April 6, 2020

Paradise Lost

Posted by Shane Hanlon

The USS Nevada post-Operation Crossroads with extensive damage. Credit: US government. Public domain.

From 1946 to 1958, the United States military conducted more than 20 nuclear bomb tests at Bikini Atoll, an idyllic tropical island in the South Pacific Ocean. During the first of these tests, conducted in July 1946, the military anchored nearly 100 warships and submarines within Bikini’s large lagoon to see how a nuclear blast would affect a naval fleet.

The first bomb, in test Able, was detonated in the air and caused a less than expected amount of damage to the fleet. But the second bomb, in test Baker, was suspended below a barge and detonated underwater.

The Baker test was far more destructive than the military had planned. The detonation left a crater on the seafloor roughly 800 meters (half a mile) wide and 10 meters (33 feet) deep. A colossal column of boiling, radioactive water poured over the target ships, tossing them about like toys in a bathtub.

Three major ships and several small aircraft were sunk within the first few days. The remainder of the fleet was so contaminated with radiation that only 9 of Baker’s original 84 ships were able to be scrapped – the rest were deliberately sunk.

University of Delaware professor Art Trembanis spent the summer of 2019 mapping the seafloor around Bikini to see if he could find evidence of thesetests all these decades later. Art and his colleagues have so far discovered the craters from Baker and other tests have left permanent scars on the seafloor around the atoll.

In this episode, Art recounts the mesmerizing sequence of events triggered by the Baker detonation and explains how a tropical paradise became a battleship graveyard.  

This episode was produced and mixed by Lauren Lipuma.  

Transcript

Shane Hanlon (00:00):

Hi, Nanci.

Nanci Bompey (00:00):

Hey, Shane.

Shane Hanlon (00:01):

I have a question, as always.

Nanci Bompey (00:03):

Of course.

Shane Hanlon (00:03):

Did you play board games growing up?

Nanci Bompey (00:05):

Of course.

Shane Hanlon (00:05):

Or, do you play board games now?

Nanci Bompey (00:06):

We loved to play Scrabble and Boggle.

Shane Hanlon (00:10):

Boggle!

Nanci Bompey (00:10):

Boggle’s great, actually. We played that fairly recently.

Shane Hanlon (00:12):

Oh, my God. I haven’t thought about Boggle in forever?

Nanci Bompey (00:14):

We used to play it on the beach. It was so fun. Good beach game.

Lauren Lipuma (00:16):

I have never played Boggle in my whole life.

Nanci Bompey (00:18):

Do you know what you do?

Shane Hanlon (00:18):

Oh, yeah. Sorry, Lauren’s here, too.

Nanci Bompey (00:18):

You shake up the letters and you make words?

Shane Hanlon (00:21):

Oh, yes. That does sound familiar.

Nanci Bompey (00:23):

What about you? What was one of yours?

Shane Hanlon (00:24):

We played a lot of Clue. One I really did love was Battleship.

Nanci Bompey (00:30):

That is a good one.

Lauren Lipuma (00:31):

Battleship!

Nanci Bompey (00:32):

You sunk my Battleship!

Lauren Lipuma (00:33):

The best part was making the explosion noises like, pssshhh when your battleship gets sunk. You guys didn’t do that?

Nanci Bompey (00:38):

I guess not.

Shane Hanlon (00:38):

No.

Nanci Bompey (00:40):

You put the little tiki things in.

Shane Hanlon (00:42):

Tiki?

Lauren Lipuma (00:45):

All right.

Shane Hanlon (00:48):

Welcome to the American Geophysical Unions podcast about the scientists and the methods behind the science. These are the stories you won’t read in the manuscript or hear in a lecture. I’m Shane Hanlon.

Nanci Bompey (00:57):

I’m Nanci Bompey.

Shane Hanlon (00:58):

This is Third Pod from the Sun. Nanci, were you any good at Battleship with your tikis?

Nanci Bompey (01:05):

My tikis. I don’t remember. Do I remember anything from childhood? No.

Shane Hanlon (01:10):

Yeah. Of course, there’s a reason that we’re talking about this.

Nanci Bompey (01:13):

We’re going to bring in our Cold War resident expert, Lauren Lipuma.

Shane Hanlon (01:16):

I know. So many episodes.

Lauren Lipuma (01:17):

Hello.

Shane Hanlon (01:17):

Lauren, why are we talking about this?

