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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

Facts about... nuclear explosions in the Bikini Atoll.


NUNLEY: Fifty years ago this week the US government exploded a 20-kiloton nuclear weapon beneath a lagoon in the South Pacific's Bikini atoll. The blast heaved a column of water more than a mile into the sky, and sank a dozen old Navy ships left there as part of the experiment. One aircraft carrier was flung a half-mile through the air. In the days that followed Navy cleanup crews tried to salvage the remaining ships by swabbing away contamination. The sailors wore no protective clothing, just their uniforms, and by the 1970s veterans of the Bikini blast were filing claims for cancer and other illnesses. In 1988 Congress granted many of them disability payments. The 200 residents of Bikini evacuated before the test had been told they could return in a few months, but the tests continued. One hundred residents finally moved back in 1969 after the US government assured them that the island was safe. But the assurance was premature. The returnees were contaminated by eating radioactive coconuts, and in 1978 they were evacuated again. The Bikinians later won millions of dollars in claims against the United States. This fall they plan to begin removing radioactive topsoil from their island to clear the way for their long-awaited return. And for this week that's the Living on Earth almanac.



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