Enewetak Atoll Cleanup - The Forgotten Men who contained the radioactivity.
Updated: Feb 7, 2019
The Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands houses a 370 foot diameter dome on Runit Island covering Cactus Crater. This dome was completed on the 6th September 1979.
US soldiers were ordered to the islands and their original mission was to move radioactive fallout and debris from the surface of the islands of Enewetak Atoll to a 370 diameter concrete containment structure on Runit Island and to create a number of artificial reefs in the lagoon.
The three year mission allowed the dri-Enewetak Islanders to return to almost all of the 40 islands in Marshall Islands. The final cost of the cleanup project was US$239 million. Around 4,000 US troops were involved in the cleanup.
The Enewetak Atoll Atomic Cleanup Veterans are not recognised by the US Government as Atomic Veterans. Their new mission is to change the current laws in the US and recognise the soldiers as "veterans who participated in radiation-risk activities during active service"
Many of the cleanup participants breathed and ingested radiation contaminated dust on a daily basis for 5 and a half months at time. Many participated in more than one tour and served for longer periods of time.
One such soldier was Mark Sargent, who tells his story to Brian Cowden, filmmaker and creator of Crossroads 2020.
Runit was described as "by far the most difficult island to clean up. In addition to the sizeable amounts of both contaminated and non contaminated scrap to be removed, there is an indeterminate amount of soil with contaminated with plutonium.
ABC News reported on the cleanup with Jim Androl quoting: "It was supposed to be a trip to paradise, instead it sealed their fate" The full report can be found here
Removal of the temporary buildings at the Runit work site began in early October 1979. Concurrently, the ERST and USAE were monitoring and decontaminating equipment from the northern islands, including Runit, for return to Enewetak Camp.
Some items, such as the transit-mix trucks, could not be adequately cleaned and monitored. They were badly deteriorated and beyond economical repair. They were disposed of as yellow debris rather than risk release of contaminated items for uncontrolled use. Although hot line facilities were removed in mid- November 1979, Runit continued to be treated as a controlled island
Final cleanup of the Runit work site, originally scheduled for completion in mid-October, was delayed by the need to construct additional containers adjacent to the Cactus Crater containment structure for disposal of red debris discovered on the island and reef after the dome had been capped. The task was completed the last week of December 1979
The American system for passing bills is very complex with the Senate and Congress, these servicemen are fighting to be recognised for their service. They are excluded from the RECA program and are continuing to fight the US government.
Their fight for recognition is the same as other Associations across the world. We need to support them in the campaign and raise awareness of their organisation. The effects on these Veterans and their families is the same as the effects felt by the Test Veterans, they are no different and should not be treated any differently. These soldiers handled radioactive material with no protection, as shown below:
The Enewetak Fact Book was published in 1982 and is available by clicking here. It provides details of the cleanup.
The Atomic Cleanup Veterans have their own website https://www.atomiccleanupvets.com and a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/AtomicCleanupVeterans. As Veterans and descendants we need to support these servicemen and ensure that they are recognised for the hazardous work they completed.
We also need to raise awareness of the dome and the effect that this will have on the planet. The material contained within this dome is highly radioactive and perilously close to the ocean. Brian Cowden visited the dome with Dr Holly Barker.
A report in the Daily Mail in the UK, highlights the problem. Click here for full details.
Paul Griego, who took part in the cleanup and blames the radiation for a host of health problems, said the dome was never fit for purpose.
He said: 'We were given an impossible task – cleaning up the radioactive fallout from 43 nuclear bombs. When I first arrived, the dome's blast crater was open to the ocean – it continued to be full of sea water even after it was sealed off from the ocean. During my 10-hour work day I witnessed the water level in the crater rise and lower as the tide came in and out.'
He continued: 'No attempt was made to drain the crater or line it before the radioactive waste was dumped into it. The coral that created the island is porous and the shock from numerous nuclear weapon tests had also fractured the coral. From the first day forward, the water has flowed out of the lagoon with the tide, creating a gigantic radioactive toilet that is flushed about twice each day into the Pacific Ocean.'
Rama Schneider, who drove radioactive waste from island to island in an amphibious vehicle during the cleanup, said it was no surprise that the dome was failing.
He said: 'Standing on any island at that atoll is akin to standing inches above sea level – and that was in 1979. The sea level and ground level are becoming more and more to be the same, and it doesn't matter if we're talking sea level rise, land subsidence or both. Water will always win out over man-made objects.'
The creation of this dome has affected so many lives, the cleanup crew, their families, the islanders and now it threatens the world. With climate change affecting the dome itself, we maybe on the point of one of the biggest ecological disasters known to man.
The cleanup crew already know of the effects of the dome, it is time the world knew about them and what the problems they face everyday and what the world we maybe about to face if the ocean consumes the dome.
Brian Cowden has produced a number of other videos relating to the Runit dome. Click here for details.
Visit https://www.atomiccleanupvets.com and discover the cover-up of the Nuclear Test program that cost the lives of so many and continues to affect generations today.