Posted on

The atomic history of Bikini atoll

In 1946, the US government sent the 167 natives of Bikini Atoll into exile while it set about destroying their island with 23 nuclear tests. Local resident Jack Niedenthal tells what happened next

The atoll of Bikini, a necklace of 23 islands with sandy beaches and swaying palms that surround a tranquil, blue-green lagoon, presents a startling paradox for the nuclear age. How does a small coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific, which was once rocked violently by 23 atomic- and hydrogen-bomb blasts in the 1940s and 1950s, manage to appear so beautiful and abundant with nature’s bounty just a half-century later?

The remarkable legacy of these islands and their people began just after the second world war, in December 1945, when US President Harry S Truman issued a directive to army and navy officials that joint testing of nuclear weapons would be necessary “to determine the effect of atomic bombs on American warships”. Because of its location away from regular air and sea routes, Bikini was chosen to be the new nuclear proving ground for the US government.

Continue reading…

Posted on

Thor Heyerdahl

Bold explorer who risked his life in reed boats to prove idiosyncratic theories of how early man crossed the seas

Thor Heyerdahl, who has died of cancer aged 87, was one of the great individualistic standard-bearers of mid-20th-century adventure. In 1947, he and his five-person crew climbed aboard Kon-Tiki, an experimental balsa raft, and swept atop the Pacific’s Humboldt current from Peru to the Tuamotu islands – and into history. His achievement, Heyerdahl announced to the world, proved that New World mariners from the east might have sailed into Polynesia, contradicting the general assumption that it had been populated from the west.

Today, there is no question that Kon-Tiki demonstrated, in the words of archaeologist Glyn Daniel, the possibility – but not the actuality – of entering the Pacific from east to west on a balsa raft. The project lay at the heart of Heyerdahl’s life’s work – trying to prove his conviction that the cultures of the ancient world were sometimes linked by sailors who could cross oceans.

Continue reading…