How Bikini Atoll became a nuclear test site
The first atomic bomb explosion occurred at the Alamogordo Test Site in New Mexico, USA on July 16, 1945, and the second and third explosions occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in August of the same year.
In November 1945, the branch of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff set out to formulate a plan to test existing and new nuclear weapons, with the main purpose of studying the impact of nuclear explosions on warships. In January 1946, President Truman officially approved the implementation.
The test site should meet several conditions: first, it must be under the jurisdiction of the United States; second, uninhabited or few people live, so as to avoid the process of relocating local residents is too cumbersome; third, the nearest B-29 aircraft base Within a radius of 1,000 miles; fourth, there must be no strong storms and cold waves; fifth, it must be a closed harbor with a diameter of no less than 6 miles, which is convenient for docking target ships and auxiliary ships; sixth, far away from cities and densely populated areas; Seventh, the wind direction is fixed at a height of 60,000 feet (18.3 kilometers) above sea level; eighth, the main ocean currents in this area cannot pass through inhabited coastal areas, shipping routes and fishing areas.
Bikini Atoll became the site of nuclear testing and was selected by Vice Admiral William Brandy. The unified code name for this operation was “Crossroads.”
In February 1946, Marshall Islands Warlord and Commodore Ben Wyatt came to Bikini. He told the local residents that the United States would conduct nuclear weapons tests here for the benefit of mankind and a complete end to the war. Therefore, he asked Bikini residents to temporarily move to other islands. Bikini Atoll leader Zhu Da agreed with the other elders after a meeting and discussion. On March 7, Judah and his 166 subjects moved to the uninhabited Langridge Atoll about 200 kilometers east of Bikini. The total area of the 22 small islands in Langerik is only 1.68 square kilometers (6 square kilometers of bikinis). The palm and fruit trees here are not as productive as bikinis, and the fresh water is seriously insufficient. If you eat unknown fish, it is also easy to cause food poisoning.
After the aboriginal residents left, more than 42,000 Americans boarded bikinis, most of them soldiers and experts; 242 warships and 156 aircraft participated in the “Crossroads” operation; 18 tons of video equipment, 25,000 sets of radiation monitoring equipment and Thousands of animals used for experiments were carried in bikinis.
The fourth atomic bomb “Gilda”
On July 1, 1946, American soldiers stationed in Bikini began to evacuate. Hundreds of small boats and infantry landing craft transported them off the beach and onto large “living boats”-these boats sailed out of the lagoon to a pre-designated sea area at least 10 nautical miles (18.5 kilometers) from Bikini.
In addition to the “living ships”, there are also “dead ships”, that is, scrapped surface ships and submarines, which are to serve as target ships in the atomic bomb test. When the last sailor leaves the “dead ship”, a signal flag-a red and yellow diagonal square flag-is to be hung on the main mast to indicate that the ship is empty. Soon after dawn, all 92 “dead ships” were hung with such flags. At 6:30, the “last group of people” withdrew from the bikinis-they were technicians who installed camera and video equipment, recording equipment and measuring instruments on the “dead ship”.
Three quarters of a century ago, the Marshall Islands was a nuclear test site for the United States.
Many experimental animals were installed on 22 target ships to examine the impact of nuclear explosions on biological organisms.
To commemorate the movie of the same name starring Rita Hayworth, the atomic bomb dropped on July 1, 1946 was named “Gilda”.
At 9 o’clock in the morning, bomber Harold on the Boeing B-29 super sky fortress Dave’s Dream dropped an atomic bomb into the Bikini Lagoon where the target ship was docked. A cut from Esquire magazine was posted on the side of the atomic bomb. Picture of movie star Rita Hayworth. This atomic bomb is a replica of the Nagasaki atomic bomb. It has an unofficial name “Gilda” to commemorate the movie of the same name starring Hayworth in 1946.
As soon as the bomb left the plane, Major Woodrow Swancart let the Dave’s Dream leave the explosion site quickly. “The blast wave slapped the tail of the plane like a huge palm, but we controlled it effortlessly,” a pilot wrote in his diary.
