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Bikini Atoll Atomic Experiment, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Description of the Event

This is the story of the biggest atomic bomb tested by the USA, the second biggest atomic bomb ever as well as the story of a design mistake that provoked a massive nuclear accident. The wake of World War II closely marked the beginnings of the Cold War in the United States of America. Being alarmed by the potential Cold War, the United States of America decisively programmed to resume nuclear testing and selected Bikini Atoll as the ideal spot for continuing its bomb tests.  Bikini Atoll is located 850 kilometers northwest of Majuro on the northern fringe of the Marshall Islands and is composed of more than 23 islands and islets. Four islands (Bikini, Eneu, Nam and Enidrik) account for over 70% of the land area. Bikini and Eneu are the only islands of the atoll that have had a permanent population (“United States drops hydrogen bomb over Bikini Atoll”, 1956).

Prior to the nuclear testing, the government approached the Bikini community—167 people—in February 1946, requesting that they leave the island so that Operation Crossroads could redirect atomic energy “for the good of mankind and to end all world wars.” 67 nuclear tests were carried out from 1946 to 1958, including the explosion of the first H-bomb (1952), once the people have been safely displaced. Bikini Atoll has conserved direct tangible evidence that is highly significant in conveying the power of the nuclear tests, i.e. the sunken ships sent to the bottom of the lagoon by the tests in 1946 and the gigantic Bravo crater. Equivalent to 7,000 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb, the tests had major consequences on the geology and natural environment of Bikini Atoll and on the health of those who were exposed to radiation. Through its history, the atoll symbolized the dawn of the nuclear age, despite its paradoxical image of peace and of earthly paradise. This is the first site from the Marshall Islands to be inscribed on the World Heritage List (“United States drops hydrogen bomb over Bikini Atoll”, 1956).

According to a reliable source, the force of the bombs in the Marshall Islands was equal to 7,000 times that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Following the use of nuclear bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Bikini bomb testing confirmed that the world was entering a “nuclear era” without being fully aware of the potential damages although it was vividly demonstrated and experienced in World War II at the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The military remains bear witness to the start of the Cold War, and the race to build weapons of atomic destruction and a geopolitical balance based on terror.

No one was seemed to be bothered about the environmental consequences that such tests would cause to the earth. People involved in such test were obviously aware of the issued tagged with the test nevertheless the glamour for military supremacy thrived them to go ahead with their strategy irrespective of the monumental adverse effects expected of the bombing. The violence exerted on the natural, geophysical and living elements by nuclear weapons illustrates the relationship which can develop between man and the environment. This is reflected in the ecosystems and the terrestrial, marine and underwater landscapes of Bikini Atoll.

The nuclear tests changed the history of Bikini Atoll and the Marshall Islands, through the displacement of inhabitants, and the human irradiation and contamination caused by radionuclide produced by the tests. The Bikini Atoll tests, and tests carried out in general during the Cold War, gave rise to a series of images and symbols of the nuclear era. They also led to the development of widespread international movements advocating disarmament.

Bikini Atoll is a perfect example of a nuclear test site. It has military remains and characteristic terrestrial and underwater landmark elements. It is tangible evidence of the birth of the Cold War and it bears witness to the contest to develop increasingly powerful nuclear weapons. In the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, the Bikini Atoll site solidified the idea that mankind was entering a “nuclear era.” It also bears testimony to the consequences of the nuclear tests on the native populations of Bikini and the Marshall Islands, in the  terms of population displacement and public-health issues.

Effects on Human Population and Environment

The Bikini Islands captured by the American forces during WWII was chosen as the site for testing nuclear bombs in 1946. The small populations of around 167 Bikinians living on the Bikini Island were evacuated to other neighboring islands. Around 67 atomic and hydrogen (thermonuclear) bombs were tested in the Bikini Atoll islands from 1946-58. The Bravo thermonuclear bomb (fusion) was the biggest of them all with an explosion power 1000 times that of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki atom bombs.

In an effort to make the U.S. into a world power, it exploited the island, the natives, and especially the environment. Three of the islands were, in fact, vaporized during the nuclear tests. 15 inches of soil was removed. The removal of the topsoil would severely harm the environment, turning it into a wasteland of wind-swept sand. Indigenous people were displaced without recourse from the test site areas and the tests greatly exceeded returns. This created intense and unexpected radiological catastrophes. Of these, the 15-megaton 1954 Bravo bomb at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands was the most severe, severely sickening test personnel, relocated native people nearby, and a crew of a Japanese fishing vessel 85 miles away from the explosion. Repeated large-scale testing has also resulted in lasting radiological contamination of the test islands, including Enewetak Atoll and Johnston and Christmas Islands. Bikini is still uninhabitable in present day times. In 1988 the United States established a Marshallese Nuclear Tribunal to compensate the radiation victims, and more than 1,000 islanders have received reparations (Radic, 2002).

