KIRITIMATI 

CHRISTMAS ISLAND

Kiritimati or Christmas Island is a Pacific Ocean raised coral atoll in the northern Line Islands. It is part of the Republic of Kiribati. Its name is a respelling of the English word "Christmas" according to the Kiribati language's conventions for the Latin script, in which the combination ti is pronounced s, and the name is thus pronounced /kəˈrɪsməs/.

The island has the greatest land area of any coral atoll in the world, about 388 square kilometres (150 square miles); its lagoon is roughly the same size. The atoll is about 150 km (93 mi) in perimeter, while the lagoon shoreline extends for over 48 km (30 mi). Kiritimati comprises over 70% of the total land area of Kiribati, a country encompassing 33 Pacific atolls and islands.

It lies 232 km (144 mi) north of the Equator, 2,160 km (1,340 mi) south of Honolulu, and 5,360 km (3,330 mi) from San Francisco. Kiritimati Island is in the world's farthest forward time zone, UTC+14, and is one of the first inhabited places on Earth to experience the New Year (see also Caroline Atoll, Kiribati). Despite being 2,460 km (1,530 mi) east of the 180 meridian, a 1995 realignment of the International Date Line by the Republic of Kiribati moved Kiritimati to west of the dateline.

 

EFFECTS OF NUCLEAR TESTING

Nuclear tests were conducted on and around Kiritimati by the United Kingdom in the late 1950s, and by the United States in 1962. During these tests the island was not evacuated. Subsequently, British, New Zealand, and Fijian servicemen as well as local islanders were exposed to the radiation from these blasts.

The entire island is a Wildlife Sanctuary; access to five particularly sensitive areas is restricted.

During the Cold War there was some nuclear weapons testing in the Kiritimati area. The United Kingdom conducted its first successful hydrogen bomb test at Malden Island on 15 May 1957; Kiritimati was the operation's main base. In fact, this test did not work as planned, and the first British H-bomb was successfully detonated over the southeastern tip of Kiritimati on 8 November 1957. Subsequent test series in 1958 (Grapple Y and Z) took place above or near Kiritimati itself.

 

The United States conducted 22 successful nuclear detonations as part of Operation Dominic here in 1962. Some toponyms (like Banana and Main Camp) come from the nuclear testing period, during which at times over 4,000 servicemen were present. By 1969, military interest in Kiritimati had ceased and the facilities were abandoned and for the most part dismantled. Some communications, transport and logistics facilities, however, were converted for civilian use and it is due to these installations that Kiritimati came to serve as the administrative center for the Line Islands.

The United Kingdom detonated some 5 megatonnes of TNT (21 PJ) of nuclear payload near and 1.8 megatonnes of TNT (7.5 PJ) directly above Kiritimati in 1957/58, while the total yield of weapons tested by the United States in the vicinity of the island between 25 April and 11 July 1962 was 24 megatonnes of TNT (100 PJ). During the British Grapple X test of 8 November 1957 which took place directly above the southeastern tip of Kiritimati, yield was stronger than expected and there was some blast damage in the settlements. Islanders were usually not evacuated during the nuclear weapons testing, and data on the environmental and public health impact of these tests remains contested.

PRESENT STATUS

The island's population has strongly increased in recent years, from about 2,000 in 1989 to about 5,000 in the early 2000s. Kiritimati has two representatives in the Maneaba ni Maungatabu. Today there are five villages, four populated and one abandoned, on the island.

The main villages of Kiritimati are Banana, Tabwakea, and London, which are located along the main road on the northern tip of the island, and Poland, which is across the main lagoon to the South. London is the main village and port facility. Banana is near Cassidy International Airport (IATA code CXI) but may be relocated closer to London to prevent contamination of its groundwater. The abandoned village of Paris is no longer listed in census reports.

The ministry of the Line and Phoenix islands is located in London. There are also two new high schools on the road between Tabwakea and Banana: one Catholic and one Protestant. The University of Hawaii has a climatological research facility on Kiritimati. A Catholic church dedicated under the auspices of Saint Stanislaus and a primary school is located in Poland.

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