The Marshall Islands, a chain of volcanic islands and coral atolls in the central Pacific Ocean, have been home to a haunting legacy since the mid-twentieth century. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted numerous nuclear tests on Bikini Atoll and other locations in the Marshall Islands. The aftermath of these nuclear experiments is still felt today both environmentally and in human impact. Read on to learn more about how nuclear testing affected these peaceful islands and altered their existence forever.
Prelude to the Nuclear Tests
In the wake of World War II, the U.S. embarked on an ambitious program to test its new nuclear arsenal. Due to the Marshall Islands remote location, small population, and its accessibility from other U.S. military bases, the U.S. planned to test powerful nuclear weapons there. The inhabitants of Bikini Atoll were relocated to other islands to allow nuclear testing to begin.
Operation Crossroads was the first test series to take place on Bikini Atoll on July 1, 1946. The purpose of the tests was to examine the effect of nuclear weapons on naval warships. The operation ended on August 10, 1946, due to concerns over radiation, especially to the military service personnel involved in the tests. In total, 67 nuclear tests were conducted in the Marshall Islands, with Bikini Atoll hosting 23 of them.
The nuclear testing conducted in Bikini Atoll and the greater Marshall Islands not only displaced the local inhabitants, it exposed many civilians and service men and women to dangerous levels of radiation and caused severe long-term damage to the local environment. The events have left a lasting impact on these pristine and fragile ecosystems.
The nuclear tests in Bikini Atoll and other parts of the Marshall Islands have left a devastating mark on the environment, which is still evident today.
- Contaminated soil and groundwater: Animal and plant life have absorbed harmful radioactive isotopes, such as cesium-137, including coconut crabs, an essential food source for islanders. This contamination poses severe health risks for the local population, who rely on farming and fishing as their primary sources of food.
- Loss of natural habitats: The aftermath of the nuclear tests has displaced many native species and caused a loss of biodiversity on the islands. Today, the coral reefs, which once thrived in the area, are struggling to recover.
- Nuclear waste: The United States conducted a cleanup operation in the late 1970s that resulted in the entombment of 111,000 cubic yards of radioactive waste in a concrete dome called the Runit Dome on Enewetak Atoll. Concerns have been raised about the long-term stability of the structure and the potential for it to leak radioactive materials into the ocean.
The Marshallese people and the service personnel involved in the nuclear testing program continue to suffer from health problems as a result of exposure to radiation during the tests. In particular, the Castle Bravo test, which produced the highest fallout levels in history. The detonation produced a much bigger explosion than predicted, exposing people in other parts of the Marshall Islands to high levels of radiation. Initially, many experienced mild radiation sickness, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, but later experienced more serious health issues, including hair loss and skin lesions.
The fallout has also been linked to:
- High cancer rates: The Marshall Islands suffer from some of the highest cancer rates in the world. According to the National Cancer Benefits Center, thyroid cancer and leukemia are particularly prevalent due to radiation exposure.
- Birth defects: Exposure to radiation has also led to higher incidences of birth defects, stillbirths, and infant mortality rates within the affected communities.
In addition to the locals, many members of the US military who were present for the nuclear testing (referred to now as the Atomic Veterans) also face an increased risk of cancer and other significant health issues related to the testing.
Compensation Programs for Those Affected
The government has implemented a number of programs to compensate people (including both employees and civilians) affected by atmospheric nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands who later acquired a covered cancer as a result. Eligible claimants can also include family members of those affected.
The programs were approved by the United States Congress to provide compensation and/or medical benefits to those physically present at an island nuclear site and other nuclear sites. They include the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) and the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA).
National Cancer Benefits Center – Helping Victims of Nuclear Testing
The Cancer Benefits Center exists to help those affected by illnesses resulting from exposure to radiation or other toxic substances due to nuclear testing at a nuclear site in the Marshall Islands, such as Bikini Atoll. They promote and work with many different benefit programs to help eligible claimants receive compensation.
If you or a family member were exposed to radiation as a result of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands, and were subsequently diagnosed with cancer or related illness, call the National Cancer Benefits Center today. Our compassionate providers have been helping eligible claimants collect their compensation for over 25 years.
We provide unbiased, personalized advice and will help guide you through the claims process to ensure you get the financial compensation you’re entitled to. To find out more, call the National Cancer Benefits Center today at (800) 414-4328 or use our link to request for more information.