More than 100 observers were invited to watch the explosion, including members of Congress, scientists, journalists, and representatives of the UN Atomic Energy Commission. According to the Soviet representative and atomic physicist Mikhail Meshelyakov, the U.S. Navy kept strictly confidential during the preparations for this operation, but before the start of the test, it invited the members of the United Nations Security Council. Science observers participated. As a Soviet observer, he can be said to have been floating in the Pacific for about two months. The U.S. military does everything possible to prevent the Soviet Union and all foreigners from having information about this new type of nuclear weapon. A French representative complained afterwards: “This is the only boring trip I have ever experienced.”
The commander of Operation “Crossroads” and Vice Admiral Brandi said afterwards that “the bombs were dropped very accurately.” In fact, it has an error of 649 meters from the intended target, which is why the loss of the target ship was less than expected (only 5 target ships sank). Many observers expressed regret for the scenes they saw, and they hoped to cause more damage. The throw caused neither a tsunami nor an earthquake, and almost all the ships were still floating on the water.
The 22 ships were full of animals-guinea pigs, mole rats, black rats, goats, pigs, of which 10% died from the shock wave caused by the explosion, 15% died from radiation, and 10% died in experiments to study the effects of the explosion.
The crew of a heavy bomber who dropped the first atomic bomb in Bikini Lagoon
The fifth atomic bomb “Helen”
”The immense power of the world’s fifth atomic bomb and the heat wave caused it to foam today’s Bikini Lagoon, turning it into a boiling water pot full of flames, dust and heat. The heat wave threw a boat like a toy, However, it was impossible to sink most of the large ships arranged in battle formations near the’circle of death’.” News reporter Don Whitehead wrote when talking about the second bikini nuclear bomb test on July 25, 1946.
The fifth atomic bomb completed the first underwater nuclear explosion in human history, and its power is the same as the fourth atomic bomb, which is comparable to the Nagasaki atomic bomb. Someone wrote “Helen in Bikini” on this atomic bomb.
”Helen” was launched by the landing ship LSM-60 from a depth of 55 meters. At 8:35 local time, “Helen” exploded at half the depth. Except for the wreckage that fell on other ships after the explosion, the rest of the LSM-60 disappeared after the explosion. Ten ships sank-all target ships within a radius of more than 900 meters from the explosion range were damaged.
In addition, 1.4 kilograms of radioactive fission products mixed with 2 million tons of sea water and sand were bombed into the sky before falling back to Bikini Lagoon. All target ships and the entire Bikini Atoll have suffered the most serious radiation pollution. The report of the Evaluation Committee of the Joint Chiefs of Staff pointed out that “contaminated ships have become radioactive furnaces that can burn all life on board. These radiations are potentially invisible but deadly.”
Where no coconuts grow
Even before the nuclear explosion test began, the residents of Bikini who were transferred to Langerick demanded to return to their homes-the Americans quickly ate out the food and were seriously in short supply. In May 1947, a fire destroyed many palm trees. In July, an American doctor who visited Langerick found that the residents here were starving to death. However, at the end of 1947, the Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands was selected as the second nuclear test site, so the residents of Eniwetok moved to Ujelang Atoll. It was not until March 1948 that the original Bikini residents moved out of Langridge and were resettled to Kwajalein Atoll, living in a tent made of leaves near the airport. In November of the same year, the Bikini (there were 184 at the time) moved again to the previously uninhabited Kili Island.
Kili Island is also particularly unsuitable for human life. Its area is less than 1 square kilometer. Because there is no lagoon, the coastal waves are high, which is extremely detrimental to fishing, and it is difficult to transport food by sea (4 months of a year are impassable, and two months are barely accessible). Bikini had no choice but to make copra on some small islands in Jaluit Atoll and sell them for money.
Marshall Islands Warlord and Naval Commander Ben Wyatt met with the residents of Bikini Atoll.
After the two nuclear explosions, most of the target ships were still floating on the water, but all the ships suffered serious nuclear pollution.
The residents of Kili Island have suffered from food shortages for many years. In 1957, Typhoon “Laura” sank a ship that transported grain to the island and also damaged most of the crops. In 1958, Typhoon “Ophelia” caused heavy damage to the Jaluit Atoll, and those who stayed here had to return to Kili Island.
The Bikini “temporarily” left the island and has not returned home after 75 years.
The nuclear explosion on Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954 was the most powerful in the history of US nuclear testing.
After the two bikini explosions, the nuclear test was moved to another atoll, Eniwetok Atoll. In the ten years from 1948 to 1958, 43 ground nuclear explosion tests were conducted here, resulting in the complete evaporation of 4 small islands, which accounted for 10% of the land area, and 60% of the remaining land is still uninhabitable.
The third bikini nuclear test, code-named “Cheers Castle”, was conducted at 6:45 local time on March 1, 1954. This time a hydrogen bomb was detonated, and lithium deuteride was used for the first time in its liquid fuel. It is predicted that the power of this explosion is equivalent to 6 million tons of trinitrotoluene, but in fact its power exceeds 2.5 times or 150 million tons, which is 1,000 times that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. This is the most powerful nuclear test and the most serious radiation accident in American history.
According to the weather forecast three days before the test, the wind direction on March 1 was good, and the radioactive deposits should land outside the inhabited islands. The morning before the explosion, meteorologists confirmed that there would be no large amounts of radioactive deposits in the inhabited areas of the Marshall Islands; at 6 o’clock in the evening, according to the new weather forecast, the wind direction began to become less favorable, but the official decided to experiment as usual. In the middle of the night, the weather forecast once again showed that the wind direction began to become unfavorable at a height of 3 to 7.5 kilometers at sea level. At a height of 6 kilometers, “the wind will blow towards the Langlap Atoll”, Eeneman and The Bikini islands “will be contaminated”… Despite this, the military operations team commander Major General Percy Clarkson and the physicist Alvin Graves still ordered the operation as planned.
One second after the explosion, a large fireball with a diameter of 7.2 kilometers was immediately produced, which can be seen from Kwajalein Atoll, 400 kilometers away from Bikini. In less than 10 minutes, the mushroom cloud rose to an altitude of 40 kilometers with a diameter of 46 kilometers. The three small islands in Bikini Atoll evaporated instantly in the explosion. The radioactive sediment composed of coral fragments and radioactive fission products fell into an area of more than 18,000 square kilometers including Langerik, Eringinae, Langlap and Utirik.
”White snow” rises from the sky. Children play with it while women use it to wipe their hair.
Afterwards, many people felt uncomfortable. They felt nauseated, their skin was itchy, and their eyes were tingling. Later, they suffered burns and their hair began to fall out. 236 islanders and 28 American soldiers were evacuated from the contaminated area. US meteorological experts in Langerick were warned as early as March 2 that they would stay in the bunker the night they were waiting for evacuation. However, the local residents only evacuated from Langlap and Langerik on March 3, and the evacuation from Utirik was on March 4-they did not receive any prior warning.
In its statement to the media, the US Atomic Energy Commission referred to the “champion castle” as a “conformist” experiment. The statement also pointed out that some Americans and island residents were “accidentally affected by radiation,” but no one was injured. Everyone was injured. It feels good.
A Japanese fishing boat strayed into the contaminated area, and 23 crew members got radiation sickness. The fishing boat returned to Japan on March 14. The doctor discovered the next day that these fishermen were all affected by the radioactive deposits, and one of them died six months later. This incident caused the deterioration of Japan-US relations. At the same time, people also learned the fact that the United States used hydrogen bombs for tests.
The Marshall Islands nuclear test lasted until July 22, 1958, when the last atmospheric nuclear explosion occurred over Bikini.
“Our purpose is to help the bikini people”
In 1967, the US authorities began to study the possibility of the return of the indigenous residents of Bikini. According to the report of the Atomic Energy Commission, from the perspective of radiation safety, the radiation intensity of drinking water on the island is negligible, and nuclear radiation will not pose a serious threat to the health of people in bikinis returning home. In June 1968, US President Johnson made a public promise to the 540 Bikini Aborigines living on Kili Island and other islands that they could return to their hometowns. The president said: “Our purpose is to help the people of Bikini build a new ideal society on these remote islands.” Next, the United States formulated an 8-year relocation plan, including the elimination of radioactive pollution on Bikini Atoll and the construction of 43 new houses. Plant palm trees, bread trees and other food crops, etc. After that, American soldiers also withdrew from the bikini.
