Cold War: A Brief History

The BRAVO Test

Fourteen months later, on March 1, 1954, a deliverable hydrogen bomb using solid lithium deuteride was tested by the United States on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. By missing an important fusion reaction, the scientists had grossly underestimated the size of the explosion.

BRAVO mushroom cloud

The BRAVO Test

The predicted yield was 5 megatons, but, in fact, "BRAVO" yielded 14.8 megatons, making it the largest U.S. nuclear test ever exploded.

The blast gouged a crater more than 1/2 mile wide and several hundred feet deep and ejected several million tons of radioactive debris into the air. Within seconds the fireball was nearly 3 miles in diameter.

Effects on Islanders

No one was living on the Bikini atoll at the time of the BRAVO blast. However, a total of 236 people were living on the atolls of Rongelap and Utirik, 100 and 300 miles east of Bikini, respectively. The residents of Rongelap were exposed to as much as 200 rems of radiation. They were evacuated 24 hours after the detonation. The residents of Utirik, which were exposed to lower levels of radiation, were not evacuated until at least two days later. After their evacuation, many experienced typical symptoms of radiation poisoning: burning of the mouth and eyes, nausea, diarrhea, loss of hair, and skin burns.

Ten years after the blast, the first thyroid tumors began to appear. Of those under twelve on Rongelap at the time of BRAVO, 90% have developed thyroid tumors. In 1964, the U. S. Government admitted responsibility for exposing the islanders to radiation and appropriated funds to compensate them.

Effects on Fishermen

The Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon) was a small Japanese tuna boat, fishing about 90 miles east of Bikini at the time of the test. About two hours after the explosion a "snow" of radioactive ash composed of coral vaporized by BRAVO began to fall on the ship. Within hours, the crewmembers began to experience burning and nausea. Within a few days, their skin began to darken and some crewmembers hair started to fall out. Upon returning to Japan, many were hospitalized and one eventually went into a coma and died. Though the U.S. denied responsibility, it sent the widow a check for 2.5 million yen "as a token of sympathy."

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