Lauren Lipuma (01:19):

Well, Battleship was a really fun game, but actually-

Shane Hanlon (01:23):

Is.

Lauren Lipuma (01:23):

It is.

Shane Hanlon (01:23):

It is.

Lauren Lipuma (01:23):

Not was, is. It still exists, I just haven’t played it in a while. Back in the 40s, the Navy actually did a real Battleship scenario. Did you guys know about this?

Shane Hanlon (01:32):

No.

Nanci Bompey (01:32):

No.

Lauren Lipuma (01:32):

That’s what we’re going to hear about today. A few months ago, a couple of our colleagues, who you’ll hear on this interview, Josh and Sara, they interviewed Art Trembanis, who is an oceanography and geologist at the University of Delaware. He told us this amazing story about how the Navy actually did their own Battleship scenario back in the 40s. They wanted to test what would happen to a fleet of naval ships if a nuclear bomb went off really close to it. Like, would the ships sink? Would they be okay?

Nanci Bompey (01:59):

Fascinating.

Shane Hanlon (02:02):

Would they vaporize?

Lauren Lipuma (02:02):

Right.

Nanci Bompey (02:02):

Would they still exist? That’s really interesting.

Shane Hanlon (02:04):

All right.

Art Trembanis (02:05):

My name is Art Trembanis. My background is I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so I was always surrounded by water, the Puget Sound, the ocean, and the mountains. I always had a interest in the environment. I’m half Greek and half Norwegian, so there were seagoing people on both side of the family. I just always had a fascination with the oceans. I was one of the kids, I would grow up Saturday mornings watching National Geographic Explorer, Bob Ballard looking for the Titanic, and things like that.

Lauren Lipuma (02:35):

Art just finished up a project mapping the crater left behind from these nuclear bomb tests that the Navy did back in the summer of ’46. In July ’46, they did two tests. Like I said, they wanted to test what would happen to a fleet of ships if a nuclear bomb when off really close by. They did one test in the air, where they detonated a bomb in the air above the water, and a second test they did underwater, where they suspended a bomb from the bottom of a boat. They had to go somewhere remote obviously, so they picked this little tiny island called Bikini Atoll, which is in the Marshall Islands in the south Pacific. This whole thing was called Operation Crossroad.

Film narrator (03:26):

In the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean lies the tiny coral atoll of Bikini. It is here that joint Army Navy Task Force One will conduct the test with the atom bomb. Not since the discovery of gunpowder has the world wondered over the ability of man to create such an agent of destruction.

Art Trembanis (03:47):

I guess about a year ago or so, we got contacted by a couple of marine archeologist colleagues, Dr. Jim Delgado and Dr. Mike Brennan, who are both at Search, Inc. Dr. Delgado is one of the world’s leading experts on shipwrecks. Jim had led a team with the National Parks Service in the late 80s and early 90s when they could first get into Bikini when it was first cleared enough that they could try to get divers in, and had written a book called Ghost Fleet of Bikini. It was about the ships that were sunk there. They came at it from definitely that perspective of wanting to understand the site from the maritime archeology, “What are the conditions of the ships there?”, and needed to find some team that could do the mapping of it. I’ve known about Bikini all my life. Again, I grew up really into Japanese monster movies, so Godzilla films and things like that.

Josh Speiser (04:38):

Godzilla, king of the monsters. Alive, surging up from the depths of the sea on a tidal wave of terror to wreck vengeance on mankind. Godzilla, king of the monsters. It’s alive! [crosstalk 00:04:51].

Art Trembanis (04:50):

Bikini factors into the myth. It’s the where Godzilla comes from, or that the testing-

Josh Speiser (04:56):

He’s radioactively endowed and becomes this huge lizard that starts stalking Tokyo.

Art Trembanis (05:01):

Yeah. That’s a whole fascinating thing as well, just because you realize that for Japanese culture, Godzilla was, in a way, this manifestation of a culture trying to come to reason with the horrors that they had experienced first hand. Then, seeing more of them. There was a Japanese fishing vessel that was radiated on by fallout from the 1954 test in Bikini. Again, that time when that time is … Those movies were starting to then be developed in response to that.

Lauren Lipuma (05:37):

Bikini is really famous because it’s where for bikini bathing suits comes from.

Shane Hanlon (05:41):

Do you know what the etymology of that is?

