9.3 megatons Hardtack-Poplar nuclear fireball (1958). This was the fifth largest nuclear explosion in U.S. history. The aircraft was used to collect atmospheric particle samples during the nuclear bomb explosion.
Nuclear explosions emit large amounts of thermal radiation as visible, infrared, and ultraviolet light, to which the atmosphere is largely transparent. This is known as “Flash”.
About 5% of the energy released in a nuclear air burst is in the form of ionizing radiation: neutrons, gamma rays, alpha particles and electrons moving at speeds up to the speed of light. Gamma rays are high energy electromagnetic radiation; the others are particles that move slower than light. The neutrons result almost exclusively from the fission and fusion reactions, while the initial gamma radiation includes that arising from these reactions as well as that resulting from the decay of short-lived fission products.
The intensity of initial nuclear radiation decreases rapidly with distance from the point of burst because the radiation spreads over a larger area as it travels away from the explosion (the inverse squared law). It is also reduced by atmospheric absorption and scattering.