The Bravo Test and the Death and Life of the Global Ecosystem in the Early Anthropocene – Robert Jacobs

On March 1st 1954 the United States tested its first deliverable hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The weapon yielded a force three times as large as its designers had planned or anticipated.1 The radioactive fallout cloud that resulted from the weapon would kill a fisherman located 100 km away, cause illness in hundreds and perhaps thousands of people across hundreds of miles, and contaminate entire atolls with high levels of radiation displacing residents most of whom have never been able to return to their homes. Slowly it would become evident that, while this weapon had been tested in the Marshall Islands, its detonation was a global event.

People around the world were shocked by the devastation wrought by the American nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki near the end of World War Two. Single planes had delivered single bombs that destroyed whole cities and killed tens of thousands of people in less than a second. These attacks and the spectre of future nuclear attacks cast a dark shadow on the future of humankind. Less than ten years later both the United States and the Soviet Union had developed weapons that made these original nuclear weapons seem small. Thermonuclear weapons, or H-bombs as they were called, were thousands of times more powerful with the potential to kill tens of millions of people with single detonations, many of whom would be far beyond the blast and heat reach of the weapon. Additionally, the radiation produced by these thermonuclear weapons spread around the globe, both in the water of the oceans and in the atmosphere, contaminating fish, birds, animals and plants far from nuclear test sites. As many of these radionuclides remain dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, the dangers inherent in thermonuclear detonations would produce legacies still not well understood.

As radiation from Bravo the test spread around the Pacific Ocean, contaminating fish that would be caught thousands of miles away, human conceptions of warfare and of nature also began to mutate and change.

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