March 14, 2011
“When men are engaged in war and conquest, the tools of science become as dangerous as a razor in the hands of a child. The fate of mankind depends entirely on our sense of morality”. Albert Einstein
The Marshall Islands are scattered over 350,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean, northeast of Australia. They consist of 29 atolls, including Bikini and Enewetak Atolls.
These islands were a strategic stronghold for the Japanese during World War II. They were captured by the United States in 1944, and before becoming a Trust Territory of the United States on July 18, 1947, President Truman approved a series of atomic tests to be conducted in 1946 at Bikini Atoll. The purpose was “to test the ability of the naval fleet to withstand a nuclear attack.” Before the tests could proceed, 167 natives of the island of Bikini needed to be relocated.
In February, 1946, Commodore Ben H. Wyatt, the military governor of the Marshall Islands, convinced the islanders that the relocation would be temporary, and told them:“The US government now wants to turn this great destructive force into something good for mankind, and that this experiment here at Bikini is the first step in that direction.”*
The natives agreed to leave their island, and on March 8, 1946 were relocated to the Rongerik Atoll, 128 miles east of Bikini. Over the next four months, 80 to 100 battleships, captured from Germany and Japan, plus US surplus ships were positioned throughout the Bikini lagoon.
On July 1, 1946, Operation Crossroads, Shot Able was detonated 520 feet over the lagoon of Bikini Atoll. Shot Baker followed on July 25, 1946. A third test, Shot Charlie, was cancelled because the Navy could not decontaminate the test fleet used during the first two tests.
In 1950, President Truman approved the development of the hydrogen bomb or “Superbomb.” These bombs tests were conducted out at the Pacific Proving Grounds. The first megaton test happened on November 1, 1952 with Ivy Mike at Enewetak.
Operation Castle, the next set of thermonuclear tests, was conducted in 1954 at Bikini Atoll.
The radioactive fallout from the Bravo test on March 1, 1954 covered over 4200 square miles, including Utirik, Alinginae, Rongelap, and Rongerik Atolls. **
The aftermath of the Bravo test exposed 239 Marshallese on Utirik, Rongelap, and Ailinginae Atolls and 28 Americans stationed on Rongerik atoll to excessive amounts of radioactive fallout. While the Americans were evacuated off the atoll within 24 hours, it took the US several days before evacuating the Islanders.
The Atomic Energy Commission took this opportunity to study the effects of radiation exposure on the Islanders, and the project would be referred to as “Project 4.1.” The final report on Project 4.1 was titled “Study of Response of Human Beings Accidentally Exposed to Significant Fallout Radiation.” October 1954. ***
Also exposed from this test was a Japanese fishing boat, the Lucky Dragon. It originally was outside the restricted area for the Bravo test, but because the AEC miscalculated the size of the test, all 23 fishermen and their catch were contaminated by the fallout. Of course, the AEC denied the exposure, and stated that the boat was in restricted area. In the end, the United States paid the Japanese two million dollars in compensation.
From 1946 to 1958, Bikini Atoll and its neighbor to the west, Enewetak Atoll, were subjected to 66 nuclear tests (67 if you count Hardtack-Yucca, which was conducted 85 miles northeast of Enewetak on 4/28/58).****
Totals for Bikini and Enewetak:
Bikini- 23 Tests, 76.8 Megatons of yield
Enewetak- 43 Tests, 31.7 Megatons of yield
Over the course of the testing, 5 islands at Bikini Atoll and 4 islands at Enewetak Atoll were vaporized. Attempting to show that everything was okay on Bikini, in 1970 the United States said that it was safe for the Islanders to return to their home. However, in 1978, a team of French scientists found that the Islanders who did return to Bikini had high levels of Strontium-90 in their bodies, and once again the Islanders had to leave. To this date, the Bikini Islanders have not been able to return their native home because Caesium-137 still exists in the plants on the island.
* Radio Bikini, by Robert Stone, 1987. This documentary film is about Bikini Atoll, and was nominated for an Academy Award.
** Map of Bravo Fallout: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bravo_fallout2.png
*** Study of Response… http://www.hss.energy.gov/HealthSafety/IHS/marshall/collection/data/ihp1c/0766_a.pdf
**** List of all tests conducted at Bikini and Enewetak Atolls between July 1, 1946-August 18, 1958:
Location of the Marshall Islands:
Map of Marshall Islands:
Bikini Atoll Website:
A recent program on Bikini Atoll (2009):
Bikini – Radioactive Paradise (Discovery Sciences)