Bombs over Bikini named a Junior Library Guild Selection for 2014; winner of the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for California/Hawaii; recommended by the National Science Teachers Association; rated as outstanding by the Association of Children's Librarians of Northern California; a Bank Street College Best Book
“The bomb will not start a chain reaction in the water, converting it all to gas and letting all the ships on all the oceans drop down to the bottom. It will not blow out the bottom of the sea and let all the water run down the hole.” ----- Vice Admiral William Blandy, head of Operation Crossroads, 1946
July 1, 1946: Countdown for the first bomb over Bikini.
The B-29 Superfortress called Dave’s Dream flew toward Bikini Island in the vast Pacific with a deadly cargo stashed inside the bomb bay. The plane left the island of Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands on July 1, 1946, for the four-hour flight to Bikini. It carried Able, code name for the first atomic bomb the United States planned to explode on the island.
“Two minutes to go. Two minutes to go. Release minus two minutes.”
The U.S. military had dropped atomic bombs over two Japanese cities in World War II, but now it wanted to find out what the bomb would do to large Navy ships.
“Thirty seconds to go. It is now 30 seconds to zero time”
Radio stations around the world broadcasted the countdown and detonation of Able live. Observers near the blast site included scientists, politicians, reporters, and American military officials.
Officials advised observers to put on their dark goggles or to turn away from the blast. People should wait ten seconds after the bright light flashed before looking at the explosion.
Admiral William Blandy, the man in charge of the testing, promised the bomb would not destroy gravity as some critics feared.
The men working on the Able bomb had nicknamed it Gilda after a movie starring the glamorous Rita Hayward.
The morning was sunny and bright with scattered clouds as Dave’s Dream approached Bikini at an altitude of 28,000 feet.
There were no people on Bikini because the U.S. military had moved its 167 inhabitants to another island.
About one hundred ships – American, Japanese, and German – were anchored in Bikini’s lagoon. These were called the target array.
Abel’s explosion would be the most photographed event in history. Radio-controlled planes loaded with cameras were flown over Bikini to photograph the blast. Experts set up cameras on the target array, on towers built on the surrounding islands, and on observer ships.
Over five thousand live animals were caged on the ships, including goats, pigs, and rodents. The Navy wanted to see how an atomic bomb affected animals.
If Major Woody Swancutt, pilot of the B-29, had looked down, he might have noticed how Bikini and its surrounding islands looked like a broken bracelet tossed carelessly into the sea.
In the moment before detonation, the only sounds on Bikini were the wind sighing through palm trees, waves crashing on the beach, and seabirds calling as they searched for food and tended their young.
“Bomb away, bomb away, bomb away and falling”
Gilda slipped from the B-29’s belly and plummeted to zero point as the plane passed over the target array.
Able exploded with the force of twenty-three thousand tons of dynamite.
In 1946, as part of the Cold War arms race, the US military launched a program to test nuclear bombs in the Marshall Islands of the Pacific Ocean. From 1946 until 1958, the military detonated 67 nuclear bombs over the region's Bikini and Enewetak Atolls. The 12th bomb, called Bravo, became the world's first nuclear disaster. It sent a toxic cloud of radiation over Rongelap Atoll and other nearby inhabited islands.The testing was intended to advance scientific knowledge about nuclear bombs and radiation, but it had much more far-reaching effects. Some of the Islanders suffered burns, cancers, birth defects, and other medical tragedies as result of radiation poisoning. Many of the Marshallese settled on other Pacific islands or in the United States. They and their descendants cannot yet return to Bikini, which remains contaminated by radiation. And while the United States claims it is now safe to resettle Rongelap, only a few construction workers live there on a temporary basis.In Bombs Over Bikini you'll meet the people who planned the nuclear tests, the Marshall Islanders who lost their homes and suffered from radiation illnesses, and those who work to hold the US government accountable for catastrophically poor planning. Was the new knowledge about nuclear bombs and radiation source worth the cost of human suffering? You decide.
An article in the Sacramento Bee about a reunion of the Rongelap refugees inspired me to write this book. I just had to find out more about how the U.S. nuclear testing program affected the people of the Bikini and Rongelap Atolls.
Someone asked why my book, "Bombs Over Bikini" is subtitled, "The World's First Nuclear Disaster." Wasn't the bombing of Hiroshima the first nuclear disaster? The word disaster is most often used to describe something sudden and unplanned, such as a natural disaster (tsunami, earthquake) or a terrible accident such as the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl. The US bombing of Hiroshima, while indescribably horrific, was a planned, purposeful and premeditated act of war. It was not an accident.
I use the term 'world's first nuclear disaster' in my book specifically to describe the world's first hydrogen bomb, called Bravo, detonated over Bikini by the U.S. in 1954. Although the US had evacuated the nearby atoll of Rongelap for the first 11 bombs, it failed to do so for Bravo, the 12th bomb in the series of 67 detonated over the Marshall Islands.
I believe the term perfectly describes what happened - radioactive fallout on inhabited atolls that damaged a population, culture, and environment. It was sudden, unplanned, and accidental - the very definition of disaster. Later nuclear disasters include Chernobyl and Fukushima.