Abuse of Power and Nuclear Waste

Jesse Kuet
February 11, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Cement Homes Constructed After Testing. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Between 1946 and 1958, there were 7 nuclear test sites in the atolls of the Marshall Islands. [1] However, there was one particular test conducted, which proved to be the most significant test in US history. Although the test was successful, there were many questionable practices made by the United States that claimed the testing site was inhabitable by its native people and free of any radioactivity, which proved to be false.

Bikini Atoll

In 1954, a 15 megaton hydrogen bomb was tested on the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands with an agreement of $25,000 in cash and a $300,000 trust fund without the benefit of legal representation to use the Bikinian land for testing. [2] The explosion was so powerful that it destroyed three islands and had been the largest nuclear device that the United States had ever detonated. [1] The test was conducted in the northwest corner of the atoll and left a large hole in the reef 1 mile wide and 400 feet deep. [2] However, in the aftermath, the US did not put much effort into the restoration of the native Bikinians land.

The Mistreatment of the Native People

Prior to the test, the native inhabitants of Bikini Atoll were transferred to Rongerik Atoll for two years while on the verge of starvation. Then, the Bikinians were moved to Kwajalein Atoll where they were forced to live on a strip of grass next to a US military runway for 6 months before relocating to Kili Island, which lacked a sheltered lagoon. As a result, the native Bikinians could not fish or sail effectively to self sustain themselves. [2] In the 1960s, President Johnson announced that Bikini Atoll was inhabitable once again. and some natives returned to their newly cement constructed homes (see Fig. 1). However in 1975, the US Department of interior officials stated that the levels of radioactivity were actually questionable for habitation. Everything from well waters to the breadfruit found on the lands contained low levels of Pu-239 and Pu-240, which the US stated as probably not radiologically significant. [2] Amidst this claim, the Bikinian government filed a lawsuit claiming that the US refused to survey the land using the same sophisticated technology and equipment that they had used at Enewetak Atoll. The Bikinian people only wanted an aerial radiological survey of the land, but due to the abuse of power by the US government, the request had been delayed by 3 years. [2] Upon further investigation, the effects of the bomb had "reached locations the government did not expect to be touched by the testing" and found that the natives who moved back into Bikini Atoll showed an average 75% increase in Cs-137, which is a product of the nuclear tests. [2,3] It wasn't until the US Department of Energy revealed many disabilities prevalent in the physicality of the native people in 1978 that many of the native Bikinian people instead remained on Kili Island instead of returning to their home.

© Jesse Kuet. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] Z. T. Richards et al., "Bikini Atoll Coral Biodiversity Resilience Five Decades after Nuclear Testing," Mar. Poll. Bull. 56, 503 (2008)

[2] J. Niedenthal, "A History of the People of Bikini Following Nuclear Weapons Testing in the Marshall Islands: With Recollections and Views of Elders of Bikini Atoll," Health Phys. 73, 28 (1997).

[3] M. Gutwald, "Marshall Islands Nuclear Testing and Health Affects," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2017.