During the 1950s and '60s the U.S. detonated 67 nuclear bombs in or near the Marshall Islands. After that they also used the same islands to test out biological weapons. After that they took the irradiated soil and dumped it into a crater that was formed by a nuclear blast. To put it in easy-to-understand terms, there was enough radioactive debris/soil to fill 35 swimming pools. Some of that contained lethal amounts of plutonium. They mixed it with concrete and sealed it all in a dome that they dubbed "The Tomb." Easy peasy.
But now, according to an extensive write-up by the Los Angeles Times, that "Tomb" is being busted open by rising sea levels and temperatures caused by climate change. If that were to happen the nuclear waste would wash into the Pacific Ocean.
At the moment more than 50,000 people reside on the islands. After the Pentagon detonated a 15 megaton thermonuclear warhead over Bikini Atoll in 1954 the fallout from that blast hit the population hard.
"It was only a matter of two or three years before women on the island started to give birth to things less than human," said a Marshall Islands resident to diplomats who had journeyed to the islands decades later in order to conduct a fact finding mission. Vice reports that birth defects on the islands are so rampant that there are several phrases to describe those afflicted with them, including "devils, jellyfish children, and grape babies."
After relocating many of its people, and also installing the Tomb, the U.S. has largely maintained that the debt they owe has been covered, and the issue is now the problem of the Islands. In speaking to the LA Times, the president of the Republic (Hilda Heine) has wondered why that's the case.
“I’m like, how can it [the dome] be ours?” Heine said. “We don’t want it. We didn’t build it. The garbage inside is not ours. It’s theirs.”
In 2001, an independent ruling body called The Nuclear Claims Tribunal awarded the Islands $2.3 billion from the U.S.'s coffers. Currently only $4 million have been paid.
Oh, and in addition to containing the Islands' irradiated soil, the U.S. also transported in 130 tons of our own bad soil from Nevada. Originally that was not divulged to the Marshallese.
Earlier this year, a study conducted by researchers from Columbia University demonstrated that regions around the Marshall Islands even surpass Chernobyl when it comes to radiation.
As for less grim outlooks, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researcher Terry Hamilton, who's also the Department of Energy's expert on the Marshall Islands, told The Times that he didn't think that the area where the Tomb sits is an issue yet. “Under existing living conditions, there is no radiological basis why I or anyone else should be concerned about living on Enewetak [Atoll],” he said. Worth noting is that he doesn't have a house on the islands.
When it comes to raw numbers, the Marshall Islands have seen their sea levels rise an average of 0.3 inches per year since 1993. That's more than twice the global average. By 2100 experts believe the Islands, and thus The Tomb, could be submerged in water which would cause the dome's concrete structure to crack, and would dump its contents into the ocean.
So, like most bad climate news, the younger you are the more relevant this seems. Read the whole report from the LA Times here.