1339 Bikini Atoll Nuclear Test Site – 2010



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In the wake of World War II, in a move closely related to the beginnings of the Cold War, the United States of America decided to resume nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean, on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall archipelago. After the displacement of the local inhabitants, 67 nuclear tests were carried out from 1946 to 1958, including the explosion of the first H-bomb (1952). Bikini Atoll has conserved direct tangible evidence that is highly significant in conveying the power of the nuclear tests, i.e. the sunken ships sent to the bottom of the lagoon by the tests in 1946 and the gigantic Bravo crater. Equivalent to 7,000 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb, the tests had major consequences on the geology and natural environment of Bikini Atoll and on the health of those who were exposed to radiation. Through its history, the atoll symbolises the dawn of the nuclear age, despite its paradoxical image of peace and of earthly paradise. This is the first site from the Marshall Islands to be inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Brief synthesis

In the wake of World War II, in a move closely related to the beginnings of the Cold War, the United States of America decided to resume nuclear testing. They choose Bikini Atoll in the Marshall archipelago in the Pacific Ocean. After the displacement of the local inhabitants, 23 nuclear tests were carried out from 1946 to 1958,. The cumulative force of the tests in all of the Marshall Islands was equivalent to 7,000 times that of the Hiroshima bomb. Following the use of nuclear bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Bikini tests confirmed that mankind was entering a “nuclear era”. The many military remains bear witness to the beginnings of the Cold War, the race to develop weapons of mass destruction and a geopolitical balance based on terror.

The violence exerted on the natural, geophysical and living elements by nuclear weapons illustrates the relationship which can develop between man and the environment. This is reflected in the ecosystems and the terrestrial, marine and underwater landscapes of Bikini Atoll.

The nuclear tests changed the history of Bikini Atoll and the Marshall Islands, through the displacement of inhabitants, and the human irradiation and contamination caused by radionuclides produced by the tests.

The Bikini Atoll tests, and tests carried out in general during the Cold War, gave rise to a series of images and symbols of the nuclear era. They also led to the development of widespread international movements advocating disarmament.

Criterion (iv):

Bikini Atoll is an outstanding example of a nuclear test site. It has many military remains and characteristic terrestrial and underwater landscape elements. It is tangible testimony of the birth of the Cold War and it bears testimony to the race to develop increasingly powerful nuclear weapons. In the wake of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, the Bikini Atoll site confirmed that mankind was entering a nuclear era. It also bears witness to the consequences of the nuclear tests on the civil populations of Bikini and the Marshall Islands, in terms of population displacement and public-health issues.

Criterion (vi):

The ideas and beliefs associated with the Bikini nuclear test site, and more generally with the escalation of military power which characterized the Cold War, are of international significance. These events gave rise to a large number of international movements advocating nuclear disarmament; they gave rise to powerful symbols and to many images associated with the “nuclear era”, which characterized the second part of the 20th century.

Integrity and authenticity

The integrity of the property is acceptable, in view of the simultaneous presence of the remains of human artifacts and the process of natural recomposition which has followed the use of the nuclear bombs. In a very exceptional way, the degradation of the human artifacts by the natural elements forms part of the cultural process illustrated by the property. The integrity of the testimony of the property must be strengthened by the appropriate use of the considerable mass of documentary material associated with the site and its history.

The site has not undergone any substantial reconstruction; human presence there has remained very limited because of the radionuclides produced by the explosions. The authenticity of the material elements constituting the property is unquestionable.

Protection and management measures required

The main threats to the property are the effects of climate change and the presence of stocks of bombs and fuel in the underwater part of the property. The property is protected by the Historic and Cultural Preservation Act (1991). The legal protection and traditional protection in place are appropriate, but they must be reinforced to include the protection of the land-based military remains. In view of the changeable nature of the property, which is slowly returning to a natural state, conservation takes on a specific meaning in this case, and it may be considered therefore that no specific programme to preserve tangible remains is necessary. However, it is essential to ensure safety by dealing with any remaining military risks, to draw up a detailed inventory and to ensure regular monitoring of the constituent parts of the property. The management system is adequate, but it must be confirmed, and must be strengthened in several areas, particularly as regards the Bikini Divers Group, visitor reception and interpretation, the Peace Museum and the documentation centre.

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