An interview report of a survivor clearly depicts the effects. The interview reads: “you could say that Kili was considered a prison. Then came the Americans after WWII, and after transferring us from Bikini so that they could test their bombs, they eventually moved the Bikinian people to Kili. We feel that Kili is a prison because we can’t move to another island, or even take a long walk when life closes in on us. Many times the ships refuse to stop and give supplies to the island. There are many other things that simply cannot be done on Kili, because it is such a small island. The food we brought with us did not last very long. We again began to starve. This time, when we began to worry, we all blamed everything on the Americans. What could we do? The Americans moved us here, then they forgot about their responsibilities to us, and again we found ourselves starving. We were full of worry and near death. Their promises were not ringing true. And yet, through all of this, many of us remained hopeful that the Americans would come to our aid. Most of us clung to the belief that the Americans would again be our saviors. In those days on Kili we spent a lot of time thinking and dreaming about our home. However, negative feelings would always surge up in our beings telling us that we would never see our home again. These thoughts made us come to the realization that we may never again be able to go learn the valuable traditional skills that are essential to sustain our lives on the outer islands. And, therefore, there was the chance that our history and our stories of Bikini may also be forgotten. These ideas made life on Kili very depressing. America, America, America–where are you? (Radic, 2002)

The fallout from these nuclear bomb testing was felt far and wide even in the western coast of Indian subcontinent. The other neighboring islands of Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands chain were severely affected with radioactive pollution. Around 300 types of radioisotopes are known to have polluted the several islands around the Bikini Atoll. The radioactive fallout has polluted the seabed and the seawater surrounding these Islands. In the aftermath of the nuclear explosions the ocean environment affected to a great extent. All the fish population and other sea creatures started dying off mysteriously in the months after the blasts.

Most of the neighboring Islands were exposed to around 190 rems of radiation which is equivalent to a whole-body dose of gamma exposure. This has caused severe radioactive contamination of the soil and hence the vegetation growing on these islands. Most of these island populations are sustained by the vegetation and the native agricultural produce.  The radioactive fallout completely polluted the landscape of the Marshall Islands apart from devastating the Bikini Island with a 2000 meter wide crater. Because of the radioactive poisoning of the soil the plants that uptake these radioactive isotopes have become unsuitable for human or animal consumption (“United States drops hydrogen bomb over Atoll.” 1956).

The fishes have been poisoned with the radioactive isotopes that polluted the sea water. Japanese vessels and fishing trawlers that consider the ocean around the Marshall Islands as their predominant fishing spot have been drastically affected. The famous phenomenon of “talking fish” shocked the Japanese fishing community and the world as the adverse effects of radioactive fallout slowly came to light. The tuna caught around the Marshall Islands and even near the Japanese seacoast were scanned with Geiger counters for radioactive poisoning. The tuna catch registered a high percentage of radioactive isotope pollution that made the Geiger counters click constantly when they scanned the fishes leading to the “talking fish” phenomenon. Such wide spread penetration of the radioactive fallout from the blast several hundred miles away rocked the whole world and many scientists were very apprehensive of the detrimental effect of the thermonuclear bomb tests on the global atmosphere on the whole (“Conditions at Bikini Atoll.” 2012).

Over the several decades the United States Government conducted many individual studies and surveys to evaluate the extent of radioactive pollution from the nuclear blast fallout and its damage to the Bikini Island ecosystem. Most of the studies revealed that in case the evacuated citizens were to be repatriated to the island they will be exposed to radioactive poisoning through the food chain of the Bikini Island ecosystem. This deemed the Island unfit for human habitation in the year 1985 which was further updated in the year 1995 that gave a similar verdict (“Guyer, 2001).

On the other hand, the supposedly favorable evacuation of the Bikinians was an injustice in itself. With no other alternative in sight the people of Bikini Atoll were forced to move out prior to the nuclear tests in 1946. They were sent to the nearby Rongernik Atoll about 125 miles eastward that was just 1/6th the size of the Bikini Island. The Rongernik Island was uninhabited as it lacked sufficient water resources and according to the Bikinian cultural and religious was considered as site dominated by evil spirits. Within a few weeks the food reserve left behind by the US administration was exhausted and the Bikinians started to starve. For their day to day survival the Bikinians started to consume the limited produce from the vegetation in the Island and mostly lived on a diet of fish caught from the lagoon. However, the huge and dangerous radioactive fallout had contaminated the lagoon waters and its marine species were already poisoned by radioactive isotopes. This was overlooked by the initial reports and surveys by the US which had been reiterating that the meager fallout did not threaten the ecosystem of the nearby Islands. This left the poor and unaware Bikinians being getting slowly poisoned through the consumption of radioisotope contaminated fishes from the lagoon. Gradually, after many years the symptoms of the radioactive poisoning started emerging among the Bikinians. Till today many of the Bikinians are battling symptoms of radioactive poisoning and living under a constant fear affliction from new radioactive diseases (Weisgall, 1980).

