Russia Releases Secret Footage of 1961 ‘Tsar Bomba’ Hydrogen Blast

August 28, 2020 Updated: August 28, 2020

MOSCOW—Russia has released previously classified footage of the world’s largest nuclear explosion, caused when the Soviet Union detonated the so-called Tsar Bomba almost 60 years ago.

The hydrogen bomb, which carried the force of 50 million tons of conventional explosives, was detonated in a test in Oct. 1961, just over 13,000 feet over the remote Novaya Zemlya archipelago above the Arctic Circle.

The footage shows an immense fireball and an almost 200,000-foot high mushroom cloud rising after the explosion lit up the sky. The views were captured from several angles by cameras installed on the ground and onboard two Soviet aircraft.

A plane drops the so-called Tsar Bomba in a test over the remote Novaya Zemlya archipelago
A plane drops the so-called Tsar Bomba in a test over the remote Novaya Zemlya archipelago in USSR. (Courtesy Ministry of medium machine building of USSR/Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom/Handout via Reuters)

“The testing of an exceptionally powerful hydrogen load … confirmed that the Soviet Union is in possession of a thermonuclear weapon with the power of 50 megatons, 100 megatons, and more,” a narrator tells the audience.

The documentary was published online for the first time by Russian state nuclear agency Rosatom last week as part of events to mark the 75th anniversary of Russia’s atomic industry.

Developed between 1956 and 1961 as the Soviet Union engaged in a nuclear arms race with the United States, the Tsar Bomba—the King of Bombs—was the largest hydrogen bomb ever and was claimed to be 3,300 times as destructive as the weapon that leveled Hiroshima.

A mushroom cloud rises after the so-called Tsar Bomba was detonated
A mushroom cloud rises after the so-called Tsar Bomba was detonated in a test over the remote Novaya Zemlya archipelago in USSR. (Courtesy Ministry of medium machine building of USSR/Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom/Handout via Reuters)

The 30-minute film, which opens with a ‘Top secret’ title, features all the test stages—from the transportation of a 26-ton weapon in an aviation bomb casing by railway to post-explosion measurements of the radioactive fallout.

The Tsar Bomba far surpassed the largest explosion the United States has ever conducted—a 15-megaton “Castle Bravo” hydrogen bomb detonated on Bikini Atoll in 1954.