Atomic Wrecks

Klaus Thymann traveled to the remote Bikini Atoll for CNN to look at the ongoing impact of nuclear testing on the environment and the local population.

The Bikini Atoll is part of the group of islands and coral atolls that make up the Marshall Islands, located just north of the equator in the Pacific Ocean. It is also the test site of the largest nuclear device ever exploded by the United States in 1954.

Between 1946 and 1958 the US Navy conducted 67 nuclear tests in the waters around the Marshall Islands, and 23 of these tests specifically took place on the Bikini Atoll. The explosions devastated the land on Bikini, contaminating land and water and making people ill. The fallout spread to other areas and residents. 

The tests also sank several of the Navy’s warships. These wrecks are now at the bottom of a lagoon between 55 and 65 meters deep, which is deep, and multiple tanks and different gas mixes are needed to dive there. It is possible to enter some of the wrecks to explore the interior of the ships. The wrecks are still radioactive, but the water works as a barrier.

The Bikini Atoll remains uninhabitable and Thymann’s expedition with resulting imagery and reporting bore witness to the long-term effects of environmental destruction on the natural world and human beings. 

The 60,000 residents of the Marshall Islands are now in danger again, this time to the climate crisis. Sea level rise threatens to submerge parts of the island nation and render close to 40% of buildings in the capital city permanently flooded. According to international law, the loss of land puts their nation status in jeopardy. 

It is no longer correct to talk about climate change but about the climate crisis. The word crisis comes from the Greek word krisis, which means decision. We have important decisions to make and must call on the entire system to be effective. While there is an evolution, it is not happening fast enough. Gradual change cannot solve exponential problems like the existential threat facing the people of the Marshall Islands.