Historical AEC film about ZPPR scanned

By Nick Touran, Ph.D., P.E., 2022-12-19 , Reading time: 3 minutes

This is the story about how this 1970 film about ZPPR ended up on YouTube:

On October 22, 2022, I was reading an old Atomic Energy Commission booklet called Understanding the atom: Breeder Reactors when I came across a listing of motion pictures. It listed three:

I had seen the latter two, but had never heard of the first, which was about the Zero Power Plutonium Reactor (ZPPR), now called the Zero Power Physics Reactor. I searched around but couldn’t find a copy of it anywhere. There was mention of it in the National Archives, but it was clearly labeled with: This item has not been digitized. I pinged the National Labs on Twitter but heard nothing.

Having briefly pounded out the Wikipedia page on ZPPR, I felt a slightly special dedication to preserving more historical information about this facility. So I decided to look into what the process was for digitizing old 16mm films from the National Archives.

I e-mailed the Archives and they pointed me to the Item Approval Request Form. You have to fill this out and send it in to get authorization first. I filled it in and sent it. They approved it about 10 days later.

After you get approval, you head over to the Archive’s list of approved film-scanning vendors and send the approval form in for quotes. I sent it in to the two that can handle films that are only available as masters due to an I on my IAR form (as instructed). They sent quotes back in a few days.

There was some variation depending on what resolution you request it in, how much compression the files will have, and how they deliver the files. For a 28 minute film, if you get 1080 FHD scans and have them compress to h264 avi and upload it, it would be roughly $500-$700, all in.

After thinking about it for a while I decided that if I’m going to get it scanned I might as well get it done in 4K, and if I get 4K I want the high-res file without too much compression. So I went for the ProRes format 4K, which then required the purchase of a USB hard drive and shipping, since uploading the 345 GB would be way more expensive with their upload fees. This bumped the total cost up to over $900.

I convinced my SO to let me do it because I just like nuclear history that much. I authorized the scan and then waited for a while. They got it done and sent the hard drive via FedEx. I loaded the 345 GB file onto my NAS and then used ffmpeg to make a h264 version of it that was only 23.4 GB. Thank goodness for my big AMD 5950 CPU. Then I uploaded that to YouTube. Thank goodness for fiber!

It premiered on YouTube on December 19th, 2022 at noon PT.

Along the way, my colleague Michael Castillo found a booklet listing dozens more AEC videos (and there’s related/newer one here). Given the pricing, we’re gonna have to crowd-fund the rest of them I guess :). We are now maintaining a list of scanned and wanted films in order of want over at our Old Videos page.

There appears to be an archive with 26 episodes of The Magic of the Atom at the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, none of which appears digitized yet. So it would be fun to check in with them about how to get things scanned as well.

If anyone needs the 345 GB ProRes-format version, let me know.

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