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Martha Smith on: The Impact of the Bravo Test
Q: Can you tell me about the impact of the Castle Bravo nuclear test which takes place in the Pacific on March 1, 1954?

MS: I think the Bravo test is really important for a number of reasons. It's kind of symbolic. It raises a lot of the issues that are related to the whole controversy over nuclear testing. First of all, it's important because it's such a huge test. It's a 15-megaton thermonuclear explosion, which is much larger than the Administration or the Atomic Energy Commission even expected. It turns out to be a very devastating test, in terms of its consequences. Twenty-three Japanese fishermen are radiated as a result of the nuclear test. It's estimated that probably thousands of Marshall Islanders were also affected by this particular test, which was code named Bravo (unfortunately).

It's also important because I think it shows how the United States, how the Eisenhower Administration was forced to deal with these kinds of explosions. It helps to explain how they developed public relations strategies in order to deal with not only the domestic reactions in the United States to this huge test but also to foreign reactions, which turned out to be very, very negative. There was a lot of protest after Bravo, from countries like India, for example. India was the first country which came forward and proposed at the United Nations that all of these nuclear tests should be stopped, that there should be a complete ban on nuclear testing. And they were followed by other countries as well, at that time, that began to support this whole call for a nuclear test ban.

Q: Well, we won't comment on the irony of India being the proponent of that line of thinking. But going back to `54, it's essentially a secret test that we're talking about. And in some way, what happens is that that incident with the fishermen and the problem that develops with the fallout, both on the islands and with regards to the fishing boat, essentially blows the cover of the test. It becomes an international incident, if you will, because of this tremendous fallout problem. Describe to me a little bit more, if you can, the building anxiety or concern that is expressed not just by government but also by a lot of citizens around the world.

MS: In Japan, it becomes a huge issue in terms of not just the government and its protest against the United States, but all different groups and all different peoples in Japan start to protest. It becomes a big issue in the media. There are all kinds of letters and protests that come from, not surprisingly, Japanese fishermen, the fishermen's wives; there are student groups, all different types of people; the protest against the Americans' use of the Pacific for nuclear testing. They're very concerned about, first of all, why the United States even has the right to be carrying out those kinds of tests in the Pacific. They're also concerned about the health and environmental impact. It has a huge, Bravo and other tests, have huge impact on the fishing industry, which directly affects the Japanese.

Related to that, the Marshallese at the same time send a lot of protests to the United States. They ask that the tests be stopped. They point out that it's affecting the environment on their islands, the fact that many of the islands have been radiated, and that it had to be evacuated and moved off to other places that they're not familiar with, and that they're not happy. They're not happy living on the places where they've been evacuated. They went into quite a bit of detail about the actual impact of the Bravo test. They complained about the fact that, first of all, they hadn't been warned about the test, about the fact also that they weren't evacuated.

Some of them, the Rongelapese, for example, probably were exposed to the most radiation. They were left on their island for 50-- it was 50 hours, I believe. And in the meantime, nobody came to them and explained that they had been affected by a nuclear test. So their children were out, you know, eating and drinking, drinking the water, eating the food, playing in the radioactive dust. Because they said that it looked like snow...They suffered from all kinds of health effects within the first couple of days. Their hair fall out. Their skin became spotty. They suffered from nausea. And all the time that this was happening...the Atomic Energy Commission, for example, didn't send anybody to help these people, in terms of explaining to them first of all what had happened to them, and then also trying to help them with these health problems. So those were many of the complaints that were directed towards the United States.

But because of what had happened to the Japanese as well as the Marshallese, the protest spread to other parts of the world as well. India was a very strong protester against nuclear tests in the Pacific. The protest also spread to Canada, to parts-- different parts of Western Europe, such as Great Britain, Italy, France...Many of the peoples within those countries began to protest against the Americans. And not just the Americans but also the tests that were being carried out by the British and the Soviet Union at the same time.

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