From 1946 to 1958, the Bikini Atoll–a Micronesian, volcanic island group in the Pacific Ocean (part of the Marshall Islands)–was “home” to twenty three, U.S.-conducted, nuclear detonations, including the first true Hydrogen bomb test, in 1954. This latter detonation produced an explosion far more powerful than originally predicted and caused wide-spread contamination from radioactive fallout.
Citing “major consequences” for the region’s environment as well as its signaling the “dawn of the nuclear age”, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), officially declared the Bikini Atoll a ‘World Heritage’ site this past Saturday, along with several additional sites.
The Bikini Atoll, home to numerous U.S. nuclear tests in the 1940’s and ’50’s, has been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
The first series of nuclear tests–code named Operation Crossroads–were conducted in 1946 on the island of Bikini. Some 2oo native Bikinians were relocated farther east to another atoll in the Marshall Islands group (the Rongerik Atoll) prior to the first explosion.
A few days after this first successful test, a very revealing, two piece bathing suit was introduced to the fashion public by French designer Jacque Renárd–taking its name, the bikini, from the name of the island where the first test occurred (the bathing suit was originally called the “atome”, but the press morphed this into “the bikini split the atome“, and the rest is history, as they say).
The 1954 detonation (code-named Castle Bravo) of the first practical hydrogen bomb produced a bigger explosion than expected and radioactive fallout from the explosion contaminated many residents on nearby islands.
Also exposed to radioactive contamination from this test were twenty three members of the Japanese fishing boat Daigo Fukuryu Maru. The incident caused a major scandal in Japan and inspired the film Godzilla.
In the early 1970’s, the U.S. returned a small group of native islanders to Bikini (also known as Pikinni, also Pikinni Atoll) as a ‘test’, having officially declared the island “safe” in 1968. However, a French team conducting additional tests on the island discovered elevated levels of strontium-90 in the natives’ bodies and the group was relocated once again. Reports of miscarriages, still births, and other congenital damage to off-spring were common. The U.S. gave 150 million dollars to the island natives as a settlement for damages from the tests.
Many Bikinians continue to live in the area, but fewer live on Bikini island itself, as evidence of cesium-137 in the soil remains. Bikinian leaders continue to demand that the U.S. remove the top 15 inches of soil from the island, but government scientists say that doing so would turn the island into a “wasteland”. Bikinian leaders continue to insist that this is the only way to make the island safe for future generations.
In 1997, the IAEA Bikini Advisory Group declared that “it is safe to walk on all of the islands…”
Amongst the other sites added to the list of World Heritage sites this past Saturday were the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long-Hanoi in Vietnam, the Jantar Mantar astronomical observation site in India, and, the Tabriz historic bazaar complex in Iran. There are 904 sites currently listed as World heritage sites by UNESCO.
top image: US DOD – derivative work by Victorrocha
second image: Cars en travel