It would be impossible to tell the sorry tale of the US’s misadventures in the Marshall Islands without introducing the Lojwa Animals and the Atomic Clean-Up Vets of Enewetak. Between 1946 and 1958 the US detonated 67 nuclear weapons on Bikini and Enewetak.
Testing began on Enewetak in 1948. In the next ten years, there would be 43 separate blasts, just on this atoll, 22 in 1958 alone, as the pace of weapons design sped up and the production of plutonium multiplied rapidly. The US was also spurred on by the prospect of a testing moratorium. The rush was on to produce ever more powerful, efficient but, most importantly, deliverable weapons. Enewetak rapidly became the most radioactive place on Earth. The Nevada Test Site was a garden party by comparison. These are the men who lived, ate and worked in that environment; these are The Glow By Nighters.
When the Chernobyl power station blew it’s reactor apart in 1986, spreading radiation over much of Russia, Europe, and Scandinavia, it was considered to be the worst accident of its kind in history. What few realize is that Chernobyl pails into utter insignificance in comparison to the accumulated fallout of all the tests in the Marshalls. Nobody had bothered to assemble a record of fallout amounts in the RMI, and certainly not to release them to the public. The tests were conducted at this location, in the far Western Pacific, specifically because it was so removed from other centres of civilization, out of sight and beyond most people’s caring.
Studies by the CDC and others have suggested that Chernobyl would have to rip itself apart a staggering three thousand times over in order to even come close to the accumulated contamination on these atolls. The 15 megaton Castle Bravo test alone irreversibly contaminated Bikini and spread radiation to as many as 28 other atolls, to one degree or another. Bikini is still uninhabitable as we speak, though fruitless attempts have been made to resettle it. Many radioactive isotopes have half-lives measured in just a few decades; plutonium, on the other hand, lingers for a full 240,000 years. We can take another look in 242017 AD.
Victor Czarnecki drove a concrete mixing truck from the plant that was erected on Runit, to the Cactus crater, non-stop, dawn to dusk.
‘My name is Victor Czarnecki.The cycle was like this! You had guys who would take TNT out and blow up part of the island to get the rock! Then take it to a rock crusher and then to the batch plant! Then, to one side we had guys that did nothing but open bags of concrete all day long by hand which came to the batch plant and we would mix it all together and load it into the trucks! Then they would drive like hell to the pit (Cactus) and hope they could get it out of the truck before it got hard!!! And if by chance the truck broke down someone would have to go in with a jackhammer and clean it out! This could happen just about every day! This was 6 days a week, 12 hrs a day and that was the life of a Runit Rat.’
As of the beginning of the year, of the 8033 men who were on Enewetak in these years, just 444 remain.