Exactly 70 years have passed since the first atomic bombs were dropped over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
By Sarah Emerson | MOTHERBOARD
The second bomb tested, an implosion-type nuclear weapon affectionately named “Helen of Bikini,” created a towering spray dome of two million tons of radioactive water. It was called “the world’s first nuclear disaster” by Glenn Seaborg, one of the fathers of the atomic bomb, and the United States government would detonate another 66 of its kind over the Micronesian archipelago between 1946 and 1958. Could these islands ever be safe for life again?
“People dream of going back to Bikini Island, but there’s an ugly history of people returning too early and getting sick. I couldn’t get clear answers, even in scientific literature, on whether these islands were, in fact, radioactive or not,” Emlyn Hughes, a professor of physics at Columbia University, told me.
Hughes is a CERN-trained particle physicist who found himself in the Marshall Islands after leading a documentary project on nuclear weapons with his undergraduate students. At the time, the RMI was suing the US government for allegedly violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. After closely following the case, Hughes decided to pursue an unbiased analysis of the islands’ actual radiation levels.