MotherJones MA93: Paradise regained?

There may have been a silver lining in those mushroom clouds.

Under a National Park Service proposal, the Bikini Island lagoon in the Marshall Islands may soon open as the world's first nuclear marine park. At the lagoon's bottom rest roughly twenty U.S. Navy vessels, which were used as targets for some of the twenty-three atomic and thermonuclear bomb blasts the island withstood from 1946 to 1958. Untouched for decades, the wreckage, says the Park Service, now "comprises an incomparable diving experience."

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The park could bring about a new, tourist-based Bikini economy--and the long-awaited return of the natives, who were shipped off the island in 1946 when the bomb tests began. The Bikinians, who now live on the island of Kili several hundred miles south, have endorsed the Park Service proposal and are ready to move back to the island as soon as it's made habitable. Congress recently approved the $90 million in funding needed to clean up Bikini's still-radioactive topsoil.

Some of the sunken vessels the Bikinians have inherited were destroyed beyond recognition; others remain intact with cargo and armament. It's an attractive underwater package, says the Park Service's Dan Lenihan, who's getting calls from eager divers as far away as Japan, Australia, and the U.S. But Lenihan advises caution.

"The ships aren't radioactive," he says, "but there's still live ordnance down there, like bombs and rockets. If divers go pounding around long enough, sooner or later someone's going to get vaporized. That will be unfortunate."