Bikini Atoll is a place that many have heard of but few can locate on a map. Today, Bikini is synonymous with nuclear bomb testing, which the U.S. government conducted from 1946 – 1958, and women’s swimwear. And yet, for all of the people who proudly call these islands “home”, there are a myriad of complex emotions involved.
That’s because nobody actually lives there anymore. Nor do they feel like they can.
In fact, about 90% of Bikinians today have never actually been to Bikini Atoll. In 1969, the US began a lengthy process of cleanup and restoration of natural resources, promising that Bikini Atoll was now safe to repopulate. Finally, after more than two decades away, Bikinians began resettling back to a home that no longer resembled the island they once knew. Western style buildings lined the street and rows of evenly spaced coconut trees dotted the island — a somber reminder that everything they remembered about their home was either dead or destroyed.
But at least they were finally home…or so they thought.
In 1975, Bikinians received the heartbreaking news that their atoll was actually still rather unsafe to live, with “higher than expected” levels of radioactive contamination in the drinking water, soil, and food. And thus began the second mass exodus of Bikinians from their home.
Today, over 40 years later, Bikini is a shell of what it once was and a fragment of what it could have been. Aside from a handful of maintenance workers who are on contract to stay on the island for several months at a time, there is nobody living there. All that remains are empty buildings and remnants of a dream that turned into a nightmare…