a picture from the 1946 detonation of a 23 kiloton nuclear bomb (same device design that was used to bomb Nagasaki) during operation Crossroads in Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. This tests was designated Baker denoting that it was the second in the series of 3 planned tests (but only two were carried out. The first being Able). It was the 3rd nuclear test ever conducted, and the 5th nuclear explosion in history.
The bomb was detonated 90 feet underwater amidst a fleet of decommissioned US and seized Japanese vessels. It was meant to simulate and document the effects of nuclear weapons in naval warfare.