Sea Gypsies: The Plutonium Dome


The history of our planet can be divided into subdivisions of geologic time, epochs. The current epoch we have recently entered is named the Anthropocene and is defined as the human age, where the primary forces that will shape the geologic world are driven by mankind, to our own detriment. This is a story about an expedition to the birthplace of the Anthropocene which began in 1952 at the dawn of the nuclear age, with the testing of the first hydrogen bomb - Ivy Mike- on a small coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. 

The sailing ship Infinity and her ragtag crew voyaged to Enewetak in the Marshall Islands in 2018 and what they found there, tucked away from the world is perhaps the next great nuclear catastrophe in the pacific, an already tragic situation which will be made a hundred times worse by climate change. Starting in 1952 the US military evicted the people of these islands and began testing what would eventually be the equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshima bombs a day for 12 years, all on this tiny coral atoll. In the 1970’s they sent out 4,000 unfortunate soldiers to scoop up all the radioactive debris, toss it into a bomb crater and cover it with a foot of non-reinforced cement, just 3 feet above sea level. They also allowed the former inhabitants to return to their destroyed islands, without adequate warning them of the danger. Just a few decades later and this giant pile of nuclear debris is breaking loose from its shoddy confines and is spilling into the rising ocean, endangering the already poisoned local people. It won’t be confined to the middle of nowhere forever, the materials intumned have a radiological half life of 24,000 years, and already radiation has been detected far from the original site. 

This is a story that affects the world, but primarily it affects the Marshall Islands, one of the countries that is slated to be obliterated from the map due to climate change. Very few stories have ever come out of the Marshall Islands, few in the world know where they are and fewer still know what is happening there. It is predicted that the Marshall Islands will uninhabitable as soon as 2030, as the entire country is just a few feet above sea level.