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Bikini Atoll
Pikinni Atoll
—  Atoll  —
Bikini Atoll, with Bikini Island boxed in the northeast. The crater formed by the Castle Bravo nuclear test can be seen on the northwest cape of the atoll.

Map of the Marshall Islands show Bikini
Map of Bikini Atoll
Coordinates: 11°35′N 165°23′E / 11.583°N 165.383°E / 11.583; 165.383Coordinates: 11°35′N 165°23′E / 11.583°N 165.383°E / 11.583; 165.383
Country Republic of the Marshall Islands
 - Land 2.3 sq mi (6 km2)
 - Total uninhabited

Bikini Atoll (also known as Pikinni Atoll) is an atoll in one of the Micronesian Islands in the Pacific Ocean, part of Republic of the Marshall Islands. It consists of 23 islands surrounding a 229.4-square-mile (594.1 km2) lagoon. As part of the Pacific Proving Grounds it was the site of more than 20 nuclear weapons tests between 1946 and 1958.

The first Westerner to see the atoll, in mid-1820s, was the German navigator and explorer Otto von Kotzebue, who named the atoll Eschscholtz Atoll after the Russian scientist Johann Friedrich von Eschscholtz. The atoll, however, has always been called Bikini by the native Marshall Islanders, from Marshallese "Pik" meaning "surface" and "Ni" meaning "coconut".

Preceding the nuclear tests, the indigenous population was relocated to Rongerik Atoll, though during the Castle Bravo detonation in particular some members of the population were exposed to nuclear fallout (see Project 4.1 for a discussion of the health effects). For examination of the fallout, several rockets of the types Loki and Asp were launched at 11°35′N 165°20′E / 11.583°N 165.333°E / 11.583; 165.333.



Bikini Island is the northeastern most and largest island of Bikini Atoll. It is the best-known and most important island of the atoll, and measures about four kilometres. About twelve kilometres to the northwest is Aomen, the first island in that direction, and to the south of Bikini is Bukonfuaaku.

Bikini Island is well-known for being the subject of nuclear bomb tests, and because the bikini swimsuit was named after the island in 1946. The two-piece swimsuit was introduced within days of the first nuclear test on the atoll, and the name of the island was in the news.[1] Introduced just weeks after the one-piece "Atome" was widely advertised as the "smallest bathing suit in the world", it was said that the bikini "split the atome".[2]

Operation Crossroads Event Baker explosion

Between 1946 and 1958, twenty-three nuclear devices were detonated at Bikini Atoll, beginning with the Operation Crossroads series in the summer of 1946. The March 1st, 1954 detonation codenamed Castle Bravo, was the first test of a practical hydrogen bomb. The largest nuclear explosion ever set off by the United States, it was much more powerful than predicted, and created widespread radioactive contamination.[3][4][5]

Hired later by the Nuclear Claims Tribunal to research and report on the economic damage caused by the testing, Economist and Crisis Consultant Randall Bell writes in his book, Strategy 360[6], "Bravo had an explosive force equal to nearly 1,000 Hiroshima-type bombs. It vaporized the test island, parts of two other islands, and left a mile-wide crater in the lagoon floor. In total, nearly 70 acres of the Bikini Atoll were vaporized by the nuclear testing." Bravo was estimated as being equivalent to approximately 15 megatons of TNT, while the Hiroshima bomb was estimated at 13 kilotons.

Randall Bell also notes, "Many of the landowners and local people accompanied me back to Rongelap an Rongerik, where much of the nuclear fallout came down. John, an elderly man, stood on his former home site in Rongelap and told me that he had gotten up early to make coffee and the sun had not yet come up. Suddenly, the sky lit up like it was day. He could see the large mushroom cloud rising off the horizon from Bikini and, soon after, he felt the blast of the shock wave. Later, as the entire village gathered, they watched the radiocative gray ash fall on them, their houses and their children. John did not express any anger, only deep sorrow that his one-year-old daughter died from leukemia soon after Bravo."

Among those contaminated were the 23 crewmembers of the Japanese fishing boat Lucky Dragon 5.[4] The ensuing scandal in Japan was enormous, and ended up inspiring the 1954 film Godzilla, in which the 1954 U.S. nuclear test awakens and mutates the monster, who then attacks Japan before finally being vanquished by Japanese ingenuity.

The Micronesian inhabitants, who numbered about 200 before the United States relocated them after World War II, ate fish, shellfish, bananas, and coconuts. A large majority of the Bikinians were moved to a single island named Kili as part of their temporary homestead, but remain there today and receive compensation from the United States for their survival.[7]

The Castle Bravo fallout pattern.

