The Marshall Islands are located in the Pacific Ocean, just north of the equator. They help form an area referred to as Micronesia. The Marshalls are composed of twenty- nine atolls and five islands (Niedenthal, 2008). The two main atolls are Bikini and Enewetak. The most historical atoll is Bikini.
The Marshalls were first discovered by the Spanish in the 1600's and later by the Germans. The islands were primarily used for producing copra oil from coconuts. In the early 1900's the Japanese administered to the islands; this later became a military station in anticipation for WWII. The Japanese set up headquarters on the Kwajalein atoll. In February 1944, the U.S. captured Kwajalein atoll and ended the Japanese hold on the Marshall Islands. Only five Japanese men remained on Bikini, and they committed suicide to avoid being captured. In December 1945, President Truman issued a directive to test nuclear bombs. Bikini atoll was chosen due to its distant location from regular air and sea routes (Niedenthal, 2008).
In February 1946, Commodore Ben H. Wyatt went to Bikini to ask the Bikinians if they would be willing to relocate temporarily. Commodore Wyatt explained that the testing would be done, “for the good of all mankind and to end all world wars.” (Niedenthal, 2008) King Juda spoke for the Bikinians saying, “We will go believing that everything is in the hands of God.” (Niedenthal, 2008). As the 167 Bikinians prepared to relocate; as many as 42,000 U.S. military and civilian personnel moved in.
The legacy of Bikini began in March of 1946; this is when they were first removed from the island in preparation for Operation Crossroads. In this preparation the Bikinians were moved 125 miles eastward to Rongerik atoll. Rongerik was uninhabited due to the belief that evil spirits dwelled there. The U.S. left the Bikinians with only several weeks worth of food, and after two months they were suffering from starvation.
In July King Juda traveled back to Bikini with a U.S. government delegate. At this point, the second atomic bomb, code name Baker, had been detonated and Bikini looked the same. The first bomb was called Able. Both bombs were roughly the size of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The food shortage on Rongerik worsened from December 1946 through January 1947.
Then in May 1947, the Binikians saw more devastation. A huge fire damaged a large majority of the coconut trees. In July a U.S. medical officer visited the island, and by fall the U.S. investigators decided to move the Bikinians. This time the Bikinians would be moved to Ujelang atoll. Before the move to Ujelang, the Bikinians began building homes and communities. Then by the end of 1947 the U.S. selected Enewetak atoll as a second test site. The people on Enewaetak were moved to Ujelang, and began living in the homes and communities that the Bikinians had built for themselves. In March 1948, the Bikinians were moved to Kwajalein atoll. However, they did not stay on Kwajalein long; by November 1948 the Bikinians were moving to Kili Islands. Once again, their food supply became short and people faced starvation (Niedenthal, 2008).
In January 1954, the U.S. military went to Rongerik to set up a weather station to monitor conditions in preparation for Operation Castle. The weather conditions were monitored multiple times a day as the test date for the Bravo shot got closer. The midnight briefing indicated that the winds were headed for Rongelap and to the east of there. It was recognized that both Bikini and Eneman islands would probably be contaminated (Niedenthal, 2008).
March 1, 1954, Bravo was detonated off the northwestern corner of Bikini. The men on U.S. military ships stationed forty miles south and east of Bikini were ordered to go below deck and seal all windows and doors due to the levels of radiation. Bravo was a thousand times more powerful than Fat Man and Little Boy used on Japan. The white ash, fall out, fell as far as 125 miles to the east of Bikini atoll, which is Rongelap Atoll. The “success” of the blast was far greater than expected. Many people had been exposed to this large amount of radiation, and none of them had received any explanation from the U.S. government. In late March the off- limit zones were expanded to include Rongeik, Utirik, Ujelang, and Likiep. No one had been evacuated from these islands prior to the blast. In the spring of 1954, Bikar, Ailinginae, Rongelap, and Rogerik were all contaminated by the Yankee and Union bombs (Niedenthal, 2008).
In January 1955, on the island of Kili, it was becoming more and more difficult to get the food to the Bikinians. The U.S. then gave the Bikinians a satellite community on Jaluit Atoll. During this time the Bikinians signed over full use rights to Bikini Atoll. In late 1957 Typhoon Lola hit Kili, sinking the Bikinians supply ship. Then in 1958, Typhoon Ophelia hit Jaluit. The Bikinians were forced to move back to Kili, and battle inadequate food supply throughout 1960 (Niedenthal, 2008). The following is a list of significant dates and events for the Marshall Islanders:
* June 1968: President Lyndon B. Johnson promised the 540 Bikinians they could return to Bikini.
* August 1969: An eight year plan was prepared for resettlement of Bikini Atoll.
* Late 1969: The first clean up phase was complete
* 1971: The resettlement plan came to a halt.
* 1972: Coconut trees were planted and people moved back to Bikini.
* June 1975: Bikini is said to be hotter and too contaminated.
* May 1977: Level of radioactive strontium 90 exceeded U.S. maximum allowed limits. The Bikinians were limited to eating one coconut a day; due to a buildup of cesium from eating multiple coconuts (Kristof, 1997).
* September 1978: Bikini Atoll is evacuated again.
* 1980- 1987: The Bikinians filed a lawsuit, the lawsuit was dismissed, and finally the Bikinians received two trust funds for compensation.
* 1990's: Bikini starts a tourism program (Niedenthal, 2008).
* 1996: Bikini was able to provide a dive program. Bikini got a new power plant and a fresh water production unit.
* 2001: Bikini took over management of the dive program.
* 2003-2004: All dive facilities on Bikini were upgraded.
* 2007: Upgrades across the atoll continue.
The people of Bikini still remain scattered waiting for the clean up to begin again. It has not begun again due to the lack of funding by the U.S. (Resettlement Program to Date).
The soil on Bikini Atoll is contaminated and there have been several proposals for how to clean the soil. One suggested method is to evacuate the island and remove the soil to a depth of 15 inches; which would more than likely leave the island like a wasteland of sand. A second suggested method is to not evacuate but to scrape the soil in a patchwork fashion one area at a time. A third method is to also scrape the soil but to move the contaminated soil to the Bravo crater. A fourth method is to spread potassium fertilizer on the soil. The tress will prefer the potassium over the cesium (The Radiological Cleanup and Future Plans for Bikini Atoll).
It is uncertain if the people of Bikini Atoll will ever be able to live there again. If they had the proper funding, they would be able to properly clean the soil and eventually move back to Bikini Atoll. Bikini Atoll is currently open to tourists. The atoll's water is clean and open to divers. While diving, tourists can see a variety of ships, the world's only aircraft carrier, and submarines (Bikini radiological). Hopefully sometime in the new future the Bikinians will receive the funding they need in order to finish the resettlement of Bikini Atoll; and will be able to move back to their island and resume their diet of coconuts!
Kristof, N. D. (1997, March 5). An Atomic Age Eden (but Don't Eat the Coconuts). Retrieved March 3, 2010, from The New York Times : www.nytimes.com/1997/03/05/world/an-atomic-age-eden-but-don-t-eat-the-coconuts
Niedenthal, J. (2008, March). Short History of the People of Bikini Atoll. Retrieved March 3, 2010, from Bikini Atoll: www.bikiniatoll.com/history.html
Resettlement Program to Date. (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2010, from Bikini Atoll: www.bikiniatoll.com/resettle.html
The Radiological Cleanup and Future Plans for Bikini Atoll. (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2010, from Bikini Atoll: www.bikiniatoll.com/radclean.html