The Catalyst’s international column is a project to provide a platform for community members to speak out on issues happening inside and outside the bubble of Colorado College and the United States, but are regularly impacting the everyday lives of many members on campus. The project aims to counter dominant representations about the international community on- and off-campus and seeks to nurture a more globally minded campus. Organized by Anusha Khanal.
By Anusha khanal
On March 1, 1954, the U.S. military conducted the largest nuclear weapon test on Bikini Atoll, a necklace of 23 islands in the Marshall Islands. A total of 23 tests were conducted between 1946 and 1958, with Castle Bravo test being the largest, which produced 15 megatons of explosive force, instead of the presumed force of four to six megatons. The explosion was deemed 1000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped in Hiroshima in August 1945.
In 1946, when this project was taken up, Bikini Atoll had a total of 167 inhabitants who were evacuated from their home, having been told that it was a temporary measure and the tests would be conducted for the ‘Good of Mankind.’ The miscalculation of the Castle Bravo test and others led to the irradiation of 665 Marshallese inhabitants.
In the 70s, Bikini Atoll was considered safe to return to; however, it was soon found that the islanders had been exposed to high levels of radiation in their bodies.
In 1977, a U.S. servicemen were sent in to the debris in the area. The solution was to dump into a crater formed by one of the tests and seal it with a concrete dome. In 2013, a U.S. Department of Energy report declared that the radiation active materials would seep into the environment if not properly covered.
In 2019, it was confirmed that the crater was not sealed well, and the radioactive materials had found their ways into the food chain and into the bodies of the islanders, taking the lives of many, and continuously impacting their health.
As climate change looms over our world and we celebrate the carbon neutrality of our campus, which is commendable, let us not forget that climate change has many layers of inequality, racism, western superiority and colonialism tied into it. Our efforts on campus need to continue while looking into ourselves but also the world outside, which has unevenly advantaged some and deprived others.
Let us not forget that our privilege of a clean and healthy environment has come at the expense of others.
The Marshall Islands recently celebrated its Nuclear Remembrance Day on March.
The following are some excerpts from “More than just a blue passport,” a poem written by Marshallese climate activist mind, Selina Neirok Leem. She has witnessed the everyday consequences of the nuclear test and of climate change, which has been accelerated and fuelled by humankind in its thirst for “progress” and “development.” Selina is a good friend of mine and a few other students on this campus. For the past few years she has been working at a climate warrior and is currently pursuing education in a community college in Washington.
To the developed countries
To the advanced nations
You think you know us
But you know NOTHING — NOTHING
Should I tell you what is happening in my backyard?
What is that?
You think you already know?
You think you know better?
How many wars have ended now due to nuclear weapons?
How many innocent lives killed?
Remember March 1, 1954
When they dropped the Bravo bomb in Bikini
Ever-famous for leaving their mark behind
Like the mark
on my home
The Marshall Islands
is now a weary mother of
A dome filled with radioactive waste,
all from the bombing, “For the good of mankind”
With a sign that said, “Do not return for 25,000 years”
It has been sixty-three years
We have 24,937 years left
Until we can go back home to Runit
The land, the island this dome burdens
But now the waters have washed it away
Eroding parts of this dome away
Leaking harmful radiations out into the open
So foreign men who have visited the dome to study it say
the outside is even more contaminated than the inside
and they leave again
with numbers and calculations
Not a thought for us
For bigger countries mock us
after they have violated the earth’s virginity
with their carbon-filled aphrodisiac
Digging and pumping out fossil fuel
from our mother’s womb
At 1.5 degrees
At the risk of my people becoming climate refugees
Becoming just a blue passport
The only identity of this grandmother and me
Will the first three pages of Marshallese stamps
Be the last stamps I get from home?
Will this blue passport be the last one I will ever have from home?