Conspiracy Debunked: Yes, Cameras Can Survive Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy Theory

Driven by the new blockbuster movie, Oppenheimer and an interview by Joe Rogan, the conspiracy theory that nuclear weapons are fake has been making the rounds again, relying primarily on the idea that cameras could not survive the purported atomic blasts.

Although it may not persuade all those who hold this nonsensical notion, the AP has taken the conspiracy theory to task, proving that the conspiracy theory is bunk.

Government projects, such as the nuclear weapons testing programs, are a popular subject for conspiracy theorists because people can quickly come up with various reasons why the government may benefit from lying to the world.

In any event, it is worthwhile to consider the conspiracy theory claim and closely examine how it is debunked.

Cameras Can Survive Nuclear Blasts

The conspiracy’s root is that “no camera could have survived the blasts seen in archival test footage.” How did cameras capture the nuclear weapons tests?

For starters, many cameras were set up very far away. While nuclear weapons are potent, their reach is not infinite. Further, cameras were housed in specially designed enclosures purpose-built to protect them from the force of the blast and the ensuing radiation.

Despite the precautions, it is true that some cameras and film did not survive nuclear tests. This information actually lends credence to the idea that nuclear weapons are real, but that will not stop conspiracy theorists.

The History of Nuclear Tests in the United States

“The world’s first nuclear test was conducted by the United States in 1945, known as the Trinity test. Bunkers sheltering recording equipment were built at 10,000 yards (9,144 meters) from ground zero, according to the Atomic Heritage Foundation,” writes Reuters. The bunkers can be seen on the Atomic Heritage Foundation website and the Trinity test site is detailed on the White Sands Missile Range Museum website.

Alan Carr, a senior historian at Los Alamos National Laboratory, tells Reuters over email that a critical part of keeping cameras safe during nuclear testing was placing them far from the blast. Additional protection, including structures and lead shields, also helps, especially when unmanned cameras were placed closer to explosions.

“Cameras were placed inside lead-lined boxes on sleds, where they captured images of the blast on mirrors that were directly exposed to the light and blast,” Carr explains.

Mounts and lead shielding were also used during Operation Teapot tests in 1955. This is a famous nuclear testing program that resulted in videos of explosions affecting facsimile houses and mannequins. Some people think that the ease with which the houses blew apart means that they are scale models, although these same people probably do not understand how much softer lumber is than something like a bunker or lead shield.

“The camera setups were designed to stay in place and handle the blast pressure,” Peter Kuran, owner of AtomCentral and a film producer of multiple atomic bomb testing documentaries, tells Reuters. The 16-millimeter cameras were placed on tall poles to get above dust.

The Defense Technical Information Center website explains that about 50 cameras were placed from 2,750 to 10,500 feet from ground zero.

Appearing Cars

If conspiracy theorists have any case at all — which they do not — decent fodder is a later Operation Teapot test video. In test footage, a car seemingly appears behind a house.

However, there is a reasonable explanation for the sudden car. Footage of the explosion was spliced with test footage showing the surrounding area the day before the bomb exploded.

How Did the Film Itself Survive?

Another aspect of the conspiracy theory is focused on how the film survived radiation. After all, when a photographer travels by plane, the X-Ray machines used by security are a concern for film canisters. So how could film survive significantly more radiation resulting from an atomic blast?

For starters, cameras were equipped with advanced optics, including long lenses, projection lenses, and mirrors, that allowed footage to be captured from great distances and without cameras facing the blast at all in some cases.

Many creative techniques employed to safely and effectively capture nuclear weapons tests were later adopted by Hollywood, as The New York Times explains in a 2010 article on the people who chronicled nuclear weapons tests in the United States.

While many cameras were unmanned, not all of them were. Many “atomic cameramen” died from cancer, one of the surviving cameramen, George Yoshitake, said in 2010 at age 82. “No doubt it was related to the testing,” he added.

The camera operators are an underappreciated part of the massive nuclear weapons program. Their efforts are chronicled in the 2006 book “How to Photograph an Atomic Bomb,” written by Peter Kuran.

“They’re kind of unrecognized patriots. The images that they captured will, for a long time, be a snapshot of what our last century was like,” Kuran said in 2010.

Having seen the devastating effects of nuclear weapons firsthand, Yoshitake asked, “Do we need all these bombs? It’s scary.”


If the conspiracy theory stopped with the claim that cameras cannot survive a nuclear blast, it would be partially correct. Some cameras were destroyed. However, that is not much of a conspiracy theory.

The idea that nuclear tests are fake and that nuclear weapons do not exist is complete nonsense. Cameras can easily survive nuclear tests with sufficient distance and protection. Many did, hence the incredible and genuine archival footage.

Some conspiracy theories are harmless, albeit often ungrounded. However, the idea that nuclear weapons are fake is harmful.

Much like people claiming that the holocaust did not happen, suggesting that nuclear weapons do not exist represents a horrific disservice to the victims of the atomic weapons that the United States deployed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Upwards of a quarter of a million people died in the blasts, most of whom were civilians. The ensuing damage and radiation caused irreparable damage to many more.

While the huge loss of life in Japan is the most notable damage caused by nuclear weapons, there was also significant radioactive fallout resulting from the nuclear weapons tests themselves that affected civilians in the United States.

Claims like this one from Prime Time Patriots on Facebook and Jorge Heathen, who posted a partially out-of-context clip from Joe Rogan’s interview with investor Marc Andreessen on Instagram, go far beyond goofy nonsense and enter dangerous territory of spreading misinformation, undercutting genuine scientific projects, and worst yet, dishonoring the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

Image credits: Header image is from Castle Bravo, the most powerful nuclear device the United States ever detonated. The image is part of the public domain.