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The Bikini Atomic Experiments were a series of nuclear and thermonuclear tests conducted on Bikini Atoll in the Bikini Islands. The experiments were part of the United States' research into the full effects of the atomic bomb, including post-detonation radioactive fallout. The first tests were conducted under the name Operation Crossroads.

Preparation[edit | edit source]

During World War II, Bikini Atoll was home to a small Japanese radar installation. In 1945, the last year of fighting, the U.S. landed a small force to secure the site. The battle was brief and had no strategic significance. As the war ended, the United States decided that due to its remoteness, Bikini Atoll would be suitable for testing nuclear devices. Shortly before Christmas 1945 it was selected as the site of the world's fourth and fifth atomic bomb detonations. (The first atomic bomb was detonated at the Trinity Site in New Mexico, and the second and third bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.) The U.S. government promised the atoll residents that the relocation would be temporary and that they could return to their island in a couple of months.[citation needed] The crew of the USS LST 861 temporarily evacuated the 167 residents to the Rongerik Atoll. To prepare the island and the atoll for testing the United States Naval Construction Battalion (better known as the Seabees) was flown in to help establish a credible base on the island. Several derelict tanks, bulldozers, and other military machinery were placed on the island to test the ability of such vehicles to withstand nuclear attack. The Air Force left 150 airplanes on the island's airstrip for testing purposes as well.

In addition to military equipment, the United States Navy moved 250 naval vessels to the atoll, including the Pennsylvania, New York, Arkansas, Nevada, Saratoga, Independence, Nagato (a Japanese battleship), and the Prinz Eugen (a German cruiser) to test the durability of ships to withstand a nuclear impact. Lab animals were also purchased and placed on several ships, and would later be tested for radiation poisoning.

In the United States, the general public grew worried over the planned testing. Some people worried that the bomb's power would be felt all the way back in the United States. Others believed the bomb would create a hole in the earth. To help ease these fears, the Navy created several information packets and began broadcasting over "Radio Bikini" in an effort to calm the public's fears and rally support for the tests.[citation needed]

During final preparations for the first explosion, the displaced islanders began to protest their move, but they were unsuccessful in preventing the test.[citation needed]

Tests[edit | edit source]

The first atomic bomb to be detonated at Bikini was code-named "Able", a bomb similar in most respects to "Fat Man," which was dropped on Nagasaki. The B-29 designated to drop Able was named "Dave's Dream," and on July 1, 1946, at about 8:45 AM, the first detonation of a nuclear ordnance during a time of peace occurred. Of the animals left on board the ships at anchor in Bikini Lagoon, approximately 10% died instantly. The Naval vessels managed to withstand the blast for the most part, but many were destroyed during Test "Baker" on July 25. In the coming years, some twenty additional bomb tests would be conducted before the United States government officially returned control of the islands over to their natives in 1957. The largest test, Castle Bravo, also proved to be a large radiation fallout disaster: ashes from the explosion flew miles into inhabited islands, putting nuclear fallout into the public minds of many. The 1 March 1954 test exposed a Japanese fishing boat, Daigo Fukuryū Maru, to radioactive fallout, resulting in 11 of the boat's 23 crewmembers dying from radiation sickness.[1]

Aftermath[edit | edit source]

Shortly after the announcement that the islands were safe, a group of the native people left their makeshift home to return to Bikini, but were evacuated ten years later after some developed radiation poisoning from Cesium-137, including thyroid cancer, (some sources also state Strontium-90), a remnant of the radioactive fallout. As of 2009, the islands remain uninhabitable, and many of the displaced natives now reside in the Carolines and Marshall Islands in the Western Pacific; also some live in California, and in Nevada. The US Department of Energy, along with the representatives from the government of the Marshall Islands, sends scientists to the atoll for temporary stays to study the island's environment and measure residual levels of radiation. The researchers grow a small vegetable garden and send the produce to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for testing. The US and Marshall Islands' governments still advise that nothing harvested from the island be eaten.[2]

Movie[edit | edit source]

The movies Bikini, The Atomic Cafe, and The Atom Island illustrate preparations for the tests, and the effects of the tests.[3] The documentary Radio Bikini shows another vision of what happened in Bikini. [4]

Music and Video[edit | edit source]

The second movement of the video opera Three Tales of Steve Reich concerns the atomic tests in the Bikini Atoll. The video part of the opera includes images of the US Army presenting the project to the local people of Bikini, the trip of animals for testing and the explosion of the atomic bomb.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Hoffman, Michael, "Forgotten atrocity of the atomic age", Japan Times, 28 August 2011, p. 11.
  2. Nishigori, Nobuko (Kyodo News), "U.S. still monitoring residual radioactivity on Bikini Atoll isle", Japan Times, 1 September 2011, p. 3.
  3. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0363275/
  4. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0893570/

External links[edit | edit source]

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