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Atom Bomb Tests, Bikini Islands, 1946. Postcard.

Atom Bomb Tests, Bikini Islands, 1946. Postcard.

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The Bikini Atomic Experiments were a series of nuclear and thermonuclear tests conducted on Bikini Atoll in the Bikini Islands. The experiments were part of the United States research into the full effects of the atomic bomb, including post-detonation radioactive fallout. The first tests were conducted under the name Operation Crossroads.

During World War II, Bikini Atoll was home to a small Japanese radar installation . In 1945, the last year of fighting, the U.S. landed a small force to secure the site. The battle was brief and had no strategic significance. As the war ended, the United States decided that Bikini Atoll would be suitable for nuclear detonation tests, and shortly before Christmas 1945 it was selected to be the site of the world's fourth and fifth atomic bomb detonations. (The first atomic bomb was detonated at the Trinity Site in New Mexico, and the second and third bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.) But before the bombs could be tested the government first had to find a home for the displaced natives on Bikini. The U.S. government promised the natives that they would have their island back in a couple of months.

To prepare the island and the atoll for testing the United States Naval Construction Battalion was flown in to help establish a credible base on the island. Several derelict tanks, bulldozers, and other military machinery were placed on the island to test the ability of such vehicles to withstand nuclear attack. The Air Force left 150 airplanes on the island's airstrip for testing purposes as well.

In addition to military equipment, the United States Navy moved 250 naval vessels to the atoll, including the Pennsylvania, New York, Arkansas, Nevada, Saratoga, Independence, Nagato (a Japanese battleship), and the Prinz Eugen (a German cruiser) to test the durability of ships to withstand a nuclear impact. Lab animals were also purchased and placed on several ships, and would later be tested for radiation poisoning. Some of these ships can be seen on this postcard, dwarfed by the blast.

Back in the United States, the general public grew worried over the planned testing. Some people worried that the bomb's power would be felt all the way back in the United States. Others believed the bomb would create a hole in the earth. To help ease these fears, the Navy created several information packets and began broadcasting over "Radio Bikini" in an effort to calm the public's fears and rally support for the tests.

During the final preparation, the displaced islanders began to protest their move; however, they were unsuccessful in preventing the "shot."

Shortly after the announcement that the islands were safe, a group of the native people left their makeshift home to return to Bikini, but were evacuated ten years later after developing radiation poisoning from Cesium-137, a remnant of the radioactive fallout. As of 2009, the islands remain uninhabitable, and many of the displaced natives now reside in the Carolines and Marshall Islands in the Western Pacific; also some live in California, and in Nevada.

Ironically, the Bikini, a 2-piece swimsuit invented in 1946 by a French Engineer, was named after these islands where the nuclear bombs were tested that same year.

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