Fears of radioactive contamination of Cactus Dome increase in Runit Island

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Runit Dome
The Runit Dome on Enewetak Atoll contains radioactive soil, chunks of plutonium from misfired atomic weapons and other debris from the nuclear testing that took place there between 1946 and 1958. (Credit: Greg Nelson)

Nuclear tests which were carried out during war times and in the late 1900s have left a huge geographical impact on the area which is used for testing these explosives. The US tested their ‘cactus’ bomb in May 1958 which was relatively small but has left a lasting impact on the area of the Marshall Islands which has a dome-shaped radioactive dump.

This dome is located in Runit Island which is one of 40 islands of the Enewetak Atoll of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The dome was described as a coffin by the United Nations chief Antonio Guterres. The bomb crater was dumped with radioactive waste and later filled with concrete and it told the residents of the remote islands that they can safely return home. However, this dome has started to develop cracks and there are fears that it will soon start leaking radioactive material through the porous coral rock of the islands. The concern has intensified as the issues of climate change are gaining importance. Rising sea levels will further threaten the dome structure.

Jack Ading who represents the Marshall Island Parliament has called this dome a “Monstrosity” as it is filled with radioactive contaminants which include Plutonium-239 which is the most toxic substance known to man. The coffin is leaking poison in its surrounding areas and people of Marshall Islands are always reassured about its strength which is making matters worse at ground level.

The dome is a fine example of how US has left behind a mess by carrying out 67 nuclear tests at the Marshall Islands between 1947 to 1958. A lot of native population were forcibly evacuated from their native heartlands and resettled and even today those who live on those islands are exposed to radioactive fallout and suffer health problems. The US military later withdrew and signed a full and final settlement to the government of Marshall Islands but there have long been complaints about inadequate compensation by the US Government and United Nations has described this act as a “Legacy of Distrust” towards the states.

The foreign minister of Marshall Islands John Silk has appreciated people for bringing this issue to global attention. Issues like these require support of international community to address health and social issues.  A 2013 inspection commissioned by the US suggests that the radioactive fallout was already so high that a failure of the dome would not necessarily increase the exposure to radiation. This issue has been a constant source of anxiety for the people of Enewetak in the Marshall Islands and that people fear that the dome eventually could become their coffin.

 

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