Posted: May 16th, 2011
The World’s Biggest Bomb
Program Transcript

Secrets of the Dead: The World’s Biggest Bomb

Narrator:
As World War Two ended with the atomic bombing of Japan, a secret war commenced – ushering in one of the most terrifying periods in recent history.

Scientists in the Soviet Union – and America – set to work designing even bigger nuclear bombs…

… a deadly contest that culminated fifty years ago in the biggest man-made explosion of all time.

But the designers often were flying blind.

Pushing the science too far – in the effort to stay ahead.

RICHARD RHODES:
One scientist panicked and was crawling up the beach in terror as this thing kept going up and up.

Narrator:
Now, the story of what really happened in this clandestine war.

An American scientist … NOT SURE WHAT THIS LINE IS DOING HERE

DR HAROLD AGNEW:
The cloud just kept rising and rising – but what frightened me was the heat.

I never thought the heat was going to turn off.

Narrator:
Half a century later, this secret struggle is uncovered …

The race to build the world’s biggest bomb.

THE WORLD’S BIGGEST BOMB

Narrator:
In October 1961, there was a lurch on the seismograph.

But the shockwave had come from a place far from any earthquake zone.

From Russian territory – inside the Arctic Circle.

Unless the instruments were lying – there was only one possible explanation.

The Soviets had a bomb many times bigger than anything the US had built.

One of America’s key atomic scientists remembers when the news came through.

DR HAROLD AGNEW:
We were impressed.

And I was impressed mostly that it was air dropped.

That meant they had a deliverable 50 megaton weapon.

That was pretty scary.

Narrator:
A weapon four thousand (4,000) times bigger than the Hiroshima bomb.

Agnew realized – perhaps better than anyone – what that signified.

As a brilliant young physicist with the wartime Manhattan Project, he worked on the world’s first nuclear weapons.

Agnew flew on the historic mission to Hiroshima – in a B-29 shadowing the delivery aircraft, Enola Gay.

His task was to measure the yield from this first atomic bomb.

DR HAROLD AGNEW:
When the bomb went off we saw the light, then we felt two shockwaves – which surprised us – and then we realised one of them was a reflection from the ground.

And then we dashed over to look out this little porthole and I took the pictures of the Hiroshima cloud.

Narrator:
His film is a unique record – the only moving images of the Hiroshima bomb.

Agnew flew back – to help ready a second bomb.

He’s pictured here – carrying the bomb core itself.

When dropped on Nagasaki shortly after, it effectively ended World War Two.

Together, these bombs had killed more than 150-thousand people.

Many more would perish from their injuries – and the effects of radiation.

As the war ended – the era of the weapon of mass destruction had begun.

The countdown to the world’s biggest bomb began when Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, decided he too must have such a weapon.

Two weeks after Hiroshima, he ordered scientists here – at Moscow’s Lebedev Institute – to build him an atom bomb.

Physicist Boris Altshuler was part of an elite community of Soviet scientists.

His father helped design Stalin’s first bombs.

DR BORIS ALTSHULER, Nuclear Physicist:
My father really understood definitely that they must have the bomb.

Because it’s necessary to save our country – to save peace as they believed it.

DR HAROLD AGNEW:
We physicists and chemists said it would be just a matter of time.

In fact the politicians thought it would take them longer than we thought it would take them.

Narrator:
Agnew was now a key member of the team created to keep the United States ahead of the Soviet Union.

And a series of vast experiments would be conducted here – on Bikini Atoll.

One of the most remote – and for many years, most secret, places on earth.

This coral atoll in the Marshall Islands lies two thousand seven hundred (2,700) miles southwest of Hawaii.

In 1946 the US decided this is where it would test the next generation of weapons.

Historian Richard Rhodes won a Pulitzer prize for his book on the first atomic bombs.

He says the A-bomb spelled excitement – and even sex appeal.

RICHARD RHODES, Historian:
The bikini was invented by a French designer in 1946.

They decided to name it after the sexiest place at that time on the planet, which was where the United States was conducting nuclear weapons tests.

The bomb at that time had a kind of charisma that of course it soon lost.

Narrator:
The bombs were big news – and the people of Bikini seemed happy to be center stage.

ACTUALITY
News reel of Bikini people with VO

Narrator:
Their now desert island would witness one of the most remarkable experiments ever conducted.

Millions of dollars worth of weapons – and a fleet of 95 warships – were assembled in the lagoon.

These junked Japanese, German and American ships were assembled to test the power of the bomb. – as well as junked US vessels.

ACTUALITY
Animals being put on ship with VO

ACTUALITY
Countdown and explosion

Narrator:
The destruction of these warships and weapons sent out a clear signal.

The rules of war had been rewritten.

The atom bomb trumped yesterday’s weaponry – and only America knew the secret of how to build one.

Or so they believed.

RICHARD RHODES:
Years before our experts believed it would be possible, the Soviets in August 1949 tested their first atomic bomb.

And there was panic in Washington as a result.

Narrator:
The Soviet weapon was an almost exact copy of the Nagasaki bomb.

So exact, it was assumed there were spies inside America’s super-secret base at Los Alamos, New Mexico.

DR BORIS ALTSHULER, Nuclear Physicist:
There were American idealistic physicists who gave American secrets to Soviet intelligence.

They had the idea that there must be balance.

It’s very dangerous if only capitalists, imperialists, the United States, will have these weapons.

Narrator:
Klaus Fuchs – a German born physicist – and David Greenglass – an American Army machinist – were just part of the Los Alamos spy ring.

Four days after they were arrested in 1950, the US announced plans for a new – even more powerful — weapon.

RICHARD RHODES, Historian:
There was a great rush in Washington to find something that could reassert the balance.

And for some of the people in Washington, in fact those who prevailed, the hydrogen bomb was that thing.

Narrator:
The bombs tested so far at Bikini were all variations on the original World War II bomb design.

Called “Trinity,” they derived their power from a fission reaction.

Fission happens when an atom is split under such massive pressure it creates a release of energy, in this case, 20 kilotons – equal to 20 thousand tons of TNT.

But the hydrogen bomb was a fusion weapon and would soon make those early devices look primitive.

There would be two key components.

A basic atom bomb plus a tank of hydrogen isotopes such as tritium and deuterium.

The primary explosion would force together – or fuse – the bomb fuel, producing immense heat….

…. a thermonuclear reaction releasing energy measured in megatons.

Millions of tons of TNT.

RICHARD RHODES, Historian:
The other important thing about a hydrogen reaction is that it’s kind of like a fire – the more fuel you add, the bigger the fire.

It has an unlimited potential size.

Whereas the biggest fission weapon we ever built was half a megaton, five hundred thousand tons of TNT equivalent.

Really couldn’t get any bigger than that.

DR HAROLD AGNEW:
We all agreed, at least the technical people, that it would just be a matter of a few years before the Russians would have the same capability.

RICHARD RHODES:
The fact the Soviet Union had so quickly, with the help of espionage, developed their first atomic bombs, made it certain from the point of view of the United States joint chiefs of staff that yes, we must have this weapon.

Narrator:
But would it work?

It was down to Harold Agnew – now in his early thirties – and his Los Alamos colleagues, to build the world’s first thermonuclear device – codenamed Mike.

DR HAROLD AGNEW:
I was a project engineer with a small group. We actually put tritium in Mike, we were in charge of doing that.

We got the thing fabricated, got it shipped out.

RICHARD RHODES, Historian:
It was an atomic bomb – and a long cylindrical tank of liquid hydrogen, surrounded by a cylinder that would funnel the huge burst of radiation that comes off an atomic bomb, and turn the material around the hydrogen cylinder into an intense plasma.
A very, very hot gas, which would then set off the hydrogen that was in the tank.
That was the Mike device.

DR HAROLD:
I was on the Curtis – which was a seaplane tender – 30 miles away, waiting for Mike to be detonated.

DR HAROLD AGNEW:
What frightened me was the heat.

We were just in a pair of shorts – and this got hotter and hotter.

This cloud was 30 miles away – but it felt as if it was on top of us.

Narrator:
Here was a truly historic scientific milestone – the world’s first manmade thermonuclear reaction.

But weighing in at 82 tons – what use was it?

DR BORIS ALTSHULER

Nuclear Physicist
Propaganda wrote – the first hydrogen bomb was tested by the United States in 1952.

