Aleutian Islands, October 29 1965

...and all they could see in the far, far distance was a dusty cloud. They looked about, turned their goggled faces toward each other. Who could know that such a thing could bespeak such destruction?
"What have we done?"

"We killed the birds."


The island of Amchitka, one of the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska, was the site of three nuclear weapon tests during the 1960s and '70s. The last test, on 6th November 1971 involved the underground detonation of a 5-megaton bomb (equivalent to 400 Hiroshima warheads) in a mile-deep shaft on the island.

The tests had a massive impact on the island and the surrounding wildlife. The concussion from the blast is said to have knocked birds out of the sky, and after the tests, wildlife populations dropped dramatically.


Greenpeace tests in the late 1990s showed that radioactive substances, including plutonium, were present in the surrounding waters, but the US Department of Energy claims that these are byproducts from Chinese tests, rather than local American weapons. The fact that tritium was not found there suggests that the bomb's radioactive byproducts are still locked into the rocks at the test site.

That said, the geological forces active in the island chain are producing movements in the crust of around 2cm a year, and many environmentalists are concerned about the impact that may have in the future.

Workers on the site have been given compensation for "occupational illness" contracted as a result of their time spent on and around the facility. Those found to be suffering from "leukemia, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, or specified forms of cancer" will get payouts for disability or death.

The legacy of Amchitka may well be felt by generations we haven't considered, in ways we cannot imagine.

How ironic - that this was originally created in a test node destined for destruction Scientists fear Amchitka Island radiation leak Published 23 Dec 2001, accessed 6 October 2004 Amchitka Nuclear Test Workers to Gain Compensation for Occupational Illnesses Published October 2000, accessed 6 October 2004

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