March 1 st , 2004 marks the 50 th anniversary of the 1954 US "Bravo" hydrogen bomb test on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands that unexpectedly turned out to be the largest US nuclear test ever exploded. "Bravo" gouged a crater about a mile wide in the reef of Bikini Atoll. Within seconds of the blast, the fireball was nearly three miles in diameter. On Rongerik, an island 135 miles east of the blast, the illumination from "Bravo" was visible for almost one minute. Physicist Marshall Rosenbluth, located on a ship about 30 miles away, stated that the fireball "just kept rising and rising, and looked to me like what you might imagine a diseased brain, or a brain of some mad man would look like on the surface.and the air started getting filled with this gray stuff, which I guess was somewhat radioactive coral."

      Human Fallibility

      "Bravo" brought to light the consequences of human fallibility with regards to nuclear weapons. In preparing for the test, Los Alamos scientists missed an important fusion reaction and grossly underestimated the size of the explosion. The scientists expected that the test would yield the equivalent of five million tons of TNT, but instead "Bravo" yielded 15 megatons - making the destructive force three times larger than expected and more than 1,000 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima that caused a total of some 135,000 casualties.

      Human Consequences

      Some 80 miles east of Bikini , a snow-like substance began raining down on 23 fishermen onboard a Japanese tuna fishing vessel called the Lucky Dragon. The fishermen had no idea that the ash was fallout from the hydrogen bomb test. When they returned to their home port of Yaizu in Shizuoka prefecture on 14 March, all of the fisherman were suffering from severe radiation sickness. In September 1954, the radio telegraph operator on the Lucky Dragon died. The incident raised interest and concern both in Japan and around the world. Following extended negotiations, the US made a payment of $2 million to the Japanese government in January 1955, without legal liability, to compensate for all injuries and damages caused as a result of the five nuclear tests it had conducted in the Marshall Islands . Marshall Islanders on Rongelap and Utirik atolls (about 100 miles east of Bikini ) were also exposed to the fallout. An Islander on Rongelap recalls, "[There was] a loud explosion and within minutes the ground began to shake. A few hours later, the radioactive fallout began to drop on the people, into the drinking water, and on the food. The children played in the colorful ash-like powder. They did not know what it was." While 28 US Service Personnel located on Rongerik (about 135 east of Bikini ) were evacuated within 34 hours of the test, Rongelap and Utirik islanders exposed to the fallout were not evacuated for another day. By this time, many of the Rongelap islanders had severe burns, lesions and were beginning to lose their hair. The Marshall Islands became a United Nations Trust Territory of the US after World War II. While "Bravo" is a well-known test, the US conducted a total of 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands alone from 1946 to 1958. The total yield of the 67 tests was 108 megatons, equivalent to the destructive force of more than 7,000 Hiroshima bombs. In 1988, the Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal was established to grant compensation to Marshall Islanders for personal injury deemed to have been caused by nuclear testing.

      Although some $270 million was provided to victims between 1986 and 2001, half a century later, islanders are still waiting on a stalled bid for compensation. During a visit to the Marshall Islands in January 2004, Congressman Richard Pombo (R-CA), who chairs the House Resources Committee which oversees funding to the Marshall Islands , admitted that Washington 's obligations have not ended. Pombo stated, "Obviously, the United States has an ongoing liability (for the nuclear test legacy). This issue is 50 years old. At some point we need to find closure."

      Historical Lesson Lost?

      Despite fallibility in the history of US nuclear testing, Congress authorized the US Department of Energy (DoE) $34 million in its Fiscal Year 2004 budget to improve the Nevada Test Site. In addition, the FY 2004 budget authorized $25 million for enhanced test site readiness, which decreased the preparation time to resume nuclear testing from 24-36 months to 24 months.

      The DoE's FY 2005 budget recommendation submitted to Congress includes a funding request to ensure that the Nevada Test Site could execute an underground nuclear weapons test within 18 months of receiving orders by the President. According to the DoE's budget documents, the Nevada Test Site would receive a 14% increase in its "science campaign," with some of the money improving test readiness by "maintaining critical personnel, equipment and infrastructure."

      While the present US administration insists that it will not end the worldwide test moratorium that has been in place since 1992, increased funding for enhanced readiness of the Nevada Test Site appears to be part of a well-coordinated effort to resume production of nuclear weapons, including new and untested weapons. Resumption of US full-scale underground nuclear testing would undoubtedly lead other countries to resume testing, essentially defeating any chance for near or long-term US ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Neither the US nor the rest of the world can afford the nuclear arms race that would be caused by resuming nuclear testing.     

      Take Action

        1. Voice your concerns to your elected officials. Call, email, fax or write the President and your Congressional representatives, asking them to maintain the current moratorium on nuclear testing and reject any funding for nuclear weapons testing or enhanced readiness of the Nevada Test Site.

        2. Find out more about "Bravo." For more information on those affected by US nuclear testing and to take further action, please visit: