The Dome. The Crews. The Cover Up.
Their toxic lagacy lives on in their children, grandchildren and future generations.
The 4,000 Enewetak Atoll Cleanup Veterans, many of whom faced a long list of cancers and other deadly illnesses, are mostly gone today. Groups that track them estimate there are only about 400 left today. Dispatched in the late 1970s to clean up the fallout from U.S. atomic bomb tests conducted in the Marshall Islands several decades earlier.
n a 10-year period that ended in 1958, 43 tests were conducted at Enewetak Atoll, the ring-shaped collection of 40 coral reef islands. For the next 20 years, the contamination sat atop the atoll, 850 miles west of Hawaii. “The Marshall Islands were also used as a testing ground for conventional and biological weapons following a temporary moratorium on nuclear testing in 1958″ according to information received by the LA Times in 2014.
There has never been a formal study of the health of the Enewetak cleanup crews.
Tying any disease to radiation exposure years earlier is nearly impossible; there has never been a formal study of the health of the Enewetak cleanup crews. The military collected nasal swabs and urine samples during the cleanup to measure how much plutonium troops were absorbing, but in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, it said it could not find the records.
Atomic Veterans: Enewetak Atoll Atomic Cleanup Veterans
The cleanup of Enewetak Atoll began in 1977 and ended in 1980. The original estimate for the cleanup was $40 million, but Congress only allocated $20 million and stipulated that “all reasonable economies should be realized in the accomplishment of this project through the use of military services’ construction and support forces, their subsistence, equipment, material, supplies, and transportation.”
As a result, approximately 6,000 servicemen from the Navy, Army, and Air Force participated n what would become “the first comprehensive project to clean up and rehabilitate a former nuclear‐test site.” The Navy was responsible for operating ships and creating waterways to less accessible islands; the Air Force was tasked with communication, air supply operations, and health facility operations; and the Army Corps of Engineers handled the actual cleanup of the islands. More
The “Lojwa Animals”
The Hidden Story of Cleaning Up Nuclear Testing in the Enewetak Atoll
After the end of World War II and Japan’s surrender, Enewetak came under the control of the United States as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands until the independence of the Marshall Islands in 1986. During its tenure, the United States evacuated the local residents many times, often involuntarily. The atoll was used for nuclear testing as part of the Pacific Proving Grounds. Enewetak Atoll- 850 miles west of Hawaii. By the 1970s, under threat of legal action by island natives, the U.S. launched a haphazard and dangerous plan to clean it up. The military would execute it. It’s hot, hard work, shorts became the work uniform. Wearing not much more than shorts, servicemembers used shovels, bulldozers and other heavy equipment to scrap radioactive materials from the islands, breathing in deadly powder along the way. The plutonium-infested debris was dumped inside a crater from a previous test at Enewetak’s Runit Island. During the three-year, $100 million cleanup process, the military mixed more than 80,000 cubic metres (100,000 cu yd) of contaminated soil and debris from the islands with Portland cement and buried it in an atomic blast crater on the northern end of the atoll’s Runit Island.
Many worked 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week, painstakingly removing six inches of topsoil from the islands. The radioactive debris was dumped at Cactus Crater, the 300-foot-long divot named for its namesake test in 1958 at Runit Island. The material was placed in the 9.1-meter (30 ft) deep, 110-meter (360 ft) wide crater created by the May 5, 1958, “Cactus” nuclear weapons test. A dome composed of 358 concrete panels, each 46 centimeters (18 in) thick, was constructed over the material. The final cost of the cleanup project was $239 million. Documents from the time and interviews of veterans tell a different story. Most of the documents were declassified and made publicly available in the 1990s, along with millions of pages of other files relating to nuclear testing, and sat unnoticed for years. They show that the government used troops instead of professional nuclear workers to save money. Then it saved even more money by skimping on safety precautions. Records show that protective equipment was missing or unusable. Troops requesting respirators couldn’t get them. Cut-rate safety monitoring systems failed. Officials assured concerned members of Congress by listing safeguards that didn’t exist. And though leaders of the cleanup told troops that the islands emitted no more radiation than a dental X-ray, documents show they privately worried about “plutonium problems” and areas that were “highly radiologically contaminated.”
Documenting the Human Cost
Runit “Cactus” Dome was built in the 1970s to store more than 3.1 million cubic feet of nuclear debris after years of atomic testing conducted by the U.S. government had scattered large quantities of radioactive material across islands in the Enewetak Atoll.
The most toxic waste was scooped up and dumped in the tomb, constructed on top of an unlined crater and covered with an 18-inch cap—fulfilling “a moral obligation” on the part of the U.S., unclassified documents read by the LA Times show. But even then, there were concerns over how fit for purpose this structure really was.
Upcoming HBO Documentary
Stay Tuned… Uncoming documentary on the Marshall Islands, including the Enewetak CleanupAtomic Veterans in production DCTV.
