Powerful Pictures Show What Nuclear ‘Fire and Fury’ Really Looks Like

72 years after atomic bombs were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, see the photos taken in the aftermath.

Today’s anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki arrives in a moment of increasingly heated nuclear rhetoric between the U.S. and North Korea.

These historic pictures show the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a black-and-white reminder of what “fire and fury” actually looks like—although the capabilities of modern nuclear weapons far outstrip those of their mid-century counterparts.

HIROSHIMA, late 1945—The twisted wreckage of a theatre lurches above rubble some 900 yards from the epicenter of the explosion. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed about 70,000 people immediately; another 70,000 were injured, and thousands more have since died as a result of radiation exposure.
HIROSHIMA, late 1945—The twisted wreckage of a theatre lurches above rubble some 900 yards from the epicenter of the explosion. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed about 70,000 people immediately; another 70,000 were injured, and thousands more have since died as a result of radiation exposure.
Photograph by Bernard Hoffman, The LIFE Picture Collection, Getty Images

As the anniversary of these attacks is marked with prayer, reflection, and ceremony, get a refresher on nuclear weapons, then and now.

1945

At 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb—codenamed Little Boy—detonated 1,900 feet above Hiroshima, Japan. Though accurate estimates are impossible, it's believed the immediate blast killed about 70,000 people and injured another 70,000. The vast majority of casualties were civilians. After effects, such as complications from radiation exposure, have since taken the lives of unknown thousands more. This event marked the first time a nuclear weapon was used against people in earnest.

At 11:02 a.m. on August 9, a second bomb, called Fat Man, hit Nagasaki, causing another 80,000 casualties. The city’s topography—shielded by a valley and veined with fire-stopping water channels—lessened the bomb’s effects, even though Fat Man’s payload was actually larger than Little Boy’s. Perhaps 160 people survived both blasts, though only one was officially recognized by the Japanese government. (Read the messages Hiroshima survivors gave Obama.)

Japan surrendered days later, officially ending World War II. The U.S.’s top-secret Manhattan Project, spurred into creation after Albert Einstein warned President Franklin Roosevelt of the catastrophic consequences should Nazi scientists develop an atomic bomb first, had been working for four years to create such a weapon.

2017

Today, Hiroshima is inhabited by about 1 million people. A peace memorial park and museum now occupies the site of the bomb’s epicenter; it includes Genbaku Dome, named a World Heritage Site as the only structure in that area to withstand the blast that leveled nearly 70 percent of the city’s buildings and infrastructure. (Millions of people visit Hiroshima every year: learn how the attack is memorialized.)

Nine countries currently hold around 15,000 nuclear weapons, a third of which are in active deployment and can be launched within minutes. Russia’s nuclear arsenal is the largest, although the U.S. spends more on its own arsenal than all other countries combined.

Calls for nuclear regulation, non-proliferation, and disarmament have gone out since the days immediately following the 1945 bombings. Hibakusha, or survivors of atomic bombs, have been a central voice in this effort.

On July 7, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted at a United Nations conference. The ratification process will begin in September; the treaty becomes legally binding when ratified by at least 50 countries. The U.S. and several other countries, including all current nuclear powers and some of their allies, declined to participate in the negotiations.

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