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Runit Dome: The Radioactive Trash Can on Enewetak Atoll

Since World War II, the United States has conducted over 1,000 nuclear tests mostly at Nevada Test Site and the Pacific Proving Grounds in the Marshall Islands, and various other locations around the United States. Over 100 of them took place place at sites in the Pacific Ocean.

Enewetak Atoll is a large coral atoll of 40 islands in the Pacific Ocean, located 305 kilometres west from Bikini Atoll, and was a major test bed for nuclear weapons, post World War II. Before Enewetak came under the control of the United States as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, it was under the Japanese control who used the atoll as refuelling stop for planes flying between Chuuk Lagoon and the islands to the east. After the capture of Enewetak, it became a major forward naval base for the U.S. Navy. Then the island was evacuated and the nuclear tests began.


Between 1948 and 1958, Enewetak Atoll witnessed 43 such as tests including the first hydrogen bomb test in late 1952 as part of Operation Ivy, which vaporized the islet of Elugelab.

In 1977, an effort to decontaminate the islands of Enewetak began. During the three years that followed, the military mixed more than 111,000 cubic yards (85,000 m3) of contaminated soil and debris from the various islands with Portland cement and buried it in a 30-foot deep, 350-foot wide blast crater on the northern end of the atoll's Runit Island. The crater was created by an 18 kiloton test bomb nicknamed “Cactus” on May 5, 1958. A dome composed of 358 concrete panels, each 18 inches thick, was constructed over the material. The final cost of the cleanup project was $239 million.

After the completion of the dome, the United States government declared the southern and western islands in the atoll safe for habitation in 1980, and residents of Enewetak returned that same year. Today, you can visit the dome and stomp across the surface.



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