Page 3: The United States’ Nuclear Testing Programme

Ivy Mike, the world's first thermonuclear test, conducted by the United States on 1 November 1952.

Legislation passed to compensate victims

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) (also known as the Downwinders Act) was enacted in 1990. This law required the U.S. government to compensate individuals who developed disease due to unintended exposure to radiation from atomic testing fallout. The RECA also established a list of conditions to be met for compensation and a list of cancers that could be attributed to nuclear testing. There were several subsequent amendments to the Act.

According to the Department of Justice, as of July 2010 over $1.5 billion had been approved for 22,716 victims and their families who suffered health problems as a result of exposure to fallout from nuclear weapons development and testing in states including Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Almost half of the payments have gone to “down winders” who were exposed to radiation through bomb tests. Others who have received payments include workers who took part in above-ground tests, uranium miners and ore transporters.

Operation Ivy in 1952 set the stage for the first test of a large thermonuclear device, or hydrogen bomb. Codenamed “Mike”, the blast had an explosive yield of 10.4 mt, which was over 400 times the destructive force of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Children leaving Bikini, 7 March 1946 (US Archives)

Effects of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands

Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. carried out 67 nuclear weapons tests at Bikini and Enewetak atolls in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The atolls were some of the main sites included in the “Pacific Proving Grounds”.

Operation Ivy in 1952 set the stage for the first test of a large thermonuclear device, or hydrogen bomb.  Codenamed “Mike”, the blast had an explosive yield of 10.4 mt, which was over 400 times the destructive force of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It vapourized the island of Elugelab, leaving behind a deep crater about 1 km in diameter, which was blanketed in high levels of radiation.

Castle Bravo causes contamination over vast area

The populations of Bikini and Enewetak were relocated to other atolls before the testing began to ensure their safety.

However, following the detonation of the 15 Mt Castle Bravo test on 1 March 1954 - the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the United States fallout was unexpectedly deposited on some of the surrounding atolls: Rongelap, Utrik, and other inhabited atolls to the east and southeast of Bikini were all affected. The fallout caused contamination over an area of more than 11,000 square km, spreading traces of radioactive material as far as Australia, India, Japan, the United States and parts of Europe.