The United States conducted 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands from 1946-1958. Justifying that the testing was for the good of mankind, the US removed the inhabitants of Bikini Atoll, who believed they would soon return. Over the next twelve years the US tested the equivalent of 7,000 Hiroshima bombs, or approximately 1.6 Hiroshima bombs every day for 12 years.
Though the inhabitants of neighboring atolls were initially removed to avoid accidental exposure, that was not the case with the Castle Bravo detonation. The test, a 15 megaton blast held on March 1, 1954, sent irradiated coral dust throughout the atolls. Other massive thermonuclear tests followed Bravo. The inhabitants of Utrok and Rongelap Atolls who were exposed by the Bravo detonation were unknowingly used as human experiments in Project 4.1, a secret US Atomic Energy Commission study to monitor the effects of radiation on a human population.
The people of the Marshall Islands still suffer from the effects of radiation exposure and forced relocation. Documents declassified in 1994 under President Bill Clinton’s administration reveal that the exposure was more widespread than officially recognized by the US government. Those documents were subsequently reclassified by the Department of Defense and later administrations. Appeals by the RMI and atoll populations to revisit issues of compensation based on that evidence have been denied. MEI supports the full declassification of all documents pertaining to the testing period and urges the US Congress to review the evidence provided in the Marshallese petition.
The following books, articles and websites provide information about U.S. nuclear testing and its impact on the Marshall Islands.
Barbara Rose Johnston & Holly Barker, Consequential Damages of Nuclear War: The Rongelap Report (California: Left Coast Press, 2008), and Holly Barker, Bravo for the Marshallese: Regaining Control in a Post-Nuclear, Post-Colonial World, 2nd ed. (California: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2012). Both books are available at Amazon.com.
- Dr. Jessica A. Schwartz, “A ‘Voice to Sing’: Rongelapese Musical Activism and the Production of Nuclear Knowledge,” Music and Politics, Vol. VI, Issue I (Winter, 2012).
- Dr. April L. Brown, “‘No Promised Land’: the Shared Legacy of the Castle Bravo Nuclear Test,” Arms Control Today, March 1, 2014.
- Atomic Energy Commission Document, June 1954
- National Security Archive documents
Click below to play the Bikinian Anthem sung by members of the Bikinian community on Ejit Island in 2009, recorded by Dr. Jessica A. Schwartz.
Castle Bravo and U.S. Nuclear Testing in the Marshall Islands
The Castle Bravo detonation, conducted on March 1, 1954 at Bikini Atoll, was 1,000 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb. Neighboring atoll populations, who were neither informed of the tests nor relocated prior to the detonation, continue to experience health issues, cultural upheaval, and physical dislocation due to environmental degradation. Although additional nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands spread fallout, Bravo remains the most notorious due to its impact, primarily, on the people of the Marshall Islands.