Bikini people began to return to their hometown. In 1969, about 40 people moved to Aeneu Island. Before the end of 1972, they and 20 others moved to an island in Bikini. However, the results of a radiological study conducted in 1975 showed that the radiation levels in Bikini Atoll exceeded expectations. As a result, the Bikini took the US government to court, demanding a more accurate study of the radiation situation in Bikini Atoll.
The American Atomic Energy Commission believes that the fruits produced on Bikini Atoll and hermit crabs on the island are seriously contaminated by radiation and are not suitable for consumption. Analysis of the urine of people in Bikini showed that their bodies contained small amounts of the nuclides plutonium 239 and plutonium 240. In May 1977, researchers found that the strontium content in the drinking water of a small island in Bikini exceeded the legal limit of the United States. In April 1978, a study by experts from Brookhaven National Laboratory confirmed that most of the 139 residents of Bikini contained radioactive cesium-137 in their bodies above the maximum limit. The final conclusion is that they have to move. In September of the same year, the Bikini began to move to Kili Island.
73 years after the Bikini first moved to Kili Island, the issue of self-sufficiency on the island has still not been resolved. Every year, residents of Kili Island receive 2-3 times mailed food, including flour, rice and frozen chicken. Since 2011, the climate of Kili Island has changed. Seawater often spreads to the island (the highest point on the island is 3 meters above sea level), and all the well water on the island is no longer suitable for drinking.
From 2014 to 2018, members of the Columbia University Nuclear Research Center “К=1” project team visited the Marshall Islands every year to measure the concentration of cesium-137 in seawater, soil, fruits, and marine animals and the background value of gamma rays. Since then, they have published several academic articles. According to the data cited in them, the radiation level in the bikini area has exceeded the maximum limit agreed by the governments of the United States and the Marshall Islands. It is speculated that the atoll is still not suitable for living.
In 2010, the National Cancer Institute of the U.S. Institutes of Health issued a report on the assessment and prediction of life-long cancers for residents exposed to radiation under the influence of radioactive deposits during the nuclear test in the Marshall Islands from 1946 to 1958. For the worst-affected Rangalapu Atoll, the life-long attributable risk assessment of the incidence of cancer among its residents is: 48% of gastric cancer, 64% of colorectal cancer, 78% of leukemia, and 98% of thyroid cancer. The lifetime attributable risk of thyroid cancer for all residents of the Marshall Islands is estimated to be 21%.
Nature is more susceptible to the effects of nuclear explosions than humans. In 2008, an Australian research team published an article in Marine Pollution Bulletin, the main content of which can be seen from the title-“The Diversity of Bikini Atoll Corals Recovered 50 Years After the Nuclear Explosion Test”. In 2017, the American Public Broadcasting Network broadcasted a small documentary Big Pacific (“Great Pacific”), one of which was about Bikini Atoll. Stanford University professor Stephen Parruby specifically mentioned in the film that after experiencing serious nuclear test pollution, large corals grew in the lagoon, and the study of these corals is conducive to the development of oncology: “If a certain organism can be ingenious To avoid genetic mutations, and to self-replicate genes in a certain way without error, then it is tantamount to prompting us to think about why human cells make mistakes.”
In addition to scientists, divers often visit bikinis. They are not only interested in the corals here, but also attracted by the unique “grave” of the shipwreck. Diving in Bikini Lagoon has to follow many rules to avoid danger, such as not touching or picking up anything underwater. Bikini Atoll was opened to divers in 1996, and underwater excursions are a potential source of income for local residents after returning home. But since Bikini cut off air links with the outside world in 2008, all tourist facilities on the shore have been closed. Until the current outbreak of the new crown epidemic, the Marshall Islands government has announced that outsiders are prohibited from going to the island.
It has been more than 70 years since the original inhabitants of Bikini Atoll and Eniwetok Atoll moved out. Most of the people who were born there at that time have died, but their descendants still want to go back. However, when we will be able to embark on the road to return home, it is still unknown. According to a 2005 report by the US Congressional Research Service, the earliest time to return to Eniwitok may be 2026, and the time to return to Bikini is 2027. Karin Georgscu, the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxic Wastes, once proposed that the Marshall Islands nuclear test area was “almost irreversibly polluted” and that the Bikini and Enivitok would be in exile “forever” state.