The Runit dome, a structure that stores 85,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste on a Pacific island

In 1958 the United States carried out a series of nuclear tests in the Pacific, encompassed under the generic name of Operation Hardtack I. The area had already been subject to detonations in previous years, an area that was called Pacific Proving Grounds (Pacific Proving Grounds), beginning in 1946.

On that occasion, between April 28 and August 18, 1958, 35 bombs were detonated, a number higher than all previous tests combined. The sites chosen were the Bikini and Johnston atolls, located halfway between the Marshall Islands and Hawaii, and the Enewetak atoll, northwest of the Marshalls and very close to them.

Studies carried out in March of that same year indicated that people located less than 650 kilometers away from the detonations could suffer severe retinal burns, so the three chosen atolls were more than 800 kilometers from the inhabited island. closest, although the population that inhabited some of the islands had previously been relocated, as was the case of Enewetak.

In total, more than 30 megatons were detonated, both on land and at altitude. The most powerful of all the explosions, at 3.8 megatons and 77 kilometers above Enewetak, produced an aurora that could be seen from Hawaii, 1,300 kilometers away. Immediately after the detonation, radio communications in the Pacific were interrupted. In Hawaii the blackout lasted about 2 hours, and in Australia it lasted up to 9 hours.

In 1977, once the nuclear tests were finished, the Americans began the decontamination of Enewetak and other islands. The cleanup process took three years and cost about $100 million. 85,000 cubic meters of contaminated soil and waste were collected from all the islands, mixed with Portland cement and buried in the crater created by the bomb detonation Cactus on May 5, 1958 at the northern end of Runit Island, in the Enewetak Atoll.

The crater is 9 meters deep and 110 meters wide, and a dome was built on it with 358 concrete panels 45 centimeters thick. Today it is known as runit dome either Cactus dome.

In 1980 the US government declared the atoll safe and from that year its inhabitants began to return. Since then, the United States has been paying reparations for damages to Enewetak. Among others, in the year 2000, 108 million dollars were earmarked for the environmental restoration of the area. But instead of removing the layers of contaminated soil, what was done was to treat them with potassium so that they were suitable for human use.

Land that could not be treated in this way was used as fill for the road that today connects the two main islands of the atoll. According to forecasts, most of the atoll will be suitable for human occupation from the year 2027.

As for the Runit dome, according to a report by the US Department of Energy in 2015, the soil around it is more contaminated than the waste it contains. The dome itself presents gaps that raise fears about the possibility that a typhoon or other catastrophic event could end up breaking it and spilling its contents into the Ocean.

The inhabitants of Runit were relocated to a nearby island in 1980, which is why to this day it remains uninhabited, although there are still those who dare to come close to collect metals and cables left behind in the bunkers of nuclear tests.


Sources

The Guardian / News.com.au / Marshall Islands Dose Assessment & Radioecology Program / Wikipedia.