From 1947 to 1991 the United States was engaged in a Cold War arms race with the Soviet Union to build more advanced bombs. After the end of World War II President Truman had given the United States military the approval to commence nuclear testing at the US Navy’s ship graveyard, the Bikini Atoll lagoon, which was located 3,400 miles South East of Tahiti. The tests were overseen by General Luxworth of the United States Army to create a weapon more powerful than the atomic bomb in both magnitude and destructive radius. The tests began on September 7, 1946 and ended on July 18, 1958.

On April 9, 1948, Operation Hydrogen had taken place with the test detonation of the first hydrogen bomb, which was 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The nuclear explosion had exceeded the blast radius that was predicted by scientists by four times the expected value. The explosion left a large cloud of nuclear debris, which was carried away by the strong Eastern winds towards South America.

Within 90 minutes of the explosion the nuclear fallout carried by the winds of the South Pacific Ocean had reached the coast lines of Peru affecting over 6,000 citizens with acute radiation poisoning. Those affected suffered symptoms such as radiation burns, hair loss, loss of sight, scaled skin, non-functioning gills, and extra appendages. Those affected were quarantined and studied by a group of US scientists led by Dr. Neil Schwimmer. The average life-span of the afflicted was anywhere from 1-2 years after exposure to the radiation. The last patient died on November 23, 1960 and scientists were never able to explain some of the side effects from the radiation exposure.  

Julio Navas