24. "Nuclear Blunder on Bikini Island"

In 1946, islanders living on Bikini were told by the U.S. government that they must evacuate their homes so the U.S. could use their atoll as a nuclear test site.

In 1968, after some 23 nuclear tests, the Johnson administration announced that the atoll was safe for return, based on the recommendations of eight highly qualified experts. The radiation level was supposedly "less than in Denver, Colorado." After spending $3.25 million rehabilitating the island, the U.S. allowed the Bikinians to return home.

In the summer of 1978, tests began to show high levels of radiation on the island. Bikini's well water contained strontium-90 and cesium-137, both radioactive products of the bomb tests, as did the coconuts, fruits, and vegetables grown on the island.

The U.S. Interior Department, which has supervisory authority over the island, insisted that none of the people on Bikini had shown any adverse effects from radiation during periodic health checks.

But officials now found that levels of strontium and cesium, as well as of plutonium, were rising alarmingly among the returned islanders: Officials now believe that Bikini probably will not be safe for long-term human occupation for another 35 to 50 years.

The mass media's failure to widely publicize the scientists' errors in determining the dangers of radiation on Bikini and the subsequent harmful effects for the Bikinians qualifies this story for nomination as a "best censored" story of 1978.

SOURCES:

International Bulletin, Volume 5, No. 17, September 11, 1978, "Islanders Forced Out by Radiation."

Time, April 3, 1978, p. 25, "Blunder on Bikini Island."