View Full Version : The Runit Dome

09-05-2012, 09:59 PM
After the US military's nuclear testing in the Pacific ended, Marshall islanders are still living with the legacy of a decaying nuclear waste dump known as the Runit Dome. Enewetak Atoll is part of the Marshall Islands group in the central Pacific. It consists of about 40 small islets totalling less than 6 km², surrounding an 80 km wide lagoon. After the end of WW2, the residents were evacuated, and the atoll used for nuclear testing as part of the U.S. Pacific Proving Grounds. The bodies of US servicemen killed and buried there in the Battle of Enewetak during WW2, were exhumed before testing commenced and returned to the United States. A total of 43 nuclear tests were conducted at Enewetak between 1948 and 1958.The largest of these tests being the first hydrogen bomb, code-named Ivy Mike in 1952 which entirely vaporized the island of Elugelab. One of Enewetak' islands, the tiny Runit measuring barely 0.3 square kilometres, was the site for eight of these high yield nuclear blasts.

"The equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshima bombs was dropped on our tiny country every day of the 12-year test period. Two of Enewetak's islands were vapourised,"
- Jack Ading-Marshall Islands Finance Minister and Enewetak's senator.

In the wake of the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963, the indigenous people began to return to Enewetak, and on May 15, 1977 the U.S. government directed the military to decontaminate the islands. 85,000 cubic metres of contaminated topsoil and debris from the various islands were mixed with Portland cement and buried. The site chosen was the 9 meter deep, 105 meter wide crater created by the May 5, 1958, Cactus test situated at the northern end of Runit. Material was bulldozed into the crater until it became a spherical mound 7.6 m high (25 ft). The crater was then capped with a 460 mm (18-inch) thick concrete cap. The dome was completed in September 1979 at a cost of $239 million USD. The following year the U.S. government declared the islands safe for habitation, and the natives were officially allowed to return to the island.

Thirty years of tropical weathering has taken its toll of the concrete cap which is now riddled with cracks and fissures, some so large that birds have nested in them. Both the construction and location of the dome were chosen for reasons of economy and convenience rather than long term safety. The crater on which the dome was built extends into Enewetak lagoon, and sits on coral foundations that were severely fractured by other nearby nuclear detonations, posing a considerable risk of radioactive material seeping into the lagoon. The US Department of Energy has stated that "the US has no formal custodial responsibilities for the site", and denies that any contamination is being released from the site. In 2000 the Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal awarded $340 million to the people of Enewetak for loss of use, hardship, medical difficulties. However no funds are being made available for further cleanup of the site or repair work on the crumbling dome.

09-05-2012, 10:32 PM
Cool article thanks! I am as much an environmentalist as I am a constitutionalist, I am a hunter/fisherman and understand a clean environment is important economically and for the improvement of life for future generations. I would have no issue with the US paying a few million to clean the site better, hell I would advocate it. We made the mess we should clean it up.

I still love nukes though.

Picture of the detonation.