Paradise With an Asterisk

Outside looks at present-day Bikini Atoll, and the lives of the 34 native Bikinians who used to call it home.

Despite the natural beauty, it is impossible to walk anywhere, or look anywhere, and escape Bikini’s nightmare history. Every man-made object on the island is an artifact either of the bomb tests or of some failed attempt to help the Bikinians return to their home. There are old bunkers built to shield cameras from atomic explosions; buildings put up by the U.S. Department of Energy as part of its radiological measuring program; houses erected by the U.S. in the 1970s for returning Bikinians; dump trucks, bulldozers, backhoes, semi trailers, fuel tanks, and forklifts, some decaying and covered with vegetation. There is a plywood building, nearly falling apart, with a rotting sign that says King Juda Lab, which was established to provide radiation testing for repatriated Bikinians. There is a sign on the machine shop that reads WE CAN FIX EVERYTHING EXCEPT BROKEN HEART. All of this is being reclaimed; it is all sinking back into paradise.

There’s fascinating stuff here on Lyndon Johnson’s ill-advised plan to return the Bikinians to their now “safe” island in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as the series of poorly-chosen relocation sites before and since. It’s pretty much “The Day After Tomorrow” in terms of solid planning?

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