Enewetak Atoll

ENEWETAK: Island that moves

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Number of Islets: 44 Population: 664 (2011) Land Area: 2.26 square miles Lagoon Area: 387.99 square miles Yacht permit fee: $25 Mayor: Jackson Ading (Phone 625-3296)

Between 1948 and 1958, Enewetak Atoll witnessed 43 American detonations including the first hydrogen bomb test in late 1952 as part of Operation Ivy, which vaporized the islet of Elugelab. Unlike Bikini, however, Enewetak has been partially resettled. From 1977 to 1980, the US carried out a $200 million nuclear cleanup and rehabilitation program. After having lived in exile for 33 years, the people have now lived in the southern islands since 1980.

The Runit Dome

The Runit Dome on Enewetak

The Runit Dome on Enewetak. Photo: Unknown

In 1977, an effort to decontaminate the islands of Enewetak began. During the three years that followed, the military mixed more than 111,000 cubic yards (85,000 m3) of contaminated soil and debris from the various islands with Portland cement and buried it in a 30-foot deep, 350-foot wide blast crater on the northern end of the atoll’s Runit Island. The crater was created by an 18 kiloton test bomb nicknamed “Cactus” on May 5, 1958. A dome composed of 358 concrete panels, each 18 inches thick, was constructed over the material. The final cost of the cleanup project was $239 million.

After the completion of the dome, the United States government declared the southern and western islands in the atoll safe for habitation in 1980, and residents of Enewetak returned that same year. It is said that the dome is now ‘leaking’ and a 2008 field survey of the dome noted that 219 of its concrete panels contained defects such as cracks, chips, and vegetation taking root in joints.

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