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Heroes

Remember those nukes we tested in the Cold War? The residual radiation is leaching into the ocean.

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The Wilderness Society

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a tiny country in the Pacific Ocean.

Made up of over 1,000 islands and islets and 29 coral atolls, the Marshall Islands are home to just 72,000 people — about half the population of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Like many Pacific islands, it's a scenic, tropical paradise full of beautiful beachside views and ... wait, what the hell is that?!


Image via GroundTruth.

Oh. Right. That's just a giant concrete dome full of radioactive waste on Enewetak Atoll.

From 1944 to 1979, the Marshall Islands were technically a territory of the United States (who took them from Japan during World War II, who took them from Germany after World War I, who took them from...), and as long as they claimed ownership of these remote islands, the military figured, "Hey, may as well use the space to blow stuff up."

Wasn't the Cold War so much fun?

More than 60 atmospheric nuclear weapons were tested in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1962, resulting in a combined 108 megatons of nuclear yield.

That's like the bomb that wrecked Hiroshima times 7,000, or the equivalent of 1.6 atomic bombs dropped every day for 12 years. These tiny islands are home to about 80% of our radioactive waste from nuclear testing.

And about two-thirds of those tests took place on Enewetak Atoll.


The first hydrogen bomb was exploded on Enewetak Atoll as part of Operation Ivy (not to be confused with the seminal but short-lived '80s punk band of the same name). GIF via "Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Movie."

And, well, they had to do something with all that leftover radioactive material, right?

I imagine the conversation went kind of like this:
"Hey guys, now that we've decided to give this country back to its people, what should we do with the 22 million gallons of nuclear waste that's still here?"

"Eh, just cover it in 18 inches of concrete, and we'll deal with it later."

"Cool beans. You guys wanna grab a beer? First round's on me!"






It might look like the crashed carcass of a UFO from a '90s dystopian sci-fi film, but don't worry; it's just a radically unstable plutonium container. NBD, nothing to see here, move along now thanks. Image via GroundTruth.

The Dome was like a parting gift from the U.S. to the Marshall Islands. But it was never meant to be permanent.

The concrete casing was just a stopgap while the U.S. government figured out something better to do with all those megatons of dangerous nuclear debris.

Which, of course, they never did. But hey, at least they give Marshallese residents some compensation for the impending threats of radiation sickness. Maybe that's why the locals affectionately call the place "The Tomb."

Oh, that's the bad news: the Dome has already cracked, leaking radiation into the soil. A 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Energy found that the earth in the immediate vicinity of the dome was actually more contaminated than its contents.

The worse news is that the entire atoll is about to be submerged beneath the ocean — if a natural disaster doesn't destroy it first.

Image via GroundTruth

Instead of being Ground Zero for nuclear testing, the Marshall Islands are now ground zero for climate change.

With worldwide temperatures continuing to increase and sea levels rising, the Marshall Islands will likely be immersed under water within 85 years.

Our ecosystem is an incredible machine, but when we damage just one crucial part of it, that affects other parts of the environment as well — and that domino effect shows no signs of stopping. This could have something to do with the influx of wild floods and tidal waves throughout the Marshall Islands as well.

If you've ever seen what water does to concrete and stone, then you understand why this might be a problem for those millions of gallons of nuclear waste simmering beneath the Runit Dome.


I'm not necessarily saying that the ocean will erode the concrete of the Runit Dome and dump millions of gallons of radioactive debris into the Pacific Ocean that awaken a vengeful fire-breathing mutant-dinosaur-monster bent on the destruction of Tokyo. But it's not not a possibility. GIF from "Godzilla (2014)."

Here's a short video tour of the ruins of the Runit Dome.

And if you care at about the well-being of the South Pacific, sign this petition to help protect the South Pacific and stop oil companies like BP from causing even more damage to our fragile environment. They might not be quite the same as 22 million gallons of plutonium waste, but they're still a major factor in keeping those 72,000 Marshallese residents from drowning in the wake of human arrogance.

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