It’s called Mike. It was not a bomb.

It was a construction like a big three story house.

RICHARD RHODES, Historian:
It was a bomb that you would have to, as Robert Oppenheimer said, deliver by ox-cart, or by ship.

That wasn’t very useful.

He wanted one you could deliver by air.

Narrator:
Which side built the first true hydrogen bomb – a portable device – is still argued today.

For a frightened public – in the 1950s – definitions hardly mattered.

In 1953, the Soviets developed a hydrogen bomb small enough to carry in an airplane.

Could the US do the same?

Six months later – Los Alamos produced their answer to the Soviet bomb.

Their first had solid fuel – made from the lightest metal that there is – lithium.

RICHARD RHODES, Historian:
There are various versions of lithium, isotopes they’re called, and the one that was needed for this weapon was lithium six.

It had three protons, three neutrons – lithium six.

Narrator:
The fuel mixture – known as lithium deuteride – was packed inside this aluminum cylinder.

Bikini was about to witness the most powerful explosion ever staged by the United States – codename Castle Bravo.

But this time things would get dramatically out of control.

RICHARD RHODES:
They tested the bomb with liquid hydrogen but they’d never tested one with lithium deuteride.

And the measurements had been made wrong, as it turned out.

Narrator:
Almost 60 years ago – John R. Halderman was a young marine corporal.

Shipped out to the Pacific for this top secret mission – he stood guard over America’s superbomb.

JOHN R HALDERMAN, Marine Corps Veteran
It looked like a big propane tank. About 5 feet in diameter and 20 feet long.

I wrote my name on it, being smart. Signed it.

But we had to stay with that until it was all set up to go off. And you weren’t allowed on there.

If your name wasn’t on the access list – you had orders to shoot to kill.

Narrator:
Bikini Atoll is a ring of small islands.

Halderman stood guard in the north west corner – where Bravo would actually detonate.

But it would be triggered from the island of Enyu – 20 miles away.

What happened next is documented in this once classified film.

The bunker is located just beside the island’s landing strip.

It meant that if things went wrong they could call in a helicopter for rescue.

But the men inside here felt safe – protected not just by reinforced concrete – but massive blast doors.

Their job was to ensure that all monitoring devices were running – and finally – priming the firing circuit itself.

If the scientists calculations were correct, the lithium deuteride mixture would erupt with the force of five million tons of TNT.

If it went much higher or the force were any greater – the 20 mile margin of safety might not be enough.

Their bunker was even made watertight – in case Bravo unleashed a tidal wave.

As zero hour approached, Marine John Halderman was aboard the USS Curtiss – the ship carrying top brass and scientists – as it had been for Operation Mike two years before.

JOHN R HALDERMAN, Marine Corps Veteran:
We were 23 miles from ground zero.

And they’re starting the countdown.

They get down to 10 seconds.

Then you get kinda goose pimples – and your hair stands up on the back of you.

DETONATION

JOHN R HALDERMAN, Marine Corps Veteran:
We had dark goggles on but when it went off you can see the bone in your arm.

It’s like looking at an X-ray.

And when we did turn around and take our goggles off, we all thought it would be off in the distance.

But it was right on top of us.

JOHN R HALDERMAN, Marine Corps Veteran:
And you could see the shock wave coming.

Like a miniature tidal wave or tsunami.

You’re grabbing hold of lifelines and hanging on to gun mounts and guys are sliding across the deck and you’re grabbing them.

Then it tilted back the other way.

And I turned around to my buddy and I said ‘Hey, I think we’re goners’ and he said ‘Yeah, I think you’re right’.

RICHARD RHODES, Historian:
It was a terrifying moment.

The explosion reached out so close to the block houses that they barely got out alive.

Narrator:
The leader of the firing party – Dr. John C. Clark – later gave a moment by moment account of what happened.

At zero plus 20 seconds – a shock like a giant earthquake.

At zero plus 90 seconds – the air blast – so powerful that the concrete walls creaked.

But it was their Geiger counters – measuring radiation – that caused real fear.

Bravo had created a vast plume of radioactive fallout – far bigger than expected and heading in a direction no one had predicted.

RICHARD RHODES, Historian:
Fall out in a nuclear weapon is more a product of the material that’s churned up by the explosion than it is of the explosion itself.

