The US was engaged in a Cold War nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union to build more advanced bombs from 1947 until 1991. As part of its nuclear weapons testing, the US went to Bikini Atoll, located in the Marshall Islands of the Pacific Ocean. The largest of these tests was the Castle Bravo explosion, which was the first and most powerful of the six tests undertaken in 1954.
The detonation of Castle Bravo saw a thermonuclear bomb dropped near Bikini Atoll, reaching a power yield of 15 megatons – far exceeding the expected four to six megatons predicted by the scientists running the tests.
This created a blast 1000 times more powerful than the deadly Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions of 1945, which ultimately led to Japan’s surrender from World War 2.
To make the tests possible the US had requested that residents of the area evacuate, and were promised that they would be able to return home once they were completed.
But such was the impact of the tests, the Bikini Atoll region remained uninhabitable for decades after the explosions as radiation engulfed the remote reef.
Soil and water became contaminated and fishing and farming made too dangerous by the tests.
The US, in an attempt to redeem the damage it had done, paid the people of the island £95 million.
But inhabitants on the Marshall Islands were exposed to horrendnous radiation, with some research suggesting that the rise in illness such as cancer is linked to the radiation exposure.
A 2016 investigation found radiation levels on Bikini Atoll to be well above the established safety standard for habitation.
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The first series of explosive tests were undertaken in 1946 under the codename ‘Operation Crossroads’, and the first test was dropped from 520ft, detonating above its target.
The second test, nicknamed ‘Baker’, forming a huge cloud of explosion as it struck its target ships with devastating effect.
The nuclear programme culminated in the Operation Hardtack 1, 1958, which saw three high-altitude tests that were designed to study many effects that a nuclear explosion would have on materials and electronic systems.