Bikini Atoll is part of the Marshall Islands which cover an isolated area of 357,000 square miles, located in the Pacific Ocean on the northern side of the equator. The geographic name of the area comprising of twenty-nine atolls and five islands of which Bikini Atoll is a part is known as Micronesia. Twenty-three nuclear devices were tested at Bikini Atoll between 1946to 1958 by Americans after relocating the locals to Rongerik Atoll. Bikini Atoll is also popularly known for the bikini swimsuit which got its name after the first nuclear testing there.
The Marshall Islands were discovered first in the 1600’s by the Spanish and later by Germans who used the place to source copra oil from the abundant coconuts grown in the area. Bikini Atoll being located in the remote and dry area of northern Marshalls hardly had any contact with the early Spanish and German invaders. The Southern Marshalls had relatively more fertile atolls which were conducive for a better yield of copra and thus attracted the attention of the traders. Since Bikini Atoll was in a remote and isolated location the inhabitants of this island forged strong ties among themselves to form a well knit society. The inhabitants prized the possession of their land which was an indicator of their wealth.
The Japanese began to take an active interest in the Marshall Islands in the beginning of the 20th century. The place later saw hectic military build up in preparation for the outbreak of the Second World War. The peaceful atolls of the Marshall region soon came to occupy strategic importance disrupting the simple life of the islanders more so when the Japanese erected a watchtower on Bikini Atoll to prevent any invasion from the Americans. The Bikini Atoll functioned as an outstation for the Japanese military headquarters located at Kwajalein Atoll. However towards the end of the war in February 1944, the Americans seized Kwajalein Atoll after waging a gruesome battle with the Japanese forces. The Japanese domination over the Marshall Islands thus came to an end with a few lone survivors on Bikini Atoll committing suicide to escape their arrest by American forces.
After World War II, United States gained control of the Bikini Atoll till the Marshall Islands gained independence in 1986. Twenty-three nuclear devices were tested at Bikini Atoll between 1946to 1958. The Operation Crossroads detonations took place in 1946 prior to which the locals were made to relocate to Rongerik Atoll. However the Castle Bravo detonation to test the efficacy of Hydrogen bombs was very powerful and affected some inhabitants of the island with nuclear contamination. Due to the hardships faced by the Bikinian population in their relocated areas, the U.S. government decided to bring them back to their homeland after promising to clear the Island of radioactive debris and assisting in their relocation.
It was certified in 1997 that the Marshall Islands was safe for human habitation, though the extent of radioactive debris was higher in Bikini Atoll than the other areas of the Island. The main risk from radiation was believed to be from the consumption of locally produced food such as fruits and coconuts. The islands are deemed safe to visit and many divers visit Bikini Atoll to discover the wrecks of the 1946 nuclear blasts found at the bottom of the lagoon