Lauren Lipuma (05:44):

I do, actually. Well, the island was called Bikini by the native inhabitants. The people who designed the bikini bathing suit picked that name because they were inspired by the destruction of the bomb tests that were going on there. They thought it was the fashion equivalent, this femme fatale woman who just slays everything in her path with her very sexy bathing suit.

Shane Hanlon (06:07):

That is so much better than anything I could’ve ever imagined.

Lauren Lipuma (06:09):

I know, right? On the real Bikini island, obviously there were people living there when the US went to test these bombs. The first thing they had to do was evacuate these inhabitants.

Josh Speiser (06:21):

Before we get there, take us back in time. What would someone see? Prior to the Navy arriving and doing these tests, tell us a little bit about Bikini, about the people who lived there. What was society like?

Art Trembanis (06:34):

Bikini today, one of many of the island in the Marshall Islands chain, is a series of atolls. It’s the remnant of a volcano. Now, the top’s eroded off and it sticks up from about 4,000 meters water depths, so sheer-sided, very steep volcano. Then, the island is rimmed by these coral little islands around the atoll. It’s a series of these little palm tree-lined, what you’d imagine in a musical like South Pacific or something. What you would see now, or then, would’ve been this idyllic setting. It was populated at the time with about 160 some Bikinians. They were living there fishing the lagoon, fishing in the outer waters. Then in ’46, they had Navy military personnel coming and asking if they could “borrow their island for the good of mankind”, was the catchphrase at that time. I don’t think they had any idea that it would be that long that they’re still refugees from their own island.

Josh Speiser (07:39):

What happens after WWII? We know that we’re leading up to these other atomic tests. What are the Marshallese told? Or, how does the United Status military apparatus move in and decide that they’re going to do these tests in this idyllic, beautifully untouched environment? Why this area?

Art Trembanis (07:59):

Well, it’s so profoundly remote that that’s really why they looked at … The military went through a process of vetting and considering different islands. I remember reading at one point that there were some discussions they considered. “Maybe, we’ll do it somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, or somewhere in the Caribbean.” Then, they worried that it might be too close to valuable population centers, so they looked at the Marshall Islands. Then, they looked at different islands within them. Bikini fell into this nice, optimal zone. It was only a two, two-and-a-half hour flight from Kwajalein, where we had a base. It had a large lagoon, easily approachable from the south. A fairly large entrance for it because they knew they wanted to amass all these ships to put the bomb on display. It also had a small … There were other islands that had more of a indigenous population, so it was a small enough one that they felt they could more easily move them. The military swept in and, within short order, moved them out and then started the process of assembling this huge, incredible fleet not only of ships that were there for the testing, but then all the testing apparatus. The instrumentation, the cameras. Half of the film on the planet they assembled to document what was going on.

Josh Speiser (09:06):

Half of the film on the planet. What do you mean by that?

Art Trembanis (09:09):

Well, the estimates were that of the available film material that existed on the planet, that half of it was assembled in Bikini to document this.

Film narrator (09:19):

Numerous towers have been erected in Bikini Atoll. Within these steel structures will be housed the remotely controlled photographic, electronic, and other scientific instruments that will automatically record the results of the blast. Atop some of these towers, encased in huge lead vaults, cameras have been strategically placed to capture as much detail as possible.

Art Trembanis (09:43):

This is 1946, so arguably, there’s not as much film as there may be today. Although, we’ve largely gone away from film and it’s all digital. It just speaks to the fact that they were setting up remote cameras, high speed cameras, high altitude cameras. They really wanted to document this. If you look at the previous three atomic bombs, you had the Trinity test in the desert, which was done in secret. Then, you have the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s not like they were going to be able to set up instrumentation and capture what was going on there. The testing in Operations Crossroads really became an opportunity to put the bomb on display. They wanted to document and capture that to the fullest extent that they could.

Film narrator (10:29):

Anchored in the sheltered waters of the Bikini lagoon below is an array of almost every type of naval vessel used in the past war. Here is the venerable old carrier Saratoga, the battleship Pennsylvania, flagship of World War I. USS Nevada was designated the target ship and strategically placed … The primary purse of Test Baker was to secure precise ship damage and instrumentation measurements resulting from an atomic bomb explosion just under the surface of the water. The basic premise which determined the target ship orientation for Test Baker was the joint chiefs of staff directive requiring that the ships be so disposed as to secure graded damaged from maximum to minimum. Of the 84 target vessels, 40 ships were placed within one mile of the bomb detonation point and 20 ships were placed within one half mile.

