[Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, full page: (LINK). Abstract, edited.]
Background gamma radiation and soil activity measurements in the northern Marshall Islands
Maveric K. I. L. Abella, Monica Rouco Molina, Ivana Nikolić-Hughes, Emlyn W. Hughes, and Malvin A. Ruderman
PNAS first published July 15, 2019 / DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1903421116
Contributed by Malvin A. Ruderman, May 15, 2019 (sent for review March 1, 2019; reviewed by Joanna Kiryluk and Ernst Sichtermann)
Related Articles: Radiation maps of ocean sediment from the Castle Bravo crater – Jul 10, 2019; In situ measurement of cesium-137 contamination in fruits from the northern Marshall Islands – Jul 10, 2019
From 1946 to 1958, the United States tested 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, a remote constellation of atolls in the Pacific Ocean that was then a US trust territory. Two atolls, Bikini and Enewetak, were used as ground zero for the tests, which caused unprecedented environmental contamination and, for the indigenous peoples of the islands, long-term adverse health effects. In addition to the populations of Bikini and Enewetak, the people of Rongelap and Utirik were also affected by radioactive fallout from the largest nuclear test the United States has ever conducted, the Bravo test held March 1, 1954. This article presents a picture of current radiological conditions by examining external gamma radiation and soil radionuclide activity concentrations.
We report on measurements of external gamma radiation on 9 islands in 4 atolls in the northern Marshall Islands, all of which were affected by the US nuclear testing program from 1946 to 1958 (Enjebi, Ikuren, and Japtan in Enewetak Atoll; Bikini and Enyu in Bikini Atoll; Naen in Rongelap Atoll; and Aon, Elluk, and Utirik in Utirik Atoll). We also report americium-241, cesium-137, plutonium-238, and plutonium-239,240 activity concentrations in the soil samples for 11 islands in 4 northern atolls (Enewetak, Japtan, Medren, and Runit in Enewetak Atoll; Bikini and Enyu in Bikini Atoll; Naen and Rongelap in Rongelap Atoll; and Aon, Elluk, and Utirik in Utirik Atoll) and from Majuro Island, Majuro Atoll in the southern Marshall Islands. Our results show low external gamma radiation levels on some islands in the Enewetak Atoll and Utirik Atoll, and elevated levels on Enjebi Island in the Enewetak Atoll, on Bikini Atoll, and on Naen Island in the Rongelap Atoll. We perform ordinary kriging on external gamma radiation measurements to provide interpolated maps. We find that radionuclides are absent from all Majuro soil samples, and that they are present at highest activity concentrations in samples from Runit and Enjebi islands (Enewetak Atoll), Bikini Island (Bikini Atoll), and Naen Island (Rongelap Atoll). We contextualize all results by making comparisons between islands and to various standards, as well as to regions of the world affected by nuclear accidents. We also discuss implications for informed decision-making by the Marshallese and local atoll governments and their people on issues pertaining to island resettlement.
Marshall Islands – cesium-137 – external gamma radiation – soil activity – plutonium
Keywords: Environmental pollution; Environmental disasters; Radiations; Radionuclides; Marshall Islands.