In the 1940s and 1950s, Bikini Atoll was chosen as the site for testing the effectiveness of atomic bombs. Today, this site that makes up the Marshall Islands, constituted as a republic since 1990, is one of the most radioactive spots on the planet. However, the absence of human presence has allowed a very rich marine ecosystem to thrive.
Bikini Atoll was chosen for nuclear testing.
Today Bikini Atoll looks like a tropical paradise. With lush vegetation and turquoise waters that invite you to spend a spectacular vacation there. However, the danger lies in what cannot be seen, with the presence of high levels of radiation.
Before the nuclear tests they conducted “for the good of mankind,” the islands were inhabited by natives. They chose that area because it was a remote part of the world. They dispossessed the natives of their land in order to carry out nuclear experiments there.
From 1944, the Marshall Islands were under U.S. rule. In 1946, the islands were completely uninhabited and the native population was relocated to the neighboring atoll of Rongerik. They were assured that they would be able to return to Bikini once radiation levels stabilized, but, unfortunately, this promise was never fulfilled.
Nuclear explosions devastated the site
Testing at Bikini began in July 1946, just one year after the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, and lasted until 1958. During that period, 67 explosions were carried out at Bikini, in all possible forms, air, ground and underwater. One of these explosions, called Castle Bravo, was 7000 times more powerful than that of Hiroshima.
The effects on Bikini Atoll proved devastating, maintaining to this day radiation levels that make human life impossible. In the 1970s, the original natives of Bikini attempted to return, but were prevented by the risks to their health. Despite this, nature took on the role of restoring the ecosystems and environment, benefiting from the human absence. These events profoundly marked the history of the atoll. Although the damage caused by the explosions was irreversible for the flora and fauna of Bikini, the ecosystems today are a sanctuary of uncommon beauty. It is believed that ecosystem repair began a decade after the tests were completed.
What are the islands like today?
Stephen Palumbi, Professor of Marine Science at Stanford University, led an underwater expedition on the atoll, specifically in Bravo Crater, site of the Castle Bravo nuclear test in 1954. Despite the apparent low level of radioactivity in the waters, according to his analysis, the seafloor sediments present a contrasting picture. They revealed a significant concentration of radioactive elements such as plutonium, americium and bismuth.
However, a remarkable recovery of both underwater and island surface ecosystems was noted. In 2010, UNESCO designated Bikini Atoll as a World Heritage Site, which is an award to Mother Nature in recognition of her restoration work.