Discoveries and collisions: the atom, Los Alamos, and the Marshall Islands

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In September 1945, after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States possessed only one nuclear weapon. Thirteen years later, in September 1958, the nation possessed a significant

In September 1945, after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States possessed only one nuclear weapon. Thirteen years later, in September 1958, the nation possessed a significant stockpile of nuclear weapons, including the very powerful hydrogen bomb. The United States was able to build its stockpile of nuclear weapons because the Los Alamos Laboratory, once a secret wartime facility, was able to convert the forces of nature – fission and fusion – into weapons of war. The United States also was successful because of the sacrifice made by a tiny Pacific Ocean nation, The Marshall Islands, and the people of Bikini, Enewetak, and Rongelap Atolls. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States tested sixty-six nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands. Nuclear testing contaminated these three atolls and, in one instance, injured the people of Rongelap. As a result of this testing many of these people cannot return to their ancestral homes. This dissertation examines the many conditions that led to the creation of the Los Alamos Laboratory, its testing of nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, and the long term, perhaps, permanent, displacement of the people of Bikini, Enewetak, and Rongelap.