Years After Last Nuclear Tests, Marshall Islands Still Contaminated

(CN) – Radioactivity from nuclear testing on the Marshall Islands over a half a century ago continues to significantly contaminate the environment, according to a series of studies released Monday.

Researchers, publishing their findings in three studies on Monday, underwent a deep analysis of the chemical makeup of the Marshall Islands and their surrounding environments. They found that dangerously high radiation continues to afflict some key island ecosystems. The study affirms that this kind of contamination is a direct result of the aggressive nuclear weapons testing that took place on the islands between 1946 and 1958.

The studies, co-authored by Malvin Ruderman, professor in the Department of Physics at Columbia University, highlight three specific ecosystems and areas within the Marshall Islands that continue to feel the adverse consequences of high radioactivity. The first of these is the chemical content of the local soil, which researchers report contained uncommonly high amounts of radioactive isotopes on the Bikini and Naen atolls. Researchers found some sections of the soil were so high in radioactive isotopes that they exceeded the levels found in the areas affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Scientists also discovered surrounding waters and ocean sediments of the Marshall Islands suffer from radioactivity as well. The environments around the Castle Bravo crater, a cavity in the Marshall Island’s ocean caused by a massive nuclear explosion, were specifically noted for their abnormally high levels of radioactive content.

One of these studies also notes that wash-off from the islands themselves continues to be a challenge for the health of the Marshall Island’s water biomes.

“Moreover, wash-off of existing isotopes off the islands into the ocean from weathering and continued sea level rise continues to threaten further contaminating the lagoon and the ocean at large,” according to the study.

Researchers also examined the chemical health of local fruits grown on the Marshall Islands. Data taken from the Rongelap Atolls showed that locally raised fruits, such as coconuts and pandanus fruits, contain such high levels of radioactive compounds that most modern countries with food safety regulations would classify them as dangerously unsafe for consumption.

Researchers conclude these challenges raise serious health and safety risks for any local populations seeking to resettle the most contaminated islands.

Ruderman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The studies are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

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