On the 70th Anniversary of the Largest US Nuclear Blast

March 20th, 2024 - by Helen Jaccard and Gerry Condon / People and Planet News

Remembering Victims of the
Castle Bravo Atomic Test: March 1, 1954
Helen Jaccard and Gerry Condon / People and Planet News

March 1st marked seventy years since the US used its biggest ever nuclear weapon — on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The bomb was 15 megatons, a thousand times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  On this day we acutely remember the victims of the Castle Bravo nuclear blast and all other victims of the nuclear era, which has brought untold pain, death and damage, affecting both people and the planet in profoundly destructive and damaging ways.

Between 1946 and 1958 the US detonated 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands. The blasts vaporized whole islands, carved craters into the shallow lagoons and exiled hundreds of people from their homes. The Castle Bravo blast was the largest of all, sending particulate and gaseous fallout around the entire planet.

Stopping the Nuclear Weapons Tests
Concerned US citizens tried to stop the tests by contacting Congress, the President, the Press and by demonstrating on campuses and in the streets. They weren’t successful through these conventional means, so in 1958 four Quakers bought a small sailboat, the Golden Rule, and attempted to sail her right into the testing zone in the Marshall Islands.

The crew of the Golden Rule was arrested in Honolulu and could not continue. A second boat, the Phoenix of Hiroshima, took the baton and completed the sailed into the Marshall Islands, resulting in the arrest of the Phoenix captain. The actions and arrests of these crews spurred a massive public outcry that finally led to the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

The Golden Rule also inspired the founding of Greenpeace in 1971, whose first mission was to sail to Amchitka Island, Alaska to stop nuclear weapons testing. The US Navy stopped Greenpeace, too. The nuclear bomb the group had come to stop was detonated, but the subsequent tests were canceled and the US stopped the entire Amchitka nuclear test program.

Greenpeace helped relocate Rongalap islanders.

Rongelap Relocation
Greenpeace and her vessel, the Rainbow Warrior, played an important role in the Marshall Islands in 1985 when Rongelap residents asked Greenpeace to help them relocate to a new home.  Both Bikini and Enewetak’s people were evacuated from their island homes prior to the nuclear tests, hoping to avoid radioactive fallout. But the inhabitants of Rongelap (150 kilometers away) were not so fortunate.  Within four hours of the Castle Bravo explosion, fallout was settling on the island. A fine white ash landed on the heads and bare arms of people standing in the open. It dissolved into water supplies and drifted into houses.

With double the usual miscarriages and other health problems caused by the Castle Bravo test, the people of Rongelap begged the US government to evacuate them.   But they were now human “guinea pigs” and US scientists wanted to study the effects of radiation on the population.

Finally, in 1985, Greenpeace made three 180 km trips from Rongelap to Mejato (in the Kwajalein Atoll), taking 300 islanders to safety.

New Relationships Built —
Marshallese and the Golden Rule
The Golden Rule disappeared from public view in 1958 and eventually sank in Humboldt Bay in far northern California in 2010.  After a five-year rebuild, she was re-launched and returned to her anti-nuclear mission by Veterans For Peace.

In 2016 when the Golden Rule visited Portland, Oregon, we visited with a Marshallese group who built a traditional sailing canoe.  Most people in and from the Marshall Islands have never heard of the Golden Rule or the Phoenix of Hiroshima.  However, when they hear the story, they are very excited that people attempted to help them all those years ago.

Hawai’i has one of the largest populations of Marshall Islanders in the US  It has been our pleasure to meet them and commemorate Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day in Honolulu in 2019.

Hawai’i has one of the largest populations of Marshall Islanders in the US. It has been our pleasure to meet them and commemorate Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day in Honolulu in 2019.

In 2022 as the Golden Rule sailed down the Mississippi River along the “Great Loop”, we passed through Dubuque, Iowa, where there is a community of 800 or so Marshall Islanders. Veterans For Peace member Art Roche told them the story of the Golden Rule’s 1958 voyage and that we were bringing the boat to Dubuque!  They greeted us with leis and songs of sweet harmony in their traditional clothing.  We enjoyed dancing, speeches and song for a whole weekend.

Marshall Islands  Ambassador Amatlain Elizabeth Kabua.

The Marshall Islands and the US Today
When the Golden Rule was in New York City we met  the Permanent UN Representative from the Republic of the Marshall Islands,  Ambassador Amatlain Elizabeth Kabua.  She explained that there were several issues that could be improved:

  • Although the Marshallese have increased radiation-caused cancer, there is no chemotherapy facility anywhere in the Marshall Islands.
  • Although Marshall Islanders, like the indigenous people in the United States, volunteer at a proportionately high rate for the US military, there is no VA clinic in the Marshall Islands.

For the last three decades, Marshall Islanders have sought compensation from the US for the health and environmental effects of nuclear testing. They’ve been denied standing to sue in US courts, and Congress has declined their requests.  The Compact of Free Association (COFA) which governs the relationship between the US, Palau, Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands was renegotiated in 2023. However, Congress has yet to fund the $7 billion dollars that was approved.

The Marshall Islands are also being hit hard by global warming and slowly sinking into the rising seas.  This will submerge a highly radioactive nuclear waste dump Runit dome.  Runit dome contains nuclear contamination from both the Marshall Islands and the Nevada test site.

Rising seas from climate change threaten to breach Runit nuclear dump site.

Take Action!
On March 1, let’s remember all of the Victims of Radiation — from Hiroshima and Nagasaki; nuclear testing areas; and uranium mining, milling, processing and disposal sites.

•  Let your Senator and Representative know that you support fully funding the Compact of Free Association (COFA).

•  Tell them that you support the Radiation Compensation and Exposure Act, including its expansion to include those people exposed from the Trinity test in New Mexico in 1945.

•  Work for the US to sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which includes compensation for victims of radiation.  The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, which won the Novel Peace Prize in 2017, is working hard to get all nations to sign the Treaty.

The US conducted 210 atmospheric nuclear tests — on land, sea, and in space.

Back from the Brink urges the US government to:

  1. Actively pursue a verifiable agreement among nuclear-armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals (they support the TPNW)
  2. Renounce the option of using nuclear weapons first
  3. End the sole, unchecked authority of any US President to launch a nuclear attack
  4. Take US nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert
  5. Cancel the plan to replace the entire US nuclear arsenal with enhanced weapons

Their website has an advocacy toolkit and sample scripts for talking with the press and policy makers.

Two important bills are in Congress:  H. Res 77 would implement the Back from the Brink Measures. HR 2775 would move money from nuclear weapons manufacturing to funding fossil-free, nuclear-free energy as well as human needs.  Ask your representative to sponsor these bills and your Senator to introduce a companion bill!

There’s no better way to remember Castle Bravo day than by taking action on behalf of the victims of radiation and pushing for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Helen Jaccard and Gerry Condon manage the Veterans For Peace Golden Rule Project. They can be reached at vfpgoldenruleproject@gmail.com.