The Bravo Thermonuclear hydrogen bomb that created a big 2000 meter wide crater in the year 1954 had the biggest radioactive fallout compared to all the other nuclear bomb tests conducted on the Bikini Island. Nuclear radiations cause damages to genes by mutating the human genome resulting in various forms of chronic cancers and other debilitating diseases. So, nuclear radiation leaks cause a prolonged and lasting damage to man and environment. People in the nearby Rongelap Atoll watched in amazement at the rise of two huge suns on the morning of the Bravo thermonuclear bomb test. The radioactive dust cloud created by the Bravo blast rained on the nearby Islands like snow-white ash that covered the entire island like a white ash canopy that was 2 inches thick. The people of the nearby Atolls like the Rongelap inhabitants watched all this in amazement and excitement blissfully unaware that this was misfortune raining on their island, not a miracle of nature (“Guyer, 2001).

The waters of the nearby Atolls turned brackish yellow due to the reaction from the radioactive dust. By nightfall the inhabitants the symptoms of severe radioactive exposure started to manifest on the children and adults. Many experienced random severe hair fall, severe vomiting and diarrhea that were completely unexplained creating a horrific scenario in the Atolls. Many experienced immediate radiation sickness; others developed serious, long-lasting, and ultimately fatal illnesses months and years after the blast. Four atolls—Bikini, Enewetak, Utirik, and Rongelap—were soaked in Bravo’s snow like fallout. Although the military had learned many hours before the blast that the winds were heading toward inhabited islands, they chose not to evacuate the residents or delay the test. The United States Government did not give the inhabitants any formal warning about the fallout or any explanation of these terrible symptoms and devastating effects of radioactive fallout exposure. The whole of Rongelap Island was in a terrible state of panic. A couple of days after the severe exposure the people of Rongelap were relocated to the Kwajalein for medical treatment for the radioactive poisoning (“Conditions at Bikini Atoll.” 2012).

With hopes of preserving the island for future generations, the Bikini Atoll Council proposed a scrape of the island; however, the islanders do not like this plan too much. Instead, they proposed a plan to build a causeway between the islands of Bikini and Venue. A compromise is in the works between scientists and the islanders. This compromise is being given serious consideration in light of a new finding by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Their plan is to scrape only the living area of the island. Nonetheless, environmental damage has been done to this island, which was pronounced habitable once again in the end of 1995. The environmental damage inflicted on this small island has certainly left a big scar (Meshkati, 1999).

With advancement of technology, America thought that it could conquer the entire world. With the glamour for military supremacy, the world lost its human nature. The atomic explosion at Bikini reinstates the fundamental claims that scientific achievements and developments are to aid human beings to better living. The United States stopped atmospheric testing in 1958 and signed a test ban treaty with the Soviet Union in 1963. But that did not stop the radioactivity already unleashed from continuing to cause harm. But the displacement of people from their living home is depriving them of their human dignity as place of living gives human beings their personal identity. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been working with the Bikini community since 1995, is recommending that people who move back to Bikini import a certain percentage of their food. About 30 scientists and builders already live on the island, and divers have begun visiting Bikini to explore the extraordinary lagoon, sunken ships, fish, and corals. These people are cautioned to eat no more than one coconut a day. And although most fish are safe to eat, the coconut crabs remain “hot,” because they eat the coconuts (“‘Test Baker’, Bikini Atoll.” 1946).

On the whole, the amount of disaster caused to the environment is unthinkable, and who would hold responsible for such as activity is still debatable? Can the innocent people be the measure of payment for the mistakes although unexpected happened at Bikini, is the question that still remains painfully unanswered. The US government had selfishly exploited the ignorance of the Bikini Island people and the other inhabitants of Marshall Islands to realize their own destructive ambitions to create a hydrogen bomb that had a bigger bang than the ones tested by the Soviets. In their maniac arms race to beat the soviets in thermonuclear bombs countless lives on the Atolls were sacrificed.

References

Bikini Atoll Nuclear Test Site. (2010). Retrieved from http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1339

Case 3 Atomic Testing at Bikini Island. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://highschoolbioethics.georgetown.edu/units/cases/unit3_3.html.

Conditions at Bikini Atoll. (2012). Retrieved from http://www-ns.iaea.org/appraisals/bikini-atoll.asp.

Guyer, R. L. (2001). Radioactivity and rights. American Journal of Public Health, 91(9), 1371-1376. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1446783/

Radic, T. (2002). Atmospheric nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean and Nevada. Retrieved from http://www.angelfire.com/sk/syukhtun/pacificbombs.html

Radiological Conditions at Bikini Atoll and the Prospects of Resettlement. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www-ns.iaea.org/appraisals/bikini-atoll.asp

The Radiological Cleanup and Future Plans for Bikini Atoll. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bikiniatoll.com/

‘Test Baker’, Bikini Atoll. (1946). Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-test-ban-treaty organization (CTBTO). Retrieved from http://www.ctbto.org/specials/infamous-anniversaries/25-july-1946test-baker-bikini-atoll/

United States drops hydrogen bomb over Atoll. (1956). Bikini Retrieved from http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/united-states-drops-hydrogen-bomb-over-bikini-atoll

Weisgall, J. M. (1980). The Nuclear Nomads of Bikini. Foreign Policy 39, 74-98. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1148413?uid=3738256&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21101369655883

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