More Brian Cowden Interviews and Documentaries
Troops Who Cleaned Up Radioactive Islands Can’t Get Medical Care
A military film crew snapped photos and shot movies of Mr. Snider, a 20-year-old Air Force radiation technician, in the crisp new safety gear. Then he was ordered to give all the gear back. He spent the rest of his four-month stint on the islands wearing only cutoff shorts and a floppy sun hat. “I never saw one of those suits again,” Mr. Snider, now 58, said in an interview in his kitchen here as he thumbed a yellowing photo he still has from the 1979 shoot. “It was just propaganda.”
Today Mr. Snider has tumors on his ribs, spine and skull — which he thinks resulted from his work on the crew, in the largest nuclear cleanup ever undertaken by the United States military. Roughly 4,000 troops helped clean up the atoll between 1977 and 1980. Like Mr. Snider, most did not even wear shirts, let alone respirators. Hundreds say they are now plagued by health problems, including brittle bones, cancer and birth defects in their children. Many are already dead. Others are too sick to work. More
“The Tomb” in The Pacific Proving Grounds is Leaking.
A 1981 military document cited by the LA Times revealed several people knew “radioactive material was leaking out of the crater even then and would continue to do so.” Thermonuclear testing by the United States or other countries, including the disaster of Castle-Bravo, the U.S. continued with a further series of nuclear tests on the Marshall Islands. Overall, between 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted 67 nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific Ocean.Who knows what additional toxic carcinogens this specific group of Atomic Veterans were experimented on with.
Mapping Bikini Atoll
UD researchers involved in underwater mapping of the nuclear test sites in Pacific. While standing on a small ship near Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands during the summer of 2019, University of Delaware Professor Art Trembanis looked up and realized that if he had been in that spot 73 years ago, he would have been engulfed in a humongous atomic mushroom cloud.
University of Delaware Professor Art Trembanis led a team to Bikini Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean to map the seafloor where the U.S. military tested atomic weapons.
Article: Adam Thomas
Photos: Art Trembanis
Date: December 10, 2019
The team had to bring Geiger counters along with them and wear dosimeters to ensure that they were not being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. All of the researchers were fine, but there are still lingering issues on the island because of radiation and the native Bikinians who were displaced before the tests are still not allowed to move back to their homes yet. More
The Personal Imapct
Tom Smedley: June 20, 2019
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. The military members who participated in that cleanup mission are suffering from many health issues, but the U.S. Government is refusing to provide health coverage. Ron Madden didn’t think much of his first tooth falling out when he was 29. But when most of his teeth fell out the next year, the former Army heavy equipment operator started to worry. In the next three decades, Madden developed three forms of cancer, bone pain, severe joint weakness and trouble using his arms and legs.
Keith Kiefer found out he was suffering from degenerative bone disease and spinal stenosis, which causes pain in the spinal cord area. He’s had both his hips replaced in recent years. In his 40s, “I was told I had the skeletal structure of a 90-year old,” he said. Kiefer has also been diagnosed with a non-diabetic form of peripheral neuropathy, another radiation-connected illness.
The Enewetak Atoll veterans, unlike the atomic veterans who participated in the tests, don’t get disability coverage for their toxic exposure. This year, lawmakers have refiled legislation to extend VA benefits to this newer generation of atomic veterans. The Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act of 2019, named for a late Hawaii lawmaker, would close the gap in benefits between the atomic vets who participated in the tests and those who cleaned up the fallout. House bill 1377, sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and 119 other lawmakers, and its counterpart in the upper chamber, Senate bill 555, authored by Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., and co-sponsored by 15 more senators, have stalled since the legislation was introduced in late February. What’s next? In September 1979, the Runit Dome, known locally among the natives as “The Tomb,” was capped. There was no rebar or other structural support to keep the concrete from cracking, Sargent said. It’s a haunting fixture for the locals known as Marshallese and others. In May, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres delivered a harsh warning that the “coffin” of radioactive material could be leaking. “It’s going to eventually breech and go into the ocean,” Sargent said. “There are big-time cracks.
Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day
March 1st Annually | National Holiday
Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day in the Marshall Islands. This year is special because it’s the 1st year the islanders are giving recognition to the Cleanup Veterans for their sacrifice and hard work to clean up their homeland. The US has given them a Humanitarian Award but they, I believe, have to ask for it, send in for it . The President of the Marshall islands is on the slate to be attending as well as 100 Cleanup Veterans etc. This day commemorates the victims and survivors of nuclear testing done in the area in the 1950s. PIANGO stands in solidarity with its member the Marshall Islands Council of NGOs and the people of the Republic of Marshall Islands to remind the world that the Marshall Islands were the ground for the U.S. nuclear testing for over a decade. From 1946 to 1958 the USA tested 67 nuclear weapons there. It was considered, that the Marshall Islands were one of the most contaminated places in the world, that is why the islanders suffered the testing. More
Operation Stand Together
Keith Kiefer became an atomic vet after participating in nuclear test cleanup operations in the Pacific Ocean and now runs the National Association of Atomic Veterans. In 2017, he spoke at Operation Stand Together, a May 2017 Washington, D.C. event to raise awareness of veteran illnesses resulting from hazardous exposures.
CREDIT: Photo courtesy Brian Cowden
“Operation” links provided by Nuclear Weapons Archive Organization