The US hasn’t conducted nuclear testing in more than 20 years, but the Runit Dome persists as a reminder of our controversial past. The dome, built in the late 1970s on Runit Island in the Pacific, holds more than 110,000 cubic yards of radioactive topsoil and debris left over from nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands, per a Guardian report. Between 1946 and 1958, more than five dozen bombs were detonated on the Enewetak and Bikini Atolls there—bombs whose "explosive yield [was] equivalent to 1.6 Hiroshima bombs detonated every day over the course of 12 years," per the Guardian. Runit Dome was supposed to be a temporary fix, but no long-term cleanup plan was devised by the mid-1980s, when the Marshall Islands became an independent country.
The US insists that the dome is now the problem of the Marshallese, but some fear it may become the world’s problem. "It’s clear as day that the local government will neither have the expertise or funds to fix the problem if it needs a particular fix," a climate adviser to the Marshallese president maintains. What kind of fix could be needed? A 2013 Department of Energy report found that radioactive waste has leaked into the soil around the structure. Meanwhile, global warming has caused the sea level to rise, further increasing contact between the nuclear-contaminated debris and the ocean. Climate change also increases the threat of a typhoon or other severe weather that could further damage the dome’s concrete shell. As one climate expert puts it, "Runit Dome represents a tragic confluence of nuclear testing and climate change." Read the Guardian's full piece. (Read more nuclear weapons stories.)