The explosion itself is so hot that it turns everything in the bomb into a gas.

But a bomb that’s exploded on the ground stirs up the earth and irradiates the elements in those materials.

And then that material is intensely radioactive. And its radioactivity is what typically we call fall out.

Narrator:
Inside the bunker – radiation levels continued to rise.

Clark reassured his team that a helicopter would soon be on the way – but the men still had to get to the landing pad.

The helicopter blades would kick up fallout which had already settled … making it even more dangerous, since the men hadn’t been issued… further because the men hadn’t been issued protective clothing.

And so Clark devised a primitive solution.

These men, who’d just set off the most potent weapon in history so far would shield themselves with bedsheets – as they hurried toward the waiting chopper.

The USS Curtiss – 23 miles from ground zero – was now also in harm’s way.

JOHN R HALDERMAN, Marine Corps Veteran:
We were the closest ship to the blast.

That radioactive dust – it’s like snow.

They just ordered us below deck and we went below deck and buttoned up.

They came round with Geiger counters and the Geiger counter would sing when they brought it around your body.

I must have been down their 10 days. It stunk down there. It got really ripe.

And if anybody went out of the hatches you had orders to shoot them.

Narrator:
So what had gone wrong?

Although the principle of the hydrogen bomb had been proved with Operation Mike, each new weapon was pushing science to its limit.

Dr Martin Kalinowski – a nuclear physicist at the University of Hamburg – was asked to examine the declassified data from Castle Bravo.

DR MARTIN KALINOWSKI, Nuclear Physicist:
At that time much of the nuclear testing was trial and error. The test was their experiment to find out new information.

And one particular information that is very important for nuclear physicists, or bomb physicists, are so-called cross sections.

These are the capabilities of nuclear materials to react.

Lithium consists of two different kinds of nuclei. Lithium-6 – and what is called lithium-7.

Seven indicates that there is one more neutron in the nucleus.

Physicists at that time thought that lithium-7 is kind of inert, it doesn’t contribute in any way to the nuclear explosion.

DR HAROLD AGNEW:
You have to realise, we were pretty ignorant in those days about cross sections. And that wasn’t thought of at all.

We were ignorant of the fact – but we should not have been ignorant.

DR MARTIN KALINOWSKI:
I looked at the cross sections for lithium-6 and lithium-7 and the comparison reveals Lithium 7 does have a high cross section that means a high probability of undergoing a nuclear reaction.

RICHARD RHODES, Historian:
This particular fuel in this bomb was 30% lithium six, 70% lithium 7.

What the scientists were not aware of was that lithium 7 would be stripped of one of its neutrons early in this reaction as it blew.

And turn into lithium 6, at which point it would become bomb fuel.

The weapon was designed to have a yield of 5 megatons.

But because of this unknown reaction in lithium 7, it had a yield of 15 million tons of TNT equivalent.

Narrator:
The power unleashed by Bravo is still evident today.

Where it sat on the coral sand is now a water-filled crater – one mile wide – and two hundred feet deep.

Along with the vast crater – this fishing boat – named Lucky Dragon – – preserved in a Tokyo museum – provides the most vivid memorial to the Bravo bomb.

As dawn rose, the ship, with a crew of 23, was sailing 82 miles east of Bikini.

MATASHICHI OISHI, Crewmember ‘Lucky Dragon’:
This white powder – like snow – began to fall from the sky.
It was like a blizzard – of fine snowflakes. But I thought – this is the Pacific – how can it be snowing?
It fell on my head and face – and I licked some. It didn’t melt, like snow would have done.
It was like eating sand.

Narrator:
Within days, the crew were suffering from acute radiation sickness.

They hurried back to port in Japan – but despite doctors efforts the radio operator died. Others only slowly recovered.

RICHARD RHODES, Historian:
There was a huge outcry in Japan – I mean this was the one country that had already been atomic bombed.

The only country in the world.

For now some of its ordinary fishermen to come home sick with radiation poisoning produced a national outcry.

Narrator:
The remoteness of Bikini Atoll should have prevented such contamination.

Dr. Kalinowski uses contemporary records to provide an explanation.

DR MARTIN KALINOWSKI:
I looked at the weather data.

And I think that is one of the main reasons why the fallout was higher than expected.

DR MARTIN KALINOWSKI, Nuclear Physicist:
We’re looking here at the meteorological situation of the Castle Bravo test.

Ground zero is marked here with this black star, the lines indicating so-called trajectories.

So these are the paths that particles would follow within 24 hours after the explosion.
The red line indicates a particle at ten kilometres height – whereas the green line is for a particle almost at ground level.

The striking fact is that the green line goes in the exact opposite direction of the red line.
The winds are blowing in different directions.
At high altitudes, the winds are blowing towards the east.
And, at low altitudes, towards the west.

Narrator:
The Bravo commander expected fallout to blow toward empty ocean.

Instead most of the radiation was carried eastwards, high into the air – to descend on the USS Curtiss as well as the Lucky Dragon – and nearby islands.

DR MARTIN KALINOWSKI:
The major fraction of radioactivity is transported in high altitudes because the mushroom cloud lifts the radioactivity.

I’m not sure whether they missed the information about the wind fields – but their impact on the fallout was probably under-estimated.

Narrator:
On the islands to the east of Bikini the 260 people in harm’s way were evacuated by the US military.

Many soon showed clear symptoms of radiation exposure.

DR HAROLD AGNEW:
Usually before shots they were very meticulous in predicting what the wind was going to do, but of course winds can change very quickly.

Just unfortunate.

RICHARD RHODES:
There began in this incident a change in the view that the world had of these tests.

And to some degree also of these bombs.

Narrator:
No US bomb would ever be that big again.

Bravo remains the most powerful thing ever made in America.

RICHARD RHODES, Historian:
By the mid-1950s the United States had developed all the fundamental technologies it needed for nuclear weapons of any yield – small, large, in between.

We even had weapons called dial-a-yield – where you could set the yield anywhere from a few kilotons up to a megaton or more.

The problem became at that point the right delivery system.

Narrator:
Both sides now raced to develop long range missiles.

The new Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, liked to show off his nation’s missile strength.

But – unlike in America – Soviet scientists were also ordered to continue research on bombs of ever increasing power.

An expert on this period, Professor Alexei Kojevnikov has begun piecing together details from once-secret files in Moscow.

DR ALEXEI KOJEVNIKOV, Russian Academy Sciences:
In terms of actual documents we don’t yet have access to the inside documents but this is how I judge the situation.

Khrushchev was trying to strike a posture that the Soviet Union was stronger than it actually was.

A typical posture of the underdog.

For all of 1961 we see a huge deterioration of relationship between the two superpowers.

Narrator:
The world’s biggest bomb would be one of the first tests for the new President Kennedy.

In Germany – the superpowers argued over who should control Berlin.

RICHARD RHODES, Historian:
Khrushchev decided to do something about it – and build the Berlin Wall, which came remarkably close to starting a war.

Closer than I think many people realise.

Narrator:
The wall would trap East Germans desperate to flee from Communist rule.

RICHARD RHODES:
It was a frightening time.

I was in the Air Force Reserve at that time and was recalled to active duty.

DR ALEXEI KOJEVNIKOV:
In July 61 Kennedy decided to put half of the bombers in Europe on war alert and it was that decision that scared Khrushchev the most.

RICHARD RHODES:
Khrushchev called in his scientists and said let’s show the Americans what we can do.

Narrator:
What Khrushchev wanted was a bomb…

Bigger than any in history.

RICHARD RHODES:
It was a deliberate threat.

He said let’s build a really big one – and show them what we can do.

Narrator:
The scientist Khrushchev summoned was Andrei Sakharov – the brains behind the Soviet bomb program for much of the 1950s.

Boris Altschuler studied under Sakharov – and was a close friend for 20 years.

DR BORIS ALTSHULER:
He didn’t consider it as some tool to kill anybody.

It was a tool to defend us, our country, from being killed.

Narrator:
Sakharov had three months to produce the biggest explosive device of all time – dubbed the ‘The Tsar Bomb’ – or king of bombs.

America’s Bravo had been 15 megatons.

But Sakharov planned something more than six times larger than Bravo.

This would be a three stage bomb – rather than the two stages of Castle Bravo.

