The Bravo Test and the Death and Life of the Global Ecosystem in the Early Anthropocene via Asia-Pacific Journal


The “protectorate” status of the Marshall Islands provided no protection for its citizens from the blast and radioactivity that left Bikini (and other islands?) uninhabitable for centuries to come?

The U.S. referred to its test site in the northwest corner of the Marshalls as its “Pacific Proving Ground.” As it developed its nuclear weaponry from fission weapons in the 1940s to thermonuclear fusion weapons in the 1950s, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) of the United States had an unstated policy of not testing thermonuclear weapons at its Nevada Test Site, since it was well aware of the radiological hazard it was publicly downplaying.13 The U.S. has never tested thermonuclear weapons inside the United States. Only 14% of the nuclear weapons tested by the United States were detonated at the Pacific Proving Ground, however this 14% accounted for 80% of the total yield of all nuclear weapons tested.14


Poisoning the World: Nuclear War Fighting Doctrine and Radiation

U.S. nuclear weapon designers and the American military had been aware of radioactive fallout from the beginning of nuclear weapon design and testing. Radiological monitoring crews were dispersed in the area around the Trinity test, the first nuclear weapon detonation, in New Mexico on July 16, 1945. These crews had detected radiation downwind from the explosion but had determined the levels were not significant enough to require action.24 American scientific and technical personnel engaged in bomb assessment in Hiroshima and Nagasaki had also been aware of the presence of residual radiation from the nuclear attacks on those two towns, in Hiroshima resulting in the infamous black rain.

U.S. nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands did not begin in 1954. Immediately after the end of the war, the United States began to make arrangements to continue testing nuclear weapons.25 The U.S. evacuated the residents of Bikini Atoll in 1946 and conducted two nuclear weapon tests there during Operation Crossroads; these were the first postwar nuclear weapons tests. The second of the Crossroads tests, the Baker test, was the first detonation of a nuclear weapon underwater.26 The aim was to determine the effectiveness of nuclear weapons to destroy naval ships in an enemy’s harbor. While nuclear weapons detonated in the atmosphere tended to disperse the residual radiation downwind from the cloud of the explosion, underwater tests concentrated the residual radiation in the water immediately around the site of detonation. This resulted in unexpectedly high levels of radiation in the lagoon of Bikini Atoll. Since many naval vessels were used to conduct the test and to hold the 40,000 military personnel onsite for the tests, many of the ships became highly radioactive as a result of using lagoon water to wash the boats. As the level of radiation rose, troops had to be evacuated from the ships, scuttling a planned third Crossroad test.27

Read more at The Bravo Test and the Death and Life of the Global Ecosystem in the Early Anthropocene

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