In 1968 the United States declared Bikini habitable and started bringing a small group of Bikinians back to their homes in the early 1970s as a test. In 1978, however, the islanders were removed again when strontium-90 in their bodies reached dangerous levels after a French team of scientists did additional tests on the island.[8] It was not uncommon for women to experience faulty pregnancies, miscarriages, stillbirths and damage to their offspring as a result of the nuclear testing on Bikini.[9] The United States provided $150 million as a settlement for damages caused by the nuclear testing program.[10]

Since the early 1980s the leaders of the Bikinian community have insisted that, because of what happened in the 1970s with the aborted return to their atoll, they want the entire island of Bikini excavated and the soil removed to a depth of about 15 inches. Scientists involved with the Bikinians have stressed that while the excavation method would rid the island of the cesium-137, the removal of the topsoil would severely damage the environment, turning it into a virtual wasteland of wind-swept sand. The Council, however, feeling a responsibility toward their people, have repeatedly contended that a scrape of Bikini is the only way to guarantee safe living conditions on their island for their future generations.[citation needed]

Bikini Lagoon

Prior to the explosion of the first atomic bomb on the island, the lagoon at Bikini was designated as a ship graveyard during World War II by the US. Today the Bikini Lagoon is still home to a large number of vessels from the United States and other countries. The dangers of the radioactivity and limited services in the area led to divers staying away from one of the most remarkable potential diving sites in the Pacific for many years. The dive spot has become popular among divers since 1996[11]. However, oil prices have severely curtailed diving operations to the point of being suspended since August 2008 and through 2009, restricted to fully self-contained vessels by prior arrangement.[12]. The lagoon contains a larger amount of sea life than usual due to the lack of fishing, including sharks, increasing the fascination with the spot as a diver's adventure spot. Food including fish is contaminated, however, so tour boats must bring all their own supplies.

Shipwrecks in the lagoon include:

The Cross Spikes Club, painted by Navy painter Arthur Beaumont.[13]

Cross Spikes Club

The Cross Spikes Club was an improvised bar and hangout created by servicemen on Bikini Island between June and September 1946 during the preparation for Operation Crossroads. The "club" was little more than a small open air building that served alcohol to servicemen, and outdoor entertainment including a ping pong table.[14] The Cross Spikes Club has been described as "the only bright spot" in the Operation Crossroads experience. The club, like all military facilities on the island, was abandoned or dismantled following the completion of Operation Crossroads.

The island today

The special International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Bikini Advisory Group determined in 1997 that "It is safe to walk on all of the islands ... although the residual radioactivity on islands in Bikini Atoll is still higher than on other atolls in the Marshall Islands, it is not hazardous to health at the levels measured ... The main radiation risk would be from the food: eating locally grown produce, such as fruit, could add significant radioactivity to the body...Eating coconuts or breadfruit from Bikini Island occasionally would be no cause for concern. But eating many over a long period of time without having taken remedial measures might result in radiation doses higher than internationally agreed safety levels."[15]

The dose received from background radiation on the island was found to be between 2.4 mSv/year and 4.5 mSv/year (the lower rate is the same as natural background radiation) assuming that a diet of imported foods were available.[16] But it was because of these food risks that the group eventually did not recommend fully resettling the island.

See also

  • Bikini – a type of swimsuit named after the island           



  1. ^ "Swimsuit Trivia History of the Bikini". Swimsuit Style. Retrieved 2008-07-10. 
  2. ^ Johnny Acton, Tania Adams, Matt Packer, Origin of Everyday Things, Sterling, 2007, p. 31 ISBN 978-1402743023
  3. ^ Kaleem, Muhammad (2000). "Energy of a Nuclear Explosion". The Physics Factbook. Retrieved 2007-07-22. 
  4. ^ a b Lorna Arnold and Mark Smith. (2006). Britain, Australia and the Bomb, Palgrave Press, p. 77.
  5. ^ John Bellamy Foster (2009). The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace with the Planet, Monthly Review Press, New York, p. 73.
  6. ^ Bell, Randall. Strategy 360. 
  7. ^ "Bikini History". Retrieved 2007-07-22. 
  8. ^ "A Short History of the People of Bikini Atoll". Retrieved 2007-06-27. 
  9. ^ "Victims of the Nuclear Age". Retrieved 2007-07-22. 
  10. ^ "Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal". Retrieved 2007-07-22. 
  11. ^ Scuba Diving in Bikini Lagoon,, accessed 2009-10-30
  12. ^ Bikini Atoll Dive Tourism Information,, 2008-08-23, accessed 2009-10-30
  13. ^ "Operation Crossroads: Bikini Atoll". Navy Historical Center. Department of the Navy. Retrieved 2008-11-09. 
  14. ^ "Article on Operation Crossroads mentioning Cross Spikes Club". Newsletter of American Atomic Veterans 25 (1). 
  15. ^ IAEA Bikini Advisory Group Report
  16. ^ Robison WL, Noshkin VE, Conrado CL, Eagle RJ, Brunk JL, Jokela TA, Mount ME, Phillips WA, Stoker AC, Stuart ML, Wong KM. (1997) The Northern Marshall Islands Radiological Survey: data and dose assessments Health Physics 73(1):37-48


  • Niedenthal, Jack, For the Good of Mankind: A History of the People of Bikini and their Islands, Bravo Publishers, (November 2002), ISBN 9829050025
  • Wiesgall, Jonathan M, Operation Crossroads: Atomic Tests at Bikini Atoll, Naval Institute Press (21 April 1994), ISBN 1557509190

External links

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