An atom bomb would be the fission detonator – compressing the bomb fuel in first one thermonuclear reaction….

… and then another.

RICHARD RHODES, Historian:
Scientists once thought about making a bomb that would be a thousand megatons.
And that would be a perhaps four or five stage weapon to get that much yield.
It wouldn’t be useful because once you get above a hundred megatons, the fireball is the thickness of the atmosphere of the earth – ten miles – and any further blast is just going to go out into space.
It’s not going to do any good.

Narrator:
Sakharov was working under orders – and against the clock.

But as the bomb neared completion, he made one vital change.

DR BORIS ALTSHULER:
Sakharov designed a 100 megaton bomb.
But at the last moment was concerned about such power that somebody was polluted.

Narrator:
Frightened by the potential for massive fallout – Sakharov reduced its power to 50 megatons.

Though previous bombs had been tested in Kazakhstan, in Central Asia – the Tsar bomb would detonate over the remote Arctic island of Novaya Zemlya.

Mainly wilderness – the snowbound territory was further away from centers of population that might be affected by the bomb’s fallout.

As dawn broke the crew assigned to carry out this historic mission were given their final briefing.

Mission control was a military airbase in northern Russia – 600 miles from the drop zone.

The men had been handpicked.

And their aircraft had to be specially adapted.

The Tsar Bomb – weighing 27 tons – had been fitted with a parachute – and would be dropped from an altitude of 40 thousand feet.

The bomb would fall for 25 thousand feet – before detonating.

Enough time, it was hoped, for the aircrew to escape the devastating explosion.

DR BORIS ALTSHULER, Nuclear Physicist:
There were real concerns.

Sakharov said now they do something which was never earlier happened in history on the earth.

To foresee exactly what will happen…? (shakes head)

DR BORIS ALTSHULER, Nuclear Physicist:
When the shockwave came to the airplane. The airplane fell down about a kilometre.

But it was very high – so they didn’t perish. But it was almost broken.

Narrator:
The most powerful man-made explosion in history produced a mushroom cloud which peaked at forty miles – around seven times the height of Mount Everest.

Buildings 70 miles away were destroyed.

Windows were shattered 300 miles away.

Monitors who picked up the shockwave had been expecting something momentous – but nothing of this magnitude.

DR HAROLD AGNEW:
We were really impressed by the fact that they were able to air drop that thing.
And even more impressed when we realised that had they used much more uranium in it – which they could have – it would have been 100 megatons.
It was really amazing.

Narrator:
The implications were clear to the analysts.

If the Tsar Bomb were dropped on Washington DC – and detonated at an optimum height of 2000 feet – the initial fireball would incinerate everything – and everybody – within 3 miles.

People 12 miles away would suffer third degree burns.

Most buildings 20 miles away would be destroyed.

In this scenario – it would kill more than 1 million people instantly – perhaps three and a half million in total.

The altitude at which a bomb detonates is a critical factor.

Dr Martin Kalinowski was asked to determine what happened to the fallout from the Tsar bomb.

DR MARTIN KALINOWSKI:
The big difference is that the Tsar Bomb was exploded at four kilometres height – whereas the Bravo test took place close to ground.

But there is a second issue – about wind speed and directions.

DR MARTIN KALINOWSKI, Nuclear Physicist:
This is a snapshot of the plume after 6 hours – ground zero is marked here with the red star.
The different colours are indicating the part of the plume at different heights.
The important thing is there is no vertical transport – neither downwards nor upwards.
The whole plume is travelling to the east.

DR MARTIN KALINOWSKI:
The particles, transported with fast wind speeds, had no chance to reach ground.
It took 48 hours before any fallout reached the ground.
By that time the very short-lived radioactivity had already decayed and the concentrations were very low.

Narrator:
Still, the low initial fallout of the Tsar bomb was too much for the man who built it.

Sakharov’s own estimate was that 500 thousand people, worldwide would suffer in succeeding decades as the radiation deposited by the huge cloud slowly decayed.

Only months after the Tsar bomb was detonated – in a remarkable turnaround – Andrei Sakharov became a fierce critic of nuclear weapons.

DR ALEXEI KOJEVNIKOV:
Sakharov became the leader of the protest group in the Soviet Union – largely because there was no way to contain the radioactive contamination.

