Bikini islanders still deal with fallout of US nuclear tests, 70 years later
Posted by admin on 29th June 2016
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In 1946, French fashion designer Jacques Heim released a woman’s swimsuit he called the “Atome” (French for “atom”) – a name selected to suggest its design would be as shocking to people that summer as the atomic bombings of Japan had been the summer before.

The scandalous ‘Bikini,’ small enough to fit in a matchbox like the one she’s holding.

Not to be outdone, competitor Louis Réard raised the stakes, quickly releasing an even more skimpy swimsuit. The Vatican found Réard’s swimsuit more than shocking, declaring it to actually be “sinful.” So what did Réard consider an appropriate name for his creation? He called it the “Bikini” – a name meant to shock people even more than “Atome.” But why was this name so shocking?

In the summer of 1946, “Bikini” was all over the news. It’s the name of a small atoll – a circular group of coral islands – within the remote mid-Pacific island chain called the Marshall Islands. The United States had assumed control of the former Japanese territory after the end of World War II, just a few months earlier.

The United States soon came up with some very big plans for the little atoll of Bikini. After forcing the 167 residents to relocate to another atoll, they started to prepare Bikini as an atomic bomb test site. Two test bombings scheduled for that summer were intended to be very visible demonstrations of the United States’ newly acquired nuclear might. Media coverage of the happenings at Bikini was extensive, and public interest ran very high. Who could have foreseen that even now – 70 years later – the Marshall Islanders would still be suffering the aftershocks from the nuclear bomb testing on Bikini Atoll?

The big plan for tiny Bikini

According to the testing schedule, the U.S. plan was to demolish a 95-vessel fleet of obsolete warships on June 30, 1946 with an airdropped atomic bomb. Reporters, U.S. politicians, and representatives from the major governments of the world would witness events from distant observation ships. On July 24, a second bomb, this time detonated underwater, would destroy any surviving naval vessels.

These two sequential tests were intended to allow comparison of air-detonated versus underwater-detonated atomic bombs in terms of destructive power to warships. The very future of naval warfare in the advent of the atomic bomb was in the balance. Many assumed the tests would clearly show that naval ships were now obsolete, and that air forces represented the future of global warfare.