THE PLUTONIUM DOME
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SEA GYPSIES: THE PLUTONIUM DOME
The Marshall Islands could be described as the closest thing to the diner at the end of the universe from A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The sailing vessel Infinity and her crew ended up in the Marshall’s because it was a halfway point from where she happened to be, Fiji and her intended destination, Alaska, where she would transit the treacherous Northwest Passage, from Alaska to Greenland over the top of Canada. To head that far forth though, a boat needs to be prepared and in decent shape and the Marshall Islands are a good place to do this work, thanks to an agreement with the United States (compact of free association) that allows the Marshall Islands a US post office, so getting parts and equipment to the middle of nowhere is only a couple forever stamps away (Post Office at the end of the universe. We quickly learned that this post office, and monthly deliveries of food and cash from the US government were part of a reparations arrangement that was intended to compensate the islanders for being the victims of 30 years of nuclear testing, a toxic legacy that will linger far longer (50,000+ years) than the payments, which end in 2023.
Marshall Islanders are some of the friendliest people in the South Pacific, which is a pretty friendly place to begin with. In fact, the Marshallese word for hello, Lokwe, literally means “you are a rainbow” which is probably the best greeting in the entire world. While the crew were in the Marshall’s waiting for parts, we spent some time exploring around the country's 1000+ islands. In stark contrast to the beauty of the place, we noticed a lot of health issues amongst the local people we saw, such as deformities and skin conditions, quite unlike the conditions we were used to seeing in the rest of the South Pacific, which already has more than its fair share of tropical infections and skin conditions. We were also warned by the people we met not to visit the northeast islands, specifically the 48 islands of the Enewetak Atoll. Most people we talked with weren’t too clear on what was over there, but that atoll (group of islands) had been ground zero for the US’ military’s atomic testing and they had evidently built some sort of large structure on the island which the locals called “the tomb.” Our curiosity piqued, we did the foolish thing and decided to go see the place for ourselves.
What we found there was heartbreaking, terrifying and fascinating. When we arrived and the locals came out to greet our boat, they came both to welcome and warn us. We were the only boat they had seen in a very long time, and they wanted to thank us, they told us that we reminded them that they were “a part of the human race” that they had “not been completely forgotten by the rest of the world;” but they had been forgotten by the rest of the world. Enewetak is one of the most famous and yet totally unknown places on earth. These little coral islands bore witness to one of the most momentous events in history, as they were the birthplace of the thermonuclear age, the location of the world's first hydrogen bomb test. This event in 1952 marked the beginning of the epoch we are now living in. An epoch is a period of geologic time and the epoch we are now in, which began on Enewetak, is called the Anthropocene; where man is the main driving force in the geologic history shaping our planet. Not stopping there, over the next two decades the Americans would go on to detonate the atomic energy equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshima bombs every single day for 14 years, all on these few tiny porous coral islands. In the late 1970’s when they were done dropping bombs, the military sent over 4,000 very unfortunate soldiers to collect all the toxic materials they could find on land and throw it all into a giant crater hole, just two feet above the ocean. Over this massive pile of plutonium and uranium they poured a foot of concrete, told the islanders to avoid the place forever, and then left. Many of the soldiers have since died horrific deaths with no VA health support, you can learn more about them HERE
The Marshall Islands have benefited very little from the economic and technological developments of the 20th and 21st centuries, but they have paid and will continue to pay a very dear price for them, perhaps the highest price of any country on earth. Not only have the islands of their tropical paradise been forever poisoned, now unable to grow crops fit for human consumption, but the fishing fleets of the industrial world have also emptied their waters of the once abundant schools of fish they relied to feed themselves, and to add to all this, it is predicted that the Marshall Islands will be one of the first nations on earth to vanish, due to the rising tide of climate change, possibly as soon as 2050. Most of the country is less than 4 feet above sea level, the highest point in the entire nation is the trash pile, nicknamed Mt Trashmore.
Great articles about the dome