Narrator:
Because of official secrecy there are only estimates of the impact of the Soviet bomb tests.

But Sakharov and his friends had first-hand evidence.

DR BORIS ALTSHULER, Nuclear Physicist:
All the facts of pollution were top secret.

My friend Mikhail Marinov when he was in Kazakhstan – being a student in 1957 – he slept on the street because of good weather and there was rain during this night.

And next day he became totally bald.

The reason is very simple.

Because there was some nuclear test and some wind and some cloud and there was radioactive rain. Nobody said a word. Nothing. But he became totally bald after that. And he died of cancer – much later but it was it was connected.

Narrator:
The true impact of the Soviet tests is still unknown.

The effects of America’s bombs in the Pacific remain equally controversial.

The United States were granted permission to use Bikini by the island’s King Juda.

But his son – two years old when he left Bikini – says his father lived to regret his decision.

TOMAKI JUDA, Son of King Juda:
It was a mistake – because the United States were not treating us good.
The United States promised us that we’re going to use your island for a short time – but that was not true.
He couldn’t really understand how strong was the thing they were going to use at Bikini Atoll.

Narrator:
Bravo was only one of 67 nuclear explosions on Bikini, and neighboring Eniwetok atoll.

The pounding they took is hard to visualize.

It equaled the dropping of one Hiroshima bomb every day – for 25 years.

Islanders were encouraged to return in 1969, when the atoll was declared safe.

But during the 1970s they left again – when new evidence showed Bikini was still dangerously radioactive.

Today Bikini islanders live elsewhere in the Marshall Islands – and some of them in the United States.

Bikini has no permanent inhabitants.

Leaders of the exiled community – including the mayor – make periodic visits – this one the first in two years.

On the island where his ancestors lived for centuries there’s now a monitoring program – funded by the US Department of Energy.

It tracks radiation levels in specified coconut trees.

Monitor radioactivity in the island’s groundwater.

And they’ve planted a garden – to help determine when crops grown here will be safe to eat.

But because of their past experience, islanders are suspicious about official statements.

ALSON KELEN, Mayor of Bikini Atoll:
According to the DOE, they say that it’s safe enough to come back.
The more it rains the more the radiation goes out.
But I actually was one of those kids that got relocated back in the 1970s.
Some people say it’s not safe yet.
So I guess it’s how you look at the picture.

ALSON KELEN, Mayor of Bikini Atoll:
Right now we are at the old graveyard site from before the testing was happening on Bikini.

These graves are our grandfathers, great great grandparents

Bikini are all one family.

So anybody dies here, we’re all related.

Narrator:
The United States has, over the years, paid almost 200 million dollars in compensation – and in its efforts to clean up Bikini. But it appears it will remain an island of ghosts.

ALSON KELEN:
The children of Israel, they travelled for 40 years.

But the children of Bikini – I really know don’t know if we will ever come back to Bikini.

Narrator:
The last bomb test here was in 1958.

And the Tsar Bomb was among the last Soviet tests conducted in the open atmosphere.

Partly because of the horror inspired by the world’s biggest bomb – and the dangers of another radiation disaster like Castle Bravo – both sides agreed to a test ban treaty in 1963, confining further tests underground to prevent fallout.

In Russia, Andrei Sakharov became an important symbol of protest against the regime and was under police surveillance.

The inventor of the world’s biggest bomb was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.

Harold Agnew also played a key role throughout this extraordinary period – from Hiroshima onward.

DR HAROLD AGNEW:
I never had any qualms that what we were doing was necessary at the time.

But I’ve said many times – politicians should have to get in their underwear and watch a megaton blast and feel the heat.

And it would really make better thinkers out of some of them.

END TITLES

  • John R. Halderman

    The USS Curtiss installed a wash down system.The ship was being washed with radio active sea water.Coral would get into the pump suctions and stop them up.The Admiral ordered the deck crew outside to unclog the intakes.We had to let them out on the main deck. They are all dead as are the scuba divers that checked for underwater damage. I can see why our government kept it secret for 50 years. I speak at schools and churches about the Castle Operation.Even spoke at a rest home.It is 2011 and some of it is still secret. cuwhenicu. John R. Halderman

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