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In the 1950s, the United States dropped a total of 76.8 megatons of nuclear bombs onto the Marshall Islands, with most of the detonations centered around the Bikini Atoll. Due to high-altitude winds and other factors, the fallout spread across several islands in the area including the Rongelap and Utrok Atolls.
Now, researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory believe that with a few simple precautions the islands could be resettled—and that residents would experience a lower background radiation level than that present in the United States or Europe.As early as 1997, radiation levels on the islands had reached a level deemed safe for habitation. The major problem then—and if unaddressed, now—is that food grown on the islands is thought to concentrate radiation, making it unsafe for prolonged consumption. Even this radiation, research has shown, may soon be eliminated form the islands.
According to the work of Bill Robison and Terry Hamilton, scientists at the National Nuclear Security Administration's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the primary radioactive compound, soluble cesium-137, is transported into the groundwater about three meters below the surface when it rains. There, the isotope is isolated from growing plants and is eventually carried away by ocean water.
Their research has shown that treating crops with potassium reduces radiation to five percent current levels and by removing the top 15 centimeters of soil before planting and construction, the background radiation levels on Bikini Island could be made low enough to allow for safe habitation.
If this approach is taken, the natural background dose plus the nuclear-test-related dose at Bikini, Enjebi and Rongelap would be less than the usual background dose in the United States and Europe.
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