America hasn’t always been known for being the most pleasant country out there, especially during the Cold War, when nuclear testing was being done. The United States did an incomprehensible amount of nuclear testing during this time. So where exactly did this all of this destruction take place? Most of it took place on a small, remote, paradise island called Bikini Atoll. This island is part of the Micronesian Islands in the Pacific Ocean. For over 2,000 years, Bikini Atoll was occupied by a very peaceful and close-knit community of indigenous people. After World War II, the US Military, more specifically the US Army, asked the 167 islanders living on the Bikini Atoll if they would be willing to temporarily leave their home, so the US could test atomic bombs there. They stated that it was, “for the good of man kind and to end all wars.” Because this area had been occupied by Japanese troops during the previous 2 World Wars, the non-combative indigenous people of Bikini Atoll trusted the US and believed every word they said. Unfortunately the US didn’t follow through with their word. Below is the very sad story about the beautiful island of Bikini Atoll.
Bikini Atoll is a remote island located over 2,500 miles west of Hawaii.
The part in the picture below that is circled is of a large crater that was left after a nuclear test of the H-Bomb by the US Military.
The US Military began the evacuation process of the Bikinians in 1946. The residents packed up their belongings to prepare for the uncertain future. As they packed up their livelihood, they watched as 242 naval ships, 156 air craft, 25,000 pieces of radiation recording equipment, over 5,000 animals for radioactive experimentation, and thousands of military and civilian personnel arrived and slowly began invading their beautiful and secluded home.
After the Bikinians were all packed up and moved, the US Military began their nuclear testing. From 1946 through 1958, the US detonated 23 nuclear devices on the island of Bikini Atoll. This was the time when one of the largest nuclear explosions ever set off by the United States happened. It was even bigger than Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
In 1954, the US Military underestimated the strength of their nuclear weapons. When they detonated one such weapon, it sent millions of tons of sand and coral into the sky, not to mention the vast amount of plant and sea life sent high into the sky as well.
American VIP’s were allowed to watch some of the detonations from a far and safe distance. They treated it almost like it was a Hollywood movie premiere.
The H-Bomb that was detonated in 1954 was three times stronger than they thought it would be.
The US was very pleased with the results, even if it meant they were destroying the Bikini Atoll one test at a time. In the below picture, you’ll see Vice Admiral William Blandy, his wife, and Rear Admiral Frank Lowry in Washington DC. They were celebrating the success of their testing. Admiral Blandy was also the commander in charge of the testing.
The blast in 1954 was so strong, that there were certain islands that were hundreds of miles away from Bikini Atoll that were not warned of the testing, and the US did not think the blast would reach that far. Unfortunately these islands’ residents woke up one morning to find layers of radioactive dust falling from the sky and piling up to 2 inches on the ground below. This, unfortunately, instantly contaminated their drinking water. Because they did not know what was happening, the residents of these islands continued to go about their every day activities, including letting their kids play outside. Because these kids were playing in radioactive ash, they found that they were getting sick with symptoms such as loss of hair, severe vomiting, and diarrhea. It took two days before the US government took action. They came to the aid of these islanders, providing medical treatment, but they were also forced to evacuate.
After the large blast, there was a fishing vessel that was home to 23 fishermen. They were exposed to radioactive ash as well, and had no idea it was the aftermath of an H-bomb. Because of this exposure, these fishermen suffered from severe illness and painful deaths.
Below is a picture of one of the many abandoned gardens on Bikini Atoll. After the blasts, the island was covered with deep craters and sink holes. Even though the Bikinians were told they’d be able to return, their home would never be safe to live on again. Because of this misinformation, the Bikinians were left to starve on various other islands where they had inadequate food and water supplies. They were often found suffering from malnutrition along with other mysterious illnesses. All they wanted to do was go home while the US Government really did the bare minimum in providing them a quality way of life. Instead they were moved about from island to island, living in temporary camps.
Good news came, temporarily, for the Bikinians though in the 1970s. The Atomic Energy Commission declared the island “virtually free of radiation” and let the islanders know that they could return home, that their well water and locally grown food was not going to threaten their overall health.
Unfortunately this was not true. After living back on the island for 8 years, scientists confirmed that the Bikini Atoll actually had, “higher levels of radiation than originally anticipated.”
The residents were then told a variety of mixed messages, causing a lot of confusion. First it was to stop eating certain local product, then others were told that the soil was contaminated. But after testing the 139 Bikinians that were residing on Bikini Atoll, they found that they were all showing alarmingly high radiation levels, which were well above the maximum permissible level. Once again, they were told they would need to evacuate their home. As you can imagine, they were absolutely devastated. Bikini Atoll is still abandoned to this day, for obvious reasons, giving it a slight resemblance to Chernobyl. (abandoned fishing balls are pictured below.)
One of the elder residents of Bikini Atoll said, “We were so heartbroken that we didn’t know what to do. But our islands were now again being declared poison. The Americans were telling us that we had to leave. We had to follow what they were saying because we really felt that we had no choice. If they say it is not safe to live there, we have to go, even though we hated departing from the islands we had come to know peace and quiet for the first time in many years. We even asked them if we could stay on Eneu Island and we formulated a plan among ourselves where we were going to try to live by the airport, but they said we would have to wait until they knew more about the poison before we could remain anywhere on Bikini Atoll. And so we followed their wishes because we knew we shouldn’t go against what the Americans say. We were sad, but we didn’t want to make a problem for the Americans. If they say move, we move.”
Most of the Bikini Atoll refugees now live on a tiny island called Kili, which is quite far from Bikini Atoll. They did receive some compensation from the American government to assist in their survival.
It is safe to walk on the island, but to this day it is uninhabitable. There is still residual radioactivity that can be found on Bikini Atoll and it is higher than on any of the other atolls in the Marshall Islands. The main radiation risk is found in locally grown food, such as fruit. Because of this hazard, divers steered clear of this island for many years, even though it contains some of the most remarkable scuba diving sites in the Pacific Ocean. As of 1996, they have reopened the coast to divers which has brought in some tourism income for the once lustrous island.
Below are 2 videos showing the testing and devastation of the nuclear testing on Bikini Atoll:
1946 Testing of A Nuclear Bomb on Bikini Atoll
1954 Nuclear H-Bomb Testing on Bikini Atoll
Since they were originally forced to evacuate the island, the Bikinians have been made multiple promises by the US Government over the years, with very few of them coming to fruition. This is a very sad story about a peaceful culture that was forced to move out of their homes, forced to live in very uncivilized conditions, and never able to return fully to their land because of the devastation caused by the US Government. This is certainly something that should cause some alarm with the American people and we should never let such a blunder happen ever again.