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Nuclear weapon tests in the Pacific: When the mushroom cloud shot up 40 kilometers


Between 1946 and 1958, the US tested more than 20 atomic bombs in the Pacific. Researchers have now studied how the detonations plowed the ocean floor - the destruction is visible today.

Little time? At the end of the text there is a summary.

Until 6:45 this day was like all the others. Tony had gone fishing with his grandfather. Early in the morning, the two had thrown their net. But then something happened that the nine-year-old would never forget: first came the flash, very bright and very quiet, then the incredibly loud thunder. "Everything went red - the ocean, the fish, the sky and grandfather's net," Tony de Brum later recalled.

It was March 1, 1954, and the United States of America fired its most powerful weapon ever tested, more than 320 kilometers away. At the Castle Bravo nuclear test, they had exploded a hydrogen bomb two meters above the bottom of Bikini Atoll , And because the experts had been mistaken, the destructive power was more than twice as strong as predicted. It lay at a thousand times the atomic bomb of Hiroshima. The mushroom cloud grew 40 kilometers into the air.

"There used to be three islands at the site of the test, now there's only one hole left," says Arthur Trembanis. The researcher from the University of Delaware is working with colleagues to document the signs of desolation underwater. He has just presented his first results at the Annual Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco. The crater still has a diameter of 1400 meters and is 56 meters deep.

Lagoon floor with sonar examined

Trembanis was in June of this year with a small, just under six feet long aluminum boat in the lagoon on the way. In the high swell of the trade winds he and Sonar explored two test sites of the "Operation Crossroads" from 1946. There bombs with the code name "Able" and "Baker" had been detonated: the first 160 meters above the ground the drop from a bomber, the second underwater, at 27 meters depth. In addition, the team analyzed the environment of the 1954 "Castle Bravo" and "Castle Charlie" tests.

Today, the Bikini Atoll belongs to the state of the Marshall Islands, in total, the United States fired there between 1946 and 1958 no less than 22 nuclear weapons. The neighboring Eniwetok Atoll was severely affected by more than 40 nuclear tests. Part of the radioactive waste was stored there in an above-ground nuclear waste landfill, which threatens to leak.

Pillar of two million tons of water and sand

The bombs of the tests "Able" and "Baker" were relatively small with an explosive force of 21 kilotons. From the first aboveground explosion, Trembanis and his colleagues found no visible traces on the ocean floor. The second is reminiscent of an eight-meter-deep crater, which has a diameter of about 800 meters.

Inside, the researchers were able to demonstrate characteristic structures. They would have looked like the petals of a giant rose: "They probably came from the column of two million tons of water and sand, which initially rose in the explosion in the air and later collapsed again," suspected Trembanis.

Above all, the US military wanted to use the "Crossroads" tests to find out how a fleet survives an atomic attack. For more than 200 decommissioned ships were towed to the target area, some war booty from Japan and Germany. Many of them are still found in the lagoon as wrecks.

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US nuclear tests: Moon landscape at Bikini Atoll

"Like a moonscape"

The US government chose Bikini Atoll as the test area because it was far from all shipping and air traffic routes. "Once the war was over, we discovered the only point on this earth untouched by the war and sent it to hell," commented US entertainer Bob Hope at the time.

Today, says Trembanis researcher, the atoll is at first sight a paradise: in the lagoon there are many tropical fish, including sharks. The remaining corals are fine. But underwater are the craters, are the areas where the reef was pulverized and still looks "like a moonscape".

The US has paid the Marshall Islands around $ 1 billion in compensation for the tests over the years. Many of the inhabitants then relocated to other islands and their descendants are still living in exile. Bikini is de facto uninhabited. However, an opinion from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) came to the conclusion 20 years ago that people can, in principle, live on the atoll again. However, because of the radiation exposure, you should beware of eating local agricultural products.

When the residents return, US support ends. The enthusiasm of the younger descendants is therefore manageable. Especially since the soil is still contaminated with radioactivity. The isotopes accumulate in the coconuts and in the crabs.

Trebanis says his team was wearing dosimeters during the one-week stay on the atoll. In their evaluation, there had been no abnormalities. Also fish from the lagoon - "delicious" - you ate.

In spring 2014, the Marshall Islands sued eight nuclear powers before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. "Our people have suffered catastrophic and irreparable damage from these weapons," said Tony de Brum, head of the process behind the trial. The following year he received the Alternative Nobel Prize, representing all residents of his country.

At the climate summit in Paris in 2015, De Brum then succeeded as a representative of his country to bring together an alliance of ambitious states - and to make the success of the meeting possible. Another year later, the UN court dismissed the Marshall Islands lawsuit. The judges declared that they were not responsible. In August 2017 de Brum died at the age of 72 years. About a connection to the nuclear tests is not known.

In summary: The consequences of American nuclear tests in the Pacific Bikini Atoll can still be detected on the ocean floor. Researchers have recently precisely measured the resulting craters. As a result of the 1954 nuclear weapon test "Castle Bravo", a 56 meter deep hole with a diameter of 1400 meters is located in the ocean floor.

Source: spiegel

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