Reconpresse USA

J. L'Angelle, Editor

The Gyre Quagmire

The Cactus Crater Dome


Nuclear burial ground

By FLOYD K. TAKEUCHI Advertiser Editorial Writer
    RUNIT, Marshall Islands — From the air, Runit Is-land's 370-foot wide concrete dome looks like a ground-ed spaceship or an oversize upside-down saucer. But this unusual structure, so out of place on this barren. wind-swept spit of sand and coral, serves a deadly pur-pose. It caps over 110,000 cubic yards of highly radioactive soil and debris. The plutonium-enriched waste was literally scraped off the top of many of Enewetak Atoll's 40 islands where 43 nuclear bombs were ex-ploded between 1947 and 1958. 

(Image: Honolulu Star Bulletin--13 April 1980)

The US Congress has demanded an investigation into a concrete dome full of nuclear waste, threatened by rising sea levels in the Marshall Islands. Dubbed "the tomb", it holds tonnes of radioactive debris from dozens of US atomic bomb tests carried out during the Cold War.

Plutonium, Strontium-90 &


      INDEED, THE DOME sits over a crater blown out by a 1958 explosion code-named "Cactus." A similar crater now is a tidal pool next to the dome. Runit is a fitting place for a nuclear burial ground. Nineteen tests were centered around the island, which is situated halfway up the eastern end of the atoll. It is so contaminated with deadly radioactive elements — plutonium, strontium-90 and cesium-137 — that it will be off-limits forever. Anyone who walks over the island's sandy surface must wear a protective gauze mask and special boots. Even those who only walk on the 25-foot high dome must be checked for radiation on their hands and feet. The Cactus crater dome is supposed to shield the surrounding environment from the radioactive waste. It will have to do the job for a long time. While the half-life of strontium and cesium are around 30 years, plutonium's is 24,000 years. That means in the year 25,980 there will still be half as much plutonium radiation there as at present. 

(Image: Honolulu Star Bulletin--13  April 1980)

(Runit Dome schematic:

24,000 years later


 The concrete cap, which required over 43,000 bags of cement to build, is between 16 and 21 inches thick. In an effort to slow erosion from the sea, Army engi-neers built a seawall of sand and coral on the ocean side of the dome. They also have to contend with corro-sive salt spray, a common occurence on the low-lying island. Asked if the dome, which was completed last year: could survive the elements for 24,000 years or more, an Army spokesman said no damage is expected. A scientist with the Enewetak cleanup project joking-ly said, "I'd bet on it " The Runit dome is an awesome sight, from both the air and ground There is only sparse vegetation on the small island, and the only other structures are the re-mains of two bunkers. 

(Image: Honolulu Advertiser--06 Oct 1979) 

The Marshall Islands consists of 29 atolls and 5 individual islands totaling about 1,225 islands.
After almost four decades under US administration as the easternmost part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, the Marshall Islands attained independence in 1986 under a Compact of Free Association.



Burned Group Wants to go Back Home

WITH THE EXCEPTION of occasional visitors who arrive by helicopter, the only mammals on contaminated Runit are the rats. Their hardy ancestors survived the nuclear testing by hiding in underground burrows. This latest generation scampers in the underbrush, eating vegetation that is chock-full of strontium and cesium. Rats also have survived on Enewetak's other islands. According to resident scientists at the Mid-Pacific Marine Laboratory on Enewetak island who have been studying the atoll's rat population, the only observable mutation they have discovered so far is a slight abnormality in some rat palates. Dr. Steve Vessey, who heads the project, added they have found "no real scare stories, no two-headed rats."  

(Honolulu Star Bulletin--13 April 1980 )


The Poisoned People


   By WILLIAM J. WAUGH,  KWAJALEIN. Marshall Islands (AP)—They call themselves "the poisoned people." There are the 82 natives "f Rongelap Atoll who were showered by radioactive ash from the March 1 explosion of a hydrogen bomb.
    One of them, John Anjin, said' the ash rained down for 24 hours. "It looked like salt," he said. "It came down like a light rain. You could feel it strike your skin. It burned when it touched." SOME OF the "poisoned people" lost their hair. Others were burned. Almost all of them are cured now—but they can't go home for a year. They are among the Marshall Islanders who have petitioned the United Nations to end Atomic experiments in this area—or at least to see that the United States observes closer pre-cautions. The Marshall Islands, midway between Hawaii and the Philip-pines, came under U.S. control in the war 10 years ago. 

(Image & Story: Arizona Republic--13 June 1954)

Utiriks & Rongelopers


In 1947 the United States became their trustee under U.N. authority. The islands are low coral atolls with a population of about 11,000. Natives of Bikini and Eniwetok atolls were uprooted in 1946-7 to make way for atomic experiments. In the March 1 blast the 82 persons on Rongelap and 154 on Utirik were exposed or endangered to such an extent that they were removed from their home atolls. The Utirik people have gone back, but the Rongelapers must wait a year—until their atoll is considered safe. 

(Story: Arizona Republic --13 June 1954)

The Defense Nuclear Agency Report -1981(pdf--723 pages)