Saturday, March 1, 2014

March 1: 60th Anniversary of the "Castle Bravo" Thermonuclear Explosion on Bikini Atoll; Fukushima nuclear refugee visits Marshall Islands to learn from survivors of radiation & displacement

March 1, 1954 "Castle Bravo" Thermonuclear Explosion on Bikini Atoll

March 1 is the 60th anniversary of the 1954 experimental explosion of a thermonuclear bomb on Bikini Atoll, an island that was part of a United Nations Trust Territory  administered by Washington. Codenamed Castle Bravo, the 15-megaton bomb was America's largest nuclear device and one of 67 nuclear bombings of Bikini and neighboring Eniwitok atoll.

Nuclear Remembrance Day (Marshall Islands), formally known as Nuclear Victims' Day and Nuclear Survivors' Day is a national holiday in the Marshall Islands honoring the victims and survivors of nuclear testing.

Bikini's fate as a nuclear testing ground was set on February 10, 1946, when Commodore Ben H. Wyatt spoke with King Judah, the leader of the Bikinians. Wyatt, the military governor of the Marshall Islands, told King Judah that Bikinians had an opportunity to bring about world peace.  Wyatt likened Bikinians to the children of Israel whom the Lord saved from their enemy and led unto the Promised Land. They only needed to agree to leaving their home “temporarily” so that the United States could explode a thermonuclear bomb on their island “for the good of mankind and to end all world wars."

King Judah, speaking for his people, devout Christians after decades of missionary activity on the island, replied, "If the United States government and the scientists of the world want to use our island and atoll for furthering development, which with God’s blessing will result in kindness and benefit to all mankind, my people will be pleased to go elsewhere.”

Thereupon, Navy Seabees helped disassemble the Bikinian church and community house and relocated the Bikinians 125 miles (201 km) eastward to Rongerik Atoll. This uninhabited island was one-sixth the size of Bikini Atoll and lacked water and food supply. The Navy left them with a few weeks of food and water, then abandoned them from July 1946 through July of 1947. A team of U.S. investigators concluded in late 1947 that the islanders must be moved immediately. Journalist Harold Ickes wrote, "The natives are actually and literally starving to death."

Castle Bravo hit Bikini with the force of 1,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs. Fallout (that resembled snow except it didn't melt) flowed down upon the residents of Rongelap and Utrik Atolls.  After the Cold War, declassified documents showed that, before the bombing,  the U.S. had organized  Project 4.1,"The Study of Response of Human Beings Exposed to Significant Beta and Gamma Radiation Due to Fallout from High Yield Weapons,” a medical study of the residents of the Marshall Islands exposed to radioactive fallout from Castle Bravo.

Rongelapese (Marshall Islands) child exposed to radiation from the Bravo Test. (Image:

Bravo's radioactive snow went far beyond the northern atolls of the Marshall Islands. 82 miles away, fallout drenched the 23-member crew of Lucky Dragon, a Japanese fishing boat, and, in the same vicinity, unacknowledged victims on 1,000 other boats and ships out at sea during Bravo and other explosions.  The Asahi has brought to light some of the victims' experiences in "‘Forgotten’ victims of U.S. H-bomb testing dying in despair, hopelessness." The Mainichi noted that U.S. government paid "condolence money" to the Japanese government, but did not compensate the actual victims exposed to the bombs' radioactive"death ash."

The contamination of the Lucky Dragon and other vessels in the Pacific (in an area that ranged from the Marshall Islands to Japan to Taiwan and beyond) gave rise to a vigorous postwar anti-nuclear movement in Japan.

Washington encouraged Bikini islanders to return in 1969, when officials deemed the island "safe" after an attempted "clean up."  However, Bikini islanders were forced to leave again in the 1970's when it was revealed their homeland would never be safe for habitation.

In response to the massive Bravo nuclear explosion, Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev ordered nuclear weapons designer Andrei Sakharov to create a bomb even more mind-boggling than Bravo. The result: a series of cataclysmic 20- to 50-megaton nuclear explosions in the Novaya Zemiya archipelago in the Arctic. The largest, the Tsar Bomb was designed to be 100 megatons, however frightened by the potential massive fallout, Sakharov halved its power.

On Oct. 30, 1961, the 50-ton nuclear device's mushroom cloud rose 40 miles (64 km) high after an atom bomb inside the device detonated a series of thermonuclear reactions.  It destroyed buildings 70 miles away and its shockwaves shattered windows in Scandinavia.

The Tsar Bomb was one in the last series of Soviet nuclear explosions conducted in the open atmosphere. The shocking levels of destruction from the Tsar Bomb and  radiation from Castle Bravo led the US and the Soviet Union to agree to an atmospheric test ban treaty in 1963.

Even before the use of the bomb during the Second World War, in July 1945, 155 Manhattan Project scientists signed a petition to Harry Truman stating they believed the offensive use of the nuclear bomb against Japan would be morally wrong and  catastrophic in consequences. Similarly, soon after the explosion of the Tsar Bomb, its creator Andrei Sakharov experienced a moral conversion, and became a witness against nuclear weapons proliferation:
A terrible crime had been committed, and I couldn’t prevent it! A feeling of impotence, unbearable bitterness, shame and humiliation overcame me. I dropped my face on the table and wept. This was probably the most terrible lesson of my life: you can’t sit on two chairs.
In the decades since the declassification of documents about the secret human radiation experimentation upon the people of the Marshall Islands, we have seen the development of cross-border sharing and solidarity between survivors of the 2,056 experimental nuclear bombs that nuclear nations have exploded throughout the world.  The concept of "global hibakusha" has entered public consciousness, and now includes victims of uranium mining, depleted uranium testing and use in warfare, nuclear waste disposal, and nuclear plant meltdowns.

Keiko Takahashi, third from right, attends a Mass for victims of nuclear experiments in Majuro, Marshall Islands, on Feb. 27. (Photo: Hajimu Takeda, Asahi)

This year a young nuclear refugee, Keiko Takahashi visited the Marshall Islands to help her understanding of the consequences of nuclear fallout in Fukushima. Takahashi was forced to leave her home in Okuma has only been able to visit her home once since her family's evacuation shortly after 3/11. The Fukushima University student called for continued dialogue, solidarity, and collaborative action between victims of nuclear radiation worldwide:
A clue to achieving a nuclear-free world will be found when people who suffered damage join hands, share lessons and face challenges.
In 1996, after France's experimental nuclear explosions in French Polynesia resulted in outrage in the Asia-Pacific and worldwide, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty but it has not entered into force because China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the United States have signed but not ratified the Treaty; and India, North Korea and Pakistan have not signed it. 


Nuclear Savage: Islands of Secret Project 4.1 (documentary film by Adam Jonas Horowitz that exposes the decades of human radiation testing after Castle Bravo. The people of Rongelap describe an unbelievable level of suffering from recurring cancers, miscarriages, and birth defects that have affected multiple generations)

"Student visits bombed Marshall Islands to find way for Fukushima revival," (Hajimu Takeda, Asahi, March 2, 2014)

"Nuclear Conquistadors: Military Colonialism in Nuclear Test Site Selection during the Cold War" (Robert Jacobs, Asian Journal of Peacebuilding Vol. 1 No. 2, Nov. 2013): 157-177)

United Nations Report Reveals the Ongoing Legacy of Nuclear Colonialism in the Marshall Islands ( Robert Jacobs & Mick Broderick, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Nov. 19, 2012)

"BRAVO and Today: US Nuclear Tests in the Marshall Islands" (Tony de Brum, The Asia-Pacific Journal, May 19, 2005)

"Bikini and the Hydrogen Bomb: A Fifty Year Perspective" (Senator Tomaki Juda and Charles J. Hanley, The Asia-Pacific Journal, April 25, 2004)

"Islanders Want The Truth About Bikini Nuclear Test" (Yoichi Funabashi, The Asia-Pacific Journal, March 3, 2004)

"Nuclear War: Uranium Mining and Nuclear Tests on Indigenous Lands" (Cultural Survival, Fall 1993)

 "Secrets of the Dead: The World’s Biggest Bomb" (PBS, 2011)

More background, via  Our Islands Are Sacred on Facebook:

“History Project," written and performed by Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

Darlene Keju, Speech to World Council of Churches, Vancouver, 1983

Banning nuclear weapons: a Pacific Islands perspective, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) report presented to the Second Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Nayarit, Mexico, February 12-14 Photo: The Bravo nuclear test on Bikini Atoll, 1 March 1954, part of Operation Castle


No comments: