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David Nightingale: Bikinis And Bombs

nuclear test at the Bikini atoll
Wikimedia Commons

 In 1946 a Parisian engineer, whose mother owned a lingerie business, designed a women's swim suit consisting of 3 -- or at most 4 -- tiny triangles. A little earlier in 1946 explosive testing of nuclear bombs had been resumed after the horrific damages in Japan of 1945. These nuclear tests were on the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The engineer knew his swimsuit design would also be explosive, and he named it the "bikini".

He may not have known he wasn't actually the inventor; for there are sketches, from a Roman villa in Sicily around 300 AD, showing similar garments. Also, for what it's worth, the natural dress for Marshall Islanders is actually topless -- perhaps describable as a monokini.)

For the record, in 1994 the bikini became the official uniform of the Women's Olympic Beach Volleyball.

With that introduction, let's go back to the Bikini Atoll. After 1946, this Atoll was used for the ensuing 12 years for a series of ever-more-powerful explosions, while the residents had been moved to other islands. Some residents chose to return in 1970, but while the Cesium 137 levels had diminished, it was found that there were still dangerous levels of Strontium 90, which, like calcium, gets absorbed into the bones -- and so the islanders were moved away again. Over half a century later, in 2013, the US began paying $550 to each person, plus free medical treatments. Today the Bikini Atoll is occupied by a few visiting scientists and caretakers, and fruits, veggies and fish are imported for fear of contamination. Interestingly, the surplus [888 ft] USS Saratoga was used in that 1950s testing, and the huge aircraft carrier was blown right out of the water by an underwater bomb. Today, scuba divers can pay $4000 to visit the Saratoga wreck in the lagoon.

In 1953 the Soviets advanced from their fission testing to H-bomb testing. (An H-bomb fuses hydrogen atoms, and needs a fission bomb to set it off.) Their testing ground was the Novaya Zamliya archipelago, north of Russia in the Arctic. In 1961 they (quite unneccessarily) tested the most powerful bomb ever exploded by humanity, the 50 Megaton "Tsar Bomba", and thankfