Photos from the World’s First Underwater Nuclear Explosion


In in 1946, the United States conducted a series of nuclear weapon tests at Bikini Atoll in what’s known as Operation Crossroads. A total of two bombs were detonated to test the effects nuclear blasts had on naval warships. The second, named Baker, was the world’s first nuke to be detonated underwater. Due to the unique properties of underwater explosions, the Baker test produced a number of unique photographs that the world had never seen before.

Wikipedia states that “photographs of Baker are unique among nuclear detonation pictures”:

The blinding flash that usually obscures the target area took place underwater and was barely seen. The clear image of ships in the foreground and background gives a sense of scale. The large Wilson cloud and the vertical water column are distinctive Baker shot features, making the pictures easily identifiable.

The photograph above is an eerily beautiful image shot from 3.5 miles away showing the massive vertical water column. Check out this high-resolution version of the photo for a closer look.

Here’s a crop to give you a better sense of scale. That black thing on the right side of the column is one of the massive ships being lifted into the air:


The blast lifted two million tons of water and sand into the air, creating a column 6,000 feet tall, 2,000 feet wide, and with walls 300 feet thick.






The event was also captured on film:

There were many issues with cleaning up after the test, the life expectancy of people involved was reduced by an average of three months, and the test was later referred to as, “the world’s first nuclear disaster.” You can read up on the whole operation in detail on its Wikipedia article.

  • Christian DeBaun

    Pretty neat. Some of the nuclear tests done in French Polynesia, were photographed in color – and are pretty terrifying:

  • Shijune Takeda

    That’s probably the most depressing post by petapixel I’ve ever seen.

  • Jeff Bridges


  • michaelp42

    Fascinating and terrifying both at the same time.

  • Mute

    Glorious insanity.

  • Bob

    You need to ask a Japanese person that?

    You absolute idiot.

  • Mute

    The admiral in charge of the tests assured the public that lab pigs and rats killed by radiation after the explosion did not suffer, saying that radiation poisoning is “a painless death.” …

  • Jim

    Because they recognize the destructive power unleashed on themselves by attacking the USA unprovoked.

  • Vlad Dusil

    Humanity will inevitably be the cause of its own demise. Hopefully I won’t be around to see it happen.

  • julio_dx

    A sad, sad day…

  • brandon

    so am i to wish we had not learned what we did from whatever testing was done on pigs and rats?. … pigs and rats. for all i know what you wrote isn’t even true, not that i’m down for lying. but that’s pretty weak , esp compared to today when the ruling class lies to us almost daily about real things that do have an effect on us.

  • Mute

    No idea man, you’re reading way too much into it. I just thought it was pretty funny that the public were being assured death by radiation was soothing and painless.

  • Jonathan Maniago

    For all of the saber-rattling behind nuclear tests, it’s a wonder that North Korea doesn’t release images like these.

  • Salsa Guy

    So was there a tsunami? There should have been one that would have struck the mainland somewhere.

  • Shijune Takeda


  • Shijune Takeda

    And you are from Texas

  • wickerprints

    You might be surprised to know that, as large as these explosions were, they are not anywhere near energetic enough to result in the amount of water displacement generated in a tsunami. That should give you a slight idea of just how massive a phenomenon a tsunami really is.

  • Androidian

    Or these as if their own.

  • Leonardo Abreu

    America… :/

  • Radha Vasam

    The facts were never published by the US govt. The Pearl Harbour attack was all staged. BTT, Japan was already retreating from many occupied bases in the world. Till the nuclear attack at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, US was plain observing and remained passive for a long time. If they had entered the ww2, the damage of Holocaust would have been minimised, Germany would not have been divided. France and Britain would not have been occupied and bombarded. Churchill repeatedly urged US to intervene and join the war. Only when US realised the USSR would be the first to come out with the Nuclear bomb, is when they entered the war and bombed Japan, hence the Cold war. To date the history remained buried, but if one can always google for facts and if Pentagon wishes, they can always come out with the truth and straighten the facts. What US did to Japan was plain wrong.

  • SpongeBob SquarePants

    You don’t need a license to drive a sandwich!

  • Angela Henderson

    And the frightening thing is we now have bombs so much MORE powerful than this one.

  • Robert Bradford

    The citizens of Japan didn’t attack the United States, the Japanese military did. 2,000 people died in the Pearl Harbour attacks… 70 of them were civilians. 200,000 innocent civilians were massacred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki…. What kind of mental gymnastics do you perform to allow yourself to justify a nuclear holocaust?

  • Lilly Munster

    The people that live or lived on these islands are still paying for this folly. Certain islands are still uninhabitable. Food can not be grown there so everything is imported and most of it is unhealthy. People lost their homes, their heath has suffered and they are still being used as lab rats for those wanting to understand the long term impact of radiation on humans, What the US did and still does to the Marshal Islands is little known but a pretty horrible lasting legacy. No it was not worth whatever was learned from blowing up some nukes in the Pacific. Oh and Pacific seafood can still be found with radiation contamination left over from the Pacific bomb testing.

  • Olga Peluso

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  • Cool Hand

    Mankind shouldn’t wield this kind of power nothing more than elements to destroy ourselves.

  • Frank Drews

    In fact Greenpeace was founded, first beging called the”don’t make it a wave commitee”. It was about underwater nuclear tests near the Canadian coast. They feared to cause some underwater landslides, those often result in Tsunamis.

  • Robert Whitaker

    The biggest mistake in the history of the human race was the discovery of nuclear fission. It’s like taking of by plane without having a runway for landing (both “peaceful” and military use). Or as the inventor of the nuke cites it:

    “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” – Julius Robert Oppenheimer

  • Matt

    Ya like we are the only ones who tested nuclear explosions.

  • delayedflight

    Unfortunately that is the nature of a ‘total war’ one that not even civilians are not immune to being attacked.
    From what I have read Truman wanted keep nuking Japan if they didn’t surrender. Though Truman used the reasoning that the use of the atomic bomb saved many american lives, I think there was an ulterior motive of being able to test out the bomb on a ‘live’ target.

    Saying that there is a haunting beauty in seeing these photographs. One should not just hide it under the carpet because it’s depressing as it is part of history however sad it may be.

  • usluvnvet

    Simple. The nuclear bombs shortened the War considerably, and saved thousands of lives by doing so. Also, please don’t lull yourself into thinking that the Japanese civilians were unaware of the horrors that their military and Emperor had subscribed to. They went right along with the program. Their hopes and prayers were for the total annihilation of their enemies. Coincidentally, the deaths of our military (as well as the civilians) at Pearl Harbor weren’t an act of War. War had not been declared at that time. It was murder, pure and simple. Maybe you should look at the overall number of deaths and casualties that were caused by the Japanese in that War, and not just to our military forces. The Chinese, Burmese, Filipinos, etc., were decimated, and most of them were civilians. These were truly “innocent civilians”. The worst thing we could do was to sit back and just wait and hope that the War would end soon. Their Emperor was given chance after chance to to cease the slaughter, and he refused. He pledged that Japan would fight until the last man. It was time to end it, and it worked!! The world gave a sigh of relief, and American soldiers were finally able to return home. I was 4 when my Dad returned. He had been listed as MIA, presumed dead, for the last seven months.

  • Margaret

    No wonder there is thyroid disease in New Zealand. The thyroid gland is the first part of the body to be effected by Nuclear Radiation, there is already children being diagnosed with thyroid disease in Japan,

  • Yuki Glasgow

    The US knew what they were doing and the servicemen who were assigned to work during the Bikini testings paid for that for the rest of their lives as well. My grandfather was not as close to the action to cause significant visible damage as can be seen in documentaries but he had lifelong health issues requiring hospitalization. After the testings, the servicemen were served food like they were prisoners, just slide it into their cell. They didn’t want to touch them. My grandmother is still pissed at the way they were treated.

  • Cris Alvarez

    It’s easy for you to condemn the bombings some 68 years after the world was being torn apart by WWII. You need to read the history of that part of the war very carefully before passing judgement. The Japanese military had been doing horrific things in China and to prisoners of war and now they were threatening to fight to the death. Easy for you to dismiss the suffering of Japan’s victims now so far from the time of the events. The US did target military targets and as horrible as the civilian casualties were, I have to agree that the US did the right thing to reduce the world’s suffering. Oh and another thing, if the war continued any longer, the Soviets would have probably taken a good part of Japan which would mean we could have had a Japan War that mirrored Korea and Vietnam. Wouldn’t that have made world politics fun…

  • Dianne Smith

    VERY Disturbing

  • charlieS

    ….in order to have PEACE, we must KILL?

  • charlieS

    you must have learned your history from the US history books….”attacking the USA unprovoked” ?…you probably believe Columbus discovered America too.

  • charlieS

    so what your saying is in order to have peace, we must kill more?…what other reasons were there? why not drop the bomb on the Soviets? Thousands of people dying, I don’t think world politics is fun at all…

  • John Kantor

    It took tests like this for scientists to understand nuclear weapons. Statements like “the life expectancy of the people involved was reduced by an average of three months” are meaningless. (And coal has killed many orders of magnitude more people than nuclear has or will.)

  • Jason Kim

    On a side note, the SpongeBob t.v. show is apparently based off of this bomb testing. Bikini Atoll = Bikini Bottom = Strangely deformed and idiotic sea creatures.

  • crosspatch

    ” the life expectancy of people involved was reduced by an average of three months” How exactly can one actually measure a life expectancy reduction of three months over a life span of maybe 60 to 70 years? Seems rather arbitrary to me.

  • Sad Minnow

    And that is a “small” nuclear weapon, an “A-Bomb” not an “H-Bomb” folks. Know what the trigger is for a thermonuclear (H-Bomb) type weapon? The type of device used in this test! Think on that.

  • Junior Samples

    Nagasaki and Hiroshima were military/naval and industrial cities, which is why they were picked for the nuclear weapons. Nice revisionist history there, peacecreep. Moral of the story? Don’t attack the United States. The Russians and Chinese got that message loud and clear, which is why there have been no more nuclear weapons used in anger since 1945.

  • Kerri Lancaster

    Uh, yeah. Unfortunately there are bullies out there who react to nothing but violent retribution, even if it is on a massive scale in war. And no, world politics is not fun, agree with you there.

  • kmorgana

    this is just so evil

  • neversink

    The US needed to end the war for many reasons. It is no secret. The Japanese had three on-going programs to develop a nuclear weapon. Do you think they wouldn’t have used their nuclear weapons many times over if they had succeeded in developing them first? The Japanese were cruel warriors who would not have hesitated to use a nuclear bomb against anyone. The US had no choice — and we should be thankful that they developed this hideous weapon first.

  • Steve Potter

    The North Korean tests, like those of India and Pakistan and all other tests after the early 1960s have been conducted underground so that radiation is contained. But it doesn’t make much of a visual image.

  • no nuke

    Yes, Japanese military was bad, but remember that US was the first nation that used nuclear bomb against man kind, yes innocent people, ever, no matter what reasons or logic one may give. Hope it was the last one too. Who is a bad guy? one who detonates a nuclear bomb to kill innocent people or one who hasn’t built one yet?

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  • Robert Bradford

    Cris, you sound terribly conflicted. How can you simultaneously murder 200,000 people and “reduce the world’s suffering?”