History of Nuclear Testing

   in the Marshall Islands


"Bravo" was the world's first deliverable hydrogen bomb detonated on Bikini Atoll,

  March 1, 1954 and was 1,200 times larger [15 megatons] than the Hiroshima atomic

  bomb [12.5 kilotons].  Questions remain surrounding the "accidental" irradiation of 

  downwind Marshall Islanders and inhabited islands during the testing years 1946-58.

When the finished products of the Manhattan Project destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the Nuclear Age was officially upon us.  The United States held a monopoly on nuclear weapons until the former Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb - Little Joe - in 1949 which sent shock waves throughout the U.S. military and intelligence establishment. The decision was made to procede with all due haste with the second generation of nuclear weapons - thermonuclear or hydrogen bombs. 

After successfully destroying the career of former Manhattan Project head Robert Oppenheimer, physicist Edward Teller [below] led the effort to build the H-bomb, including Castle-Bravo in 1954. Teller referred to Bravo as the "Shrimp" because it was the world's first miniaturized and deliverable H-bomb that could be dropped by plane on an enemy. 

The successful scientific "evolution" between the 1952 "Mike" H-bomb test at Enewetak [7.5 megatons or about 600 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs] - necessitated an 88-ton refrigeration unit to keep the liquid lithium-deuteride fuel below room temperature.

For "Bravo" in 1954 Teller utilized the Teller-Ulam design plus discovering how to make the lithium-deuteride fuel into a solid that would remain stable at room temperature.  Teller purposely designed Bravo to produce maximum radioactive fallout . . . There was no data about how radioactive fallout from H-bombs affects humans and their environment in early 1954 as the Cold War was heating up.  Enter the downwind Marshallese and Project 4.1:

Physicist Edward Teller, known as the "father of the H-bomb," and the man who destroyed the Manhattan Project director Robert Oppen-heimer was obsessed with building the "Super" or H-bomb and was the designer of Bravo.

A cross-section of Bravo utilizing the Teller-Ulam H-bomb design.  The Primary is an A-bomb which ignites the fusion chain reaction for the Secondary.  The red fusion fuel is solid lithium-deuteride which accounted for 80% of the radioactive fallout from Bravo.

"Bravo" nearing completion at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California
in late 1953.  The all-aluminum casing reduced the weight of Bravo. Bravo was
the world's first deliverable H-bomb.

"Bravo," the finished product

"Bravo" was detonated atop this

    100-foot steel tower on Bikini  

The fallout pattern for Bravo.  The people of Rongelap received 175 rads of whole-body gamma exposure living 120 miles downwind from ground zero.  Utrik recieved 18 rads at 320 miles downwind from Bikini and had a higher rate of thyroid cancer than the people of Rongelap.  This finding suggested that low dose ionizing radiation is far more deleterious to human health than previously believed.

This screenshot from a 1955 Atomic Energy Commission [AEC] film depicts what would happen if the former Soviet Union dropped a "Bravo"-sized hydrogen bomb on Washington, D.C. with the radioactive fallout spreading up the Eastern Seaboard and irradiating 15% of the U.S. population.  The "Bravo" fallout imprint [in purple] has been superimposed on a map of the East Coast in the 1955 AEC film, indicating exactly what "Bravo" was all about:  Collecting human and environmental data about the short, intermediate and long-term effects of radioactive fallout on humans at the height of the Cold War with the "Ruskies."  The AEC called this human experiment "Project 4.1"  [See Adam Horowitz's excellent 90-minute award-winning documentary titled "Nuclear Savages: Project 4.1." Go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqdRIt1EnkY

The 1.3 mile-wide crater from Bravo on March 1, 1954 at Bikini Atoll.  The mushroom cloud reached a height of 130,000 feet into the stratosphere and spread the radioactive fallout around the entire Earth for many years.  A meterologist for the Atomic Energy Commission testified before a joint session of Congress in 1957 and said that "Americium-241 and Strontium-90 were still falling back to Earth from Castle-Bravo three years previously in 1954." The people of Bikini Atoll were told during their forced evacuation in 1946 that their move would be "temporary."  That the people of Bikini have yet to return home gives new meaning to the word "temporary" while they continue to suffer on Kili Island, known infamously as "jiken callabuj" [lit. "the prison"].

Epilation, or hair loss [L] occurred after 28 days and beta burns [C[ occurred after 40 days among the highly exposed Rongelap Islanders following the fallout from Bravo.  These along with decreased blood cell counts, nausea, and itching and burning of the skin accounted for the acute effects of radiation exposure.  A crew member [R] of the "Lucky Dragon" showing epilation and beta burns 38 days post-Bravo.

These are the children [F2 generation] of exposed Rongelap Islanders.  According to the people of the Marshall Islands - and especially the women and mid-wives - babies like these were seldom seen before the testing of nuclear weapons in their islands between 1946-58.

Dennis O'Rourke-NPR-1986-Half Life - Unknown Artist
00:00 / 00:00

Listen to the 6-minute 1986 NPR interview with Dennis O'Rourke about "Half Life"

Dennis O'Rourke - 1945-2013

The late world-renowned Australian documentary filmmaker Dennis O'Rourke finished his poignant film "Half Life" in 1986 at the height of the Reagan military build-up.  Although "Half Life" won several international film awards, the New York Film Festival rejected "Half Life" because it was "too anti-American."


To view "Half Life" on YouTube [with Greek sub-titles] go herehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTrkelQZ_ng


Other interesting films by O'Rourke include:

"Yumi Yet" Papua New Guinea - 1976

"Yap: How'd You Know We'd Like TV?" - 1980

"The Shark Callers of Kontu" - 1982

"Cannibal Tours" - 1988

"The Good Woman of Bangkok" - 1991

"Cunnamulla" - 2000

"Land Mines - A Love Story" - 2004

This website is designed to give voice to the people of the Republic of the Marshall Islands [RMI] who have firsthand knowledge - in their bodies and DNA, in their memories and permanently in their atolls - of thermonuclear weapons and their destruction, having been at the receiving end of the United States' "foreign policy."

AtomicAtolls.org's primary mission is to provide a repository of the unfiltered history of the relationship between the U.S. and RMI through an archive of audio interviews [in both Marshallese and English*] on SoundCloud (previously unavailable to the public) and photographs of downwind Marshall Islanders who were caught in the radioactive fallout from the 67 atomic & hydrogen thermonuclear bombs detonated at Bikini and Enewetak Atolls between 1946-58.


In addition to these rare and powerful interviews conducted between 1981 and 2002 [by Glenn Alcalay & Kai Erikson], numerous unclassified U.S. government documents, U.N. testimonies, NGO reports, and other educational materials regarding nuclear testing issues in the Marshall Islands will also be made available to the public.  Lastly, a large archive of videos and documentary films about the Nuclear Age, from the Manhattan Project to Weapons in Space will be made available.

Our website is dedicated to aolep dri-Majol, people of the Marshall Islands - especially the youth - and all of the glorious people who reside on our dear Mother Earth.  If there is a theme or a meme that truly captures the character of this website, it is this:  America nuked the Gentle People.

Glenn Alcalay

Peace Corps Volunteer, Utrok Atoll 1975-1977

Jeramman wot!

Glenn Alcalay & Andrew Fuchs


© 2015-2020

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