ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The creation of the atomic bomb in a New Mexico secret city and newly restored and declassified footage will be featured in a new PBS special released as the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki approaches.
"The Bomb," which begins airing this week on most PBS stations, seeks to tell the story of a weapon that transformed history and continues to affect relationships among dueling world powers.
Filmmaker Rushmore DeNooyer said the project took a year and half to complete, since producers had to comb through footage and images only recently declassified by the U.S. Department of Defense.
That footage showed the "ironic beauty" of mushroom clouds detonating over the New Mexico desert and the Pacific while posing a serious threat, DeNooyer said.
"We're trying to take 70 years of history and tell it in two hours," DeNooyer said. "We probably spent the first six months just researching and reading."
The first atomic bomb test — the Trinity Test — took place in the southern New Mexico desert as part of the Manhattan Project, the secretive World War II program that provided enriched uranium for the atomic bomb.
The project involved three research and production facilities: Los Alamos, New Mexico; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Hanford, Washington.
"Everything was hush-hush ... go where you are told," said retired U.S. Army engineer and Trinity witness Roger Rasmussen. "They knew exactly who I was and why I was there. And that was better than I knew."
For years, only grainy black and white video footages of scientists working at the Trinity site and the blast were available to the general public. But DeNooyer and producers got access to a color-home video shot by a Los Alamos scientist, depicting life in the secret town. They also added color to old images and footage, providing a new way to look at the Trinity Test.
The film also shows the horrific effect on Japanese citizens and discusses John Henry's 1946 New Yorker essay on the victims of Hiroshima that shaped public opinion on the threat of nuclear weapons.
Besides the Trinity Test and bombings of Japan on Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, 1945, the film examines post-World War II nuclear tests and Cold War tensions, including the Cuban Missile Crisis.
DeNooyer said he believed the film was important given today's debate over the Iran nuclear agreement and fears that terrorists groups might try to obtain a nuclear bomb.
"We should care about it because the bomb is still there," DeNooyer said. "The danger is that we don't really think about it as much anymore. But we still have enough (bombs) to destroy human civilization."
Follow Russell Contreras at http://twitter.com/russcontreras