North Pacific Contamination Before Fukushima

Before Fukushima there was Long Shot and Milrow and Cannikin. These highly controversial US nuclear tests in the Aleutian islands off Alaska continue to contaminate the north Pacific. The largest of these underground nuclear tests was Cannikin. The US did the test by drilling a deep hole in Amchitka island, below the water table. This technically allowed them to avoid international bans on underwater testing. This test was miscalculated causing a large crater than turned into a lake as the nearby creek filled the bomb site and eventually became a route to allow radioactive contamination to flow out to the sea.

The blast also damaged wildlife in the area. About 1000 otters are estimated to have died in the blast.

Sea otter skulls were fractured by the force of the blast driving their eyeballs through the bone behind their sockets

Harlequin ducks were found with their backs broken and legs driven up into their bodies by the pressure of the explosion

Residents of nearby Atka island had their blood and urine tested before the Cannikin blast and the year after. Increased levels of radioactive iron, cesium 137 and tritium in their bodies after the Cannikin blast.

I was interested to see that human blood had been sampled for Fe-55 [radioative iron] and was found to have a mean of 9,000 picocuries/liter, and urine for tritium where levels up to 9,400 picocuries/liter were found. During their pre- and post-shot tests they found that Adak residents had higher tritium levels. It was also frustrating to read that cesium-137 in local tests were higher than at the Nevada test site

No follow up tests were done on this population. Workers on the island that handled the preparation and clean up never had any follow up research on their exposures done. They also do not qualify for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) as many federal nuclear workers do. The AFL-CIO claims that many have been made ill by their time on the project. AFL-CIO

disclosed that federal and contract workers at the Amchitka nuclear detonation sites have suffered radiation induced illnesses, leukemia, and other radiation exposure-related cancers

This all took place in the 1970’s and spawned the foundation of Greenpeace. In 1996 Greenpeace gained access to the bomb sites to take samples. What they found in local algae and moss indicated that the bomb sites were indeed leaking into the environment. Government testing had declared no problems. The larger concern is for leaking not only from land to the sea but leaking directly of these bomb shafts into the nearby ocean.

Releases from the 3 underground tests at Amchitka are estimated to total the amounts below with only a portion of that total actually leaking out to date.

Unfissioned plutonium 239 (3 tests) 450 curies (16.65 TBq)
Cesium 137 .9728 megacuries (35.994 Pbq)
Strontium 90 .608 megacuries (22.5 Pbq)

By contrast the low end estimate for air only releases over time from Fukushima Daiichi is 900 Pbq.

The partial leaking of the totals of the Amchitka tests were enough to cause great concern and a number of monitoring projects that are still ongoing. Yet to date there has been no official comprehensive monitoring effort of the US, Canada or the western Pacific to track contamination from Fukushima Daiichi.


US Govt. declassified film report on the Cannikin bomb test

Nuclear Flashback: Report of a Greenpeace Scientific Expedition to Amchitka Island, Alaska – Site of the Largest Underground Nuclear Test in U.S. History

Wikipedia entry for Amchitka


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