Sara Edwards (11:22):

What were they hoping to learn by testing these bombs, and what did they end up learning?

Art Trembanis (11:30):

They wanted to learn how ships would react and respond to nuclear weapons. What would happen if the Navy was approaching and you set one off. Would it knock out the ships? Would it sink them all? I think a lot of it, in terms of the military justification, was how would the ships respond? They assembled an array of different ships, from huge aircraft carriers like the Saratoga and the Independence, to battleships like the Arkansas, Nevada. Then, submarines and [inaudible 00:11:58] transporters. It was like the Noah’s ark of ship testing. Although, they brought more than two. They’d have five or six and arrayed out to look at distances from it. They had animals there on the decks of these ships. They had pigs and sheep. They want to see how they would respond to the heat, the pressure, and the radiation. They put munitions. They had bombs, missiles, and things on the decks. They wanted to see would it trigger other things to go off.

Film narrator (12:29):

These specialists, with their strange and complicated scientific instruments, will make hundreds of tests measuring temperatures, pressures, and radioactivity. Other experiments analyzing the effects of the bomb on aircraft, armament, ordinance gear, and other paraphernalia. Tied to the decks of the ships in Bikini lagoon are samples of mechanical equipment and articles of every type and description that the Army and Navy used during the past war. Airplanes, Jeeps, food, clothing, trucks, and armored cars. Everything from canned milk to tanks will be subjected to the blast. Flown from Rongerik to witness the historical event is King Juda, ruler of Bikini. It was he who unselfishly gave his island to the United States in order that these experiments could be conducted.

Art Trembanis (13:25):

It was really fascinating to me, as a scientist. I really look at it and yeah, that’s a well-crafted, frighteningly sophisticated and precise scientific plan that they executed on a scale that I couldn’t have imagined trying to put together.

Film narrator (13:40):

  1. 10. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, fire.

Josh Speiser (14:13):

Tell us. If you were a member of the Navy and you’re watching the test, what do you see as Baker goes off?

Art Trembanis (14:21):

There was something more than like, 40,000 personnel that had been around there because you needed all these personnel to position and move all these ships and set up all this equipment. They had ships positioned within the lagoon and outside of the lagoon, so far enough distance away. Sailors were either told to avert their eyes or given welder-level-type glasses for the bright flash, because you would’ve seen this blindingly, powerful sun flash that came from it. Then, depending on how far away you were, then you’d hear this blast from it. Then, you start to see this column of water rise up. First, a dome comes up from the surface because instantly, the water is vaporized from the intense temperatures. That creates a bubble. Then, the pressure of the water around it collapses on that bubble. Then, this column of water starts to rise up, shoots up, taking with it two million tons of water, sand, pulverized coral, whatever happens to be around there, about a mile up into the air.

Film narrator (15:31):

These pictures of the ascending water column show the expanding cloud of spray at the base of the column moving outward and enveloping the ships in the target array. Great quantities of radioactive water from the column descended upon the decks of the nearby vessels. Ship hulls a mile away were drenched by the wall of foaming water.

Josh Speiser (15:54):

Two million tons.

Art Trembanis (15:56):

Yeah. These are pretty rough numbers, but yeah. It’s a huge column of water that goes rising up that is now been radiated. Now, these droplet then start falling down and large waves start to spread like a tsunami across the surface, washing up, inundating some islands, washing up over onto Bikini Island as well, pushing ships aside like they’re bathtub toys and sinking, that first day, about six ships were recorded as sinking, including the Saratoga.

Film narrator (16:28):

This highly lethal spray was intensely radioactive, partly by reason of the neutron bombardment of the sodium and the salt contained in seawater. An expanding cloud of spray and fog several hundred feet high may be seen moving out from the center of the detonation. This cloud eventually covered the entire target array. Waves outside the water column about 1,000 feet from the center of the explosion, were 80 to 100 feet in height. Three major ships were sunk. The aircraft carrier Saratoga after seven and a half hours, and the Japanese battleship Nagato after five days. Several small craft were also sunk.

Lauren Lipuma (17:16):

The Navy was really unprepared for just how destructive the bigger test was on those ships in the lagoon.

Shane Hanlon (17:22):

That’s hard to think about these days. Now that we know [inaudible 00:17:26], they had no idea.

Lauren Lipuma (17:27):

They had no idea. At this point, only three nuclear bombs have ever been set off.

