Hydrogen Bombs and Bikinis

“As soon as the war [WWII] ended, we located the one spot on earth that hadn’t been touched by the war and blew it to hell.”
–Comedian Bob Hope commenting on Operation Crossroads

Answer.com has this Daily Highlights desktop pop-up program that I subscribe to. Each day you get a brief today in history type of blurb, some current usually odd news, and birthdays of noteworthy people. I like it because it is concise and usually has interesting stuff that I likely would not have heard about otherwise. The other day I learned about a new place and a little bit of history – I apologize if this is common knowledge to most of you – but I’m betting that it is not.

The Bikini atoll (an atoll is a ringlike coral island and reef that nearly or entirely encloses a lagoon) is located in the central Pacific and is one of 29 atolls and 5 single islands that form the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Bikini is best known for its role in a series of nuclear tests conducted by the United States. It was a test site of more than 20 hydrogen and atomic bombs between 1946 to 1958. Prior to the testing (bombing), the local people were relocated to a neighboring island, away from the test site. The US government provided the Bikinians only enough food for a few weeks. As the food supply on the new island quickly ran out, the Bikinians began to suffer from starvation and fish poisoning due to the lack of edible fish in the lagoon. Within two months after their arrival they began to beg U.S. officials to move them back to Bikini.

The islanders were soon removed from Bikini again and in 1954 the hydrogen bomb, code named Bravo, was detonated on the surface of the reef in the northwestern corner of Bikini Atoll. Radioactive ash was carried by wind to fishing vessels and to the surrounding islands, irradiating everything and everyone in its path.

In the late 60s islanders were told that they could return to their homeland (or what was left of it) because the levels of radiation were determined to be safe. But this was wrong. In the 1970s a study was done that determined there were “higher levels of radioactivity than originally thought.” Most of the people on Bikini had radiation levels well-above the maximum US allowable limit and it was recommended that those remaining on Bikini evacuate.

“On March 5, 2001, the Nuclear Claims Tribunal handed down a decision on a seven year lawsuit the Bikinians had brought against the United States for damages done to their islands and their people during the nuclear testing on Bikini. The Tribunal gave them a total award of $563,315,500.00. The problem is that the Nuclear Claims Tribunal, which was created by the Compact of Free Association of 1986, was underfunded and does not have the money to pay for this claim. It is now up to the people of Bikini to petition the U.S. Congress for the money to fulfill this award. This is expected to take many years and it is uncertain if the United States will honor their claim.”

“At this time the people of Bikini remain scattered throughout the Marshall Islands and the world as they wait for the cleanup of Bikini to begin in earnest, mostly due to the fact that the money they have received from the U.S. government is not adequate to fund a full radiological cleanup of the entire atoll.”

In recent years, the Bikini Atoll has been trying to build up its tourism scene – it’s become a popular destination for sport fishing and scuba diving. But the people are still dealing with the effects of what happened decades ago.

There’s a lot of history I left out here – this is the abbreviated version. To me this is just another example of our government bulldozing over whatever stands in its way to get what they want and then, when the time comes to be accountable or to make up for what they have done, there’s floundering, or worse, no response. It’s about taking responsibility for what you’ve done and apologizing – it’s one of those things most people learn in kindergarden. I guess when you are a superpower and you owe something to someone weaker (such as, helping them rebuild after you have destroyed their lives) – who’s going to make you pay?

If you are still interested you can find more information on wikipedia or at http://www.bikiniatoll.com/

(Note: portions of the above were collected from the Bikini Atoll website)

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