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Atomic Test on the Enewetak Atoll

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Between July 1945 and November 1962 the United States conducted at least 216 atmospheric and underwater nuclear tests. The photos documenting this are collected in a book, 100 Suns, the name given by J. Robert Oppenheimer to the world’s first nuclear explosion in New Mexico. Oppenheimer quoted from the Vedic text, the Bhagavad Gita: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst forth at once in the sky, that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One. I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

100 Suns was complied by a San Francisco photographer Michael Light using the archives from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Archives and heretofore classified materials from the Lookout Mountain Air Force Station in Hollywood. In 1963, the Limited Test Ban Treaty between the U.S. and the Soviet Union forced the nuclear testing to go underground, ending the haunting yet magnificent era of 100 Suns. The above picture was of 8.9 Megatons atom bomb ‘Oak’, tested at Enewetak Atoll on June 29th 1958 as the part of Operation Hardtack. With test moratoriums on the horizon, the army labs rushed out many new designs, and Oak was the first successful test for TX-46 full-yield thermonuclear bomb. The residents of Enewetak were evacuated involuntarily after WWII for the nuclear testing, and some 43 nuclear tests were fired at Enewetak between 1948 and 1958, including the first hydrogen bomb test, code-named Ivy Mike, which vaporized the island of Elugelab. Only in 1977, the U.S. government began decontaminating the islands and in 2000 compensated $340 million to the people of Enewetak.

During the Cold War, almost identical pictures of soldiers silhouetted against the bright nuclear sun were used for propaganda purposes on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Troops were used as guinea pigs but any nation testing nuclear weapons, including China, where an almost surreal propaganda video of the People Liberation Army soldiers marching towards an atomic blast was released. What a simpler time!

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

November 17, 2009 at 10:57 am

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