Shane Hanlon (17:31):

Oh, wow.

Lauren Lipuma (17:31):

Yeah. What happened was when the water column shot up and then started falling again on the ships, the water was so highly radioactive that it covered all the ships. They all had to be deliberately sunk. They couldn’t be decontaminated. They had originally started off with 84 ships for this test and only nine of them could’ve been salvaged after that.

Shane Hanlon (17:51):

Oh, geez.

Lauren Lipuma (17:52):

Yeah. Like I said, the bomb was suspended below a boat of its own to be detonated and no remnant of that boat has ever been found.

Shane Hanlon (18:01):

I want to play this version of Battleship, the radioactive bomb version of Battleship.

Lauren Lipuma (18:05):

I know. It’s crazy, right?

Shane Hanlon (18:07):

That’s wild. How does Art fit into all of this?

Lauren Lipuma (18:11):

What Art’s doing now is mapping the sea floor around Bikini and seeing if they can still see evidence of the crater. What are the long-lasting effects of this explosion on the sea floor? They wanted to see what the shipwrecks looked like, if they could see the crater. Was the seafloor changed in some way? They used sonar. What they’ve seen so far is that the crater is still there. It’s about 700 meters wide, so I little less than half a mile. There are these really subtle waveform features that Art sees on the seafloor that he thinks now are a signature of this type of underwater nuclear explosion.

Sara Edwards (18:49):

Can you tell us what evidence you saw of the effects of the Baker test underwater?

Art Trembanis (18:57):

Sure. Well, the first thing we see when we map out this area, what they’ve referred to as the Operation Crossroads kill zone, when we’re doing this mapping, we call this mowing the lawn. We’re dully going back and forth, back and forth, reciprocal lines like mowing the lawn. I don’t enjoy mowing the lawn. I happily pay somebody else to do that. Yet, to do my work, I have to mow the law back and forth. I remembered, as we were starting to map in the Baker area, that we were starting to see the emergence of what clearly had to be the crater. I remembered, as we made a pass and we were clearly going through what was the middle of that crater, that I could look up and realize that photo, just it had always been this, “Okay, yeah. That’s Bikini we’re going to.” We were there. It kind of gave me shivers to think we were there in the middle of that column and it was still there. It was still speaking to us.

Art Trembanis (19:51):

One of the first things we see is the scattered shipwrecks. There’s a dozen ships in that zone dotted around. Usually, in my line of work, you see one major ship or two, you’re pretty impressed. There’s 12 within a pretty compact area. It’s about one and a half times the size of Central Park. I try to imagine myself walking through Central Park and then seeing this landscape of ships. Then, smack dab in the middle of this zone is this hulking crater that just stares at you like the Eye of Sauron. Just this massive dent that some Marvel superhero has just punched into the planet. What surprised us was that that Baker crater is still very visible. We know it’s the Baker crater because it looks unlike anything else on the seabed there. It’s right in the zone where everything was meant to occur. We can see some ships that are still inside that crater or right along the edge of that crater. It speaks to us of how generally calm the lagoon is.

Art Trembanis (20:51):

Normally, if we were looking at what would happen from a storm or some sort of impact, you might erode in one area, but then the sediment that is rode, the sand, silt, whatever, if it’s eroded in one place, it’s moved somewhere else. You just try to account for it. You just stay to say, “It’s been redistributed.” Here, we have a sediment imbalance. We see the crater but we don’t have an equivalent accounting for the sediment that would’ve gone into the crater because some of it was just vaporized and then got carried away in the mushroom cloud and into the atmosphere. Part of the reason why it’s still there is that not everything came and filled back in. Some of it did. We see that the crater floor is flat. We would expect it to have more of a-

Josh Speiser (21:38):

Concave [crosstalk 00:21:39]?

Art Trembanis (21:38):

Yeah, more of a concave progression to some sort of apex. Instead, it’s a bowl that’s partially filled in. That’s because all that two million tons of sediment, water, coral fragments then went up, came back down, some of it did at least, so it partially filled it in. As we started to stare at the crater, we realized it wasn’t just flat, smooth salad bowl.

Josh Speiser (22:03):

It wasn’t like a glasseous surface that was flattened? I know that during some of the Trinity tests, actually there were glasses made from sand.

Art Trembanis (22:10):

Yes, Trinities, they call these fused silica. They found some on beaches near Hiroshima where the silica and the sand will get melted by that blast. Here is a different composition, firstly. Somebody had suggested, “Well, maybe we’ll find some of that nuclear glass.” Here in Bikini, even though there’s a volcano deep, it’s a volcano capped by several hundred meters of coral and calcium carbonate sand. The sand, the silt, those fragments are calcium carbonate so they don’t fuse into a glass like that. They ignite. They’ll burn under some of those temperatures. That’s why we think probably some of that sediment was lost. When we were staring at the Baker crater, we could see that it wasn’t just this smooth surface, it was mottled, ruffled, and textured in ways. I thought it looked [inaudible 00:23:01] maybe somebody took a cauliflower head and pushed it into the bottom, or left an impression on it. Or, like a carnation or rose opening up.

Josh Speiser (23:22):

I have to wonder. Your friends, your colleagues, your family. You’re going to a site that was obviously used as a nuclear test site. Was there a lot of concern expressed? If there was concern, was it founded? Was this still a site that was hot, so to speak, radioactively speaking? Or, had enough time passed that it was a safe zone?

Art Trembanis (23:47):

There was definitely concern. When I first told my wife and my parents that we were looking to go to Bikini, I think they’d want to know, “Is it even safe to go back there?” Littler kids, younger than mine, think, “You’re going to go see where SpongeBob lives.” When we think about the ways in which Bikini remains in our collective social world, we think of tiny bathing suits, SpongeBob, or Godzilla. All of those sort of keep Bikini in our minds but don’t capture really what it was like there. We dropped down. We were tied up to a mooring off of the Saratoga. As soon as I put my face under the water, I could see this ship beneath me and stretched out further than I could see in either direction. They’re so immense that you just tired trying to swim and cover it. Just the scale of it was just astounding.

Sara Edwards (25:04):

Are there any environmental impacts, besides obviously after the immediate aftermath. 73 years later, what does it look like?

Art Trembanis (25:13):

There definitely are some things for concern. One of the things that we encountered, just even in our mapping operations on the surface, was every once in a while, we’d get this pungent, caustic smell in our noses. I could know immediately, without even looking up from the monitor, “We must be near the Saratoga.” Or, “We’re near the Nagato.” Some of these ships still, 73 years later, are leaking fuel from them. At the time when the blast went off, there was tremendous release of fuel and material that caught fire within the lagoon and it’s still continuing to this day.

Film narrator (25:47):

All of the target ships were loaded with ammunition and fuel oil, varying from full war time loading to 10% of normal.

Art Trembanis (25:54):

These ships were prepared for a combat simulation. They actually, as a variable, adjusted fuel levels in different ships. They adjusted munitions levels because they wanted to see, “Might there be a certain combination where if you’re too close to a blast, it’s going to trigger fires and sympathetic explosions, and that munitions might otherwise catch fire?” That means now that those ships carried all that with them to the seabed. When we went diving on the Saratoga, we could see, “There’s a torpedo. Here’s gun mounts.” Here’s things like that. That presents a risk to divers who would go into these areas, that they could be exposed to those … These weren’t dummy bombs, these were actual weapons that have still potential viable explosives or other chemical reagents in them.

Film narrator (26:43):

Visible on the surface of Bikini Lagoon is an oil slick leaking from ruptured oil tanks, principally from the Battleship Arkansas.

Art Trembanis (26:51):

The other thing we realized is that these ships may still have within them additional fuel and oils in them. We are seeing that they are deteriorating. Certainly even over time, but even since the last group that studied them when Dr. Delgado and the National Parks Service came ’89, ’90. We can now compare our findings, our measurements to their drawings and their measurements. We can see that the ships have continued to degrade. At what point they’ll really hit a tipping point and maybe start to spill open like pretty nasty pinatas, we don’t know. That is going to happen, and that’s going go to happen not just for these ships, but for World War II wrecks throughout the Pacific and Atlantic.

Josh Speiser (27:33):

From that, it sounds like it’s fairly pessimistic that the generations of Bikinians who came after the folks who were evacuated would have any hope of returning to their ancestral home.

Art Trembanis (27:44):

Well, they had tried to reintroduce the Bikinians in the 70s, actually. Then, they discovered that it was still too hot. They were getting all sorts of sicknesses. We know that the DOE station there continues to monitor conditions on the ground. While there are ample fish in the lagoon and offshore that they could subsist on, one of the other major sources of food are from coconuts and also coconut crabs. We know that there’s a bioaccumulation in the soil of radiation that works into the coconuts. Then, bioaccumulates also in the coconut crabs. For that, they couldn’t subsist of off that, which is an important part of their diet. I think the other thing that’s happened, and this is something that happens with any sort of diaspora and refugee cultures, they’re now two, three, maybe four generations removed from the Bikinians who lived there.

Art Trembanis (28:33):

There may be a handful of maybe octogenarians who were children when they left. I think it’s very difficult for them to try to entice the young Bikinians, the young Marshallese. There’s a lot of fleeing going on within the Marshall Island as well, the Marshallese coming to Hawaii and into the US, where we may have access for them. I think it would be very difficult. I think a lot of those cultural things have been lost. The navigations, the fishing techniques, and things like that. I think perhaps more even so than some of the environmental things, which eventually it’ll be good enough for, my sense is we’ve probably severed the ability for them to get back, or to want to go back.

Art Trembanis (29:20):

For the Bikinians, for the Marshallese, one of the ways in which I think they feel that their sacrifice has some meaning is that even though they gave up their islands, their culture, in many ways, that has been lost, that sacrifice has at least, knock on wood, we haven’t had any nuclear war, even though the testing has continued in some ways. It wasn’t even lost on people at the time that this sort of dichotomy between this beautiful, idyllic Pacific island and the atrocities of what we were unleashing on it. In fact, the comedian Bob Hope said that, “At the end of the war, we found the one place on the earth that had been untouched by war and blew it to hell.” Humorous as that is, there’s some truth to that.

Art Trembanis (30:13):

We definitely left, my team and myself personally, realizing that this didn’t just happen in the past and those tests were done. It’s continuing. The impacts from that test, the ripples, the bed forms have continued. Physically, literally they continue there, and figuratively in what they have done to the people that they displaced. Not only the Bikinians because there were many sailors. There were many military personnel who were tragically harmed by the radiation because they were told to go back into the lagoon and get onto these ships, wash them down, scrub them down, and gather instruments, samples, and things. They carried those lasting effects and many of them suffered radiation sicknesses, cancers 20, 30 years later. They also were unknowing victims of this. I think Bikini still can speak to us, in terms of the evidence and the conditions that are there, [inaudible 00:31:05] for us to know that these tests and these weapons, those stockpiles, those weapons still exist.

Art Trembanis (31:11):

Maybe it’s important for us to realize that we think that Operations Crossroads and these testing ended. For the Marshallese, for the military personnel involved there, they’re still living that. They’re still living in the shadow of what that testing was.

Nanci Bompey (31:34):

I’ll never think about bikinis in quite the same way.

Lauren Lipuma (31:38):

Me, neither.

Shane Hanlon (31:41):

I guess for that matter, Battleship.

Nanci Bompey (31:43):

Yeah, real life Battleship, man. Now, it takes on a whole new gravitas when you play the game.

Lauren Lipuma (31:49):

Absolutely.

Shane Hanlon (31:49):

I really do want to get a battleship now and somehow customize it. Not so much the radioactive part, but-

Nanci Bompey (31:55):

I think they make sounds now, the game.

Shane Hanlon (31:56):

Really?

Nanci Bompey (31:57):

I think that that was an invention after our childhood.

Shane Hanlon (32:01):

You don’t have to make them with your mouth anymore?

Nanci Bompey (32:05):

No. Yeah, you would actually press a button and it’d make an actual sound.

Lauren Lipuma (32:05):

That’s no fun! I like making the sound effects. Pssshhh, pssshhh, pssshh!

Shane Hanlon (32:09):

Just take the batteries out. It’ll be fine.

Lauren Lipuma (32:11):

Good idea.

Shane Hanlon (32:12):

All right, all. That’s all from Third Pod from the Sun.

Nanci Bompey (32:15):

Thanks so much to Josh and Sara for bringing us this story and, of course, to Art for sharing his work with us.

Shane Hanlon (32:21):

This episode was produced and mixed by Lauren.

Nanci Bompey (32:24):

AGU would love to hear your thoughts. Please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Write a review. That really would be wonderful.

Shane Hanlon (32:34):

And much appreciated.

Nanci Bompey (32:35):

You can listen to us wherever you get your podcasts. It’s thirdpodfromthesun.com.

Shane Hanlon (32:38):

Thanks all, and we’ll see you next time.