Sixty Years Later, Effects of "Castle Bravo" Nuclear Test Linger
Arms Control Today Essay Looks Back on U.S. Testing in the Marshall Islands
For Immediate Release: February 26, 2014
Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, 202-463-8270, ext. 107; April Brown, Marshallese Educational Initiative, 479-856-6122.
(Washington, D.C.) March 1 is the anniversary of one of the most controversial and harmful of the United States' 1,030 nuclear weapons test explosions: the 15-megaton atmospheric thermonuclear shot code-named "Castle Bravo" over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
Six decades later, the Castle Bravo test and the other U.S. nuclear test detonations conducted in the Marshall Islands from 1946 to 1958 have cast a long shadow over the Marshallese people, according to April L. Brown in her article in the March issue of Arms Control Today, "No Promised Land: The Shared Legacy of the Castle Bravo Nuclear Test."
The Bravo Castle test was the largest ever by the United States. It vaporized three islands, created a mushroom cloud that rose to 130,000 feet and spread more than 25 miles in diameter in less than 10 minutes, and spewed radioactive fallout over nearby inhabited islands, including Ailinginae, Rongelap, and Utrik, as well as the Japanese fishing vessel Lucky Dragon.
The order was given "to proceed with the test as planned despite the likelihood that winds would carry the fallout over inhabited atolls," Brown notes. U.S. authorities failed to evacuate the populations for days. Brown recounts how the relocated populations suffered for years afterward and have struggled to obtain better medical treatment and economic assistance from the U.S. government.
In 1994, Brown notes, a U.S. government nuclear declassification initiative revealed that the Rongelapese were for many years the test subjects in a U.S. government-sponsored study on the health consequences of radiation exposures and the Department of Energy believed that fallout from the tests affected a far larger area and more people than officially acknowledged.
"Today, nuclear issues remain at the center of the complex geopolitical relationship between the United States and the Marshall Islands," writes Brown in Arms Control Today. "The Marshallese on the islands suffer from health issues, including high cancer rates and the highest rate of diabetes in the world, and high unemployment," she notes.
"The Marshallese who have relocated to the United States continue to struggle as well. Like the Marshallese who have remained in the islands, the U.S. community suffers from high rates of diabetes and cancer, and it lacks adequate access to medical resources," Brown writes.
Brown is a professor of history at Northwest Arkansas Community College and is co-founder and executive director of the Marshallese Educational Initiative based in Arkansas, where the second-largest concentration of Marshallese reside.
Ceremonies will be held this week to mark the events of March 1, 1954 at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas (Feb. 28) and in the Marshall Islands (Feb. 24-March 1).
To help raise awareness and understanding of the devastating effects of nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific and elsewhere around the globe, Brown's article, "No Promised Land: The Shared Legacy of the Castle Bravo Nuclear Test," is now available online in PDF form.
The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA sponsors the Project for the CTBT, which brings together experts and NGOs in support of the entry into force of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty