The secret history of nuclear testing and coral reefs


I stumbled cross these stunning satellite images of Bikini and Enewatak Atoll on the Artificial Owl blog. Top left is a 2000m crater left by Castle Bravo in 1954, the second biggest thermonuclear hydrogen bomb (weighing in at 15 megatons, 1200 times more powerful than Hiroshima). Top right is the 120m blast crater in the reef flat created by the Cactus test in 1958. The ‘dome’ construction on the island in the same image is a concrete cover built in 1977 to cover over 85,000 cubic metres of radioactive soil and debris from across the Marshall Islands. I’m staggered by the scale of these tests – whilst I remember the end of the French underground nuclear weapons testing at Muroroa and Fangataufa Atolls in the late 1990’s (after 147 tests had been conducted), I had no idea of the sheer size of the early impact craters left from earlier explosions. The good news is that recent surveys of the coral reefs surrounding Bikini Atoll  shows signs of recovery from the disaster, and the bomb crater itself now supports vibrant and diverse coral communities. However, when  compared to surveys conducted ‘pre-bomb’ in the early 1950’s, at least 28 species of coral have now become locally extinct, most likely as a result of the initial impact, radiation, increased sedimentation or altered atoll hydrology. A few highlight pictures are featured below, but go check out the original postings here and here for more information and photographs.

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