The US used the Marshall Islands as a regular testing site for nuclear weapons decades ago. Now a new investigative report in the Los Angeles Times finds that the repercussions remain all too real. The most tangible sign of this is the Runit Dome—a massive concrete dome built by the US in the 1970s to contain the worst of the contaminated soil and debris. Today it's cracking, and rising sea levels are further eroding its stability, raising fears that the equivalent of 35 Olympic swimming pools of radioactive material will leach into the surrounding waters. The US says the dome is now the responsibility of the Marshallese government, thanks to a 1986 pact between the two nations, but Marshallese officials say the US is shirking its responsibility.
"I'm like, how can it [the dome] be ours?" says Hilda Heine, president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. "We don't want it. We didn't build it. The garbage inside is not ours. It's theirs." The investigation turned up two facts: The US never informed the Marshall Islands that it deposited 130 tons of soil into the dome from an atomic test site in Nevada; nor did the US inform the islands that, in addition to atomic tests, it conducted biological weapons tests, including of aerosolized bacteria. A legal scholar at Columbia says the islands, more than anywhere else in the world, are "a victim of the two greatest threats facing humanity—nuclear weapons and climate change." The US, adds Michael Gerrard, "is entirely responsible for the nuclear testing there, and its emissions have contributed more to climate change than those from any other country.” Read the full story. (Read more Marshall Islands stories.)