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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: May 2010

6 - Environmental Impacts of Nuclear Testing in Remote Oceania, 1946–1996



We both had a strange feeling. We noticed no flies, no movement of lizards and no booby birds. We found several burnt and dead pigs, and in the distance we heard one of the three wild pigs. It was badly burnt and going around in circles, blind. I said, “[T]his bloody place is contaminated, and what the hell are we doing here?”

– Ken Cox, on the conditions he observed on Malden Island shortly after an aboveground nuclear bomb test in 1957

The testing of atomic and thermonuclear bombs can provide various types of information, including how these extremely destructive weapons work, how they perform under different conditions, and how natural and man-made structures, as well as organisms, react when subjected to nuclear explosions. Atomic and thermonuclear bomb testing has been used frequently to manifest both military and scientific power, especially during the Cold War. In fact, most, if not all, tests were initiated with explicit political intention, often with little regard for the ecological consequences.

Here, for the first time, we present an up-to-date regional review of the main direct and indirect atmospheric, geological, and ecological effects of nuclear testing in Remote Oceania. In the process, we draw attention to short- and long-term environmental consequences of this testing as well as the human motivations and mistakes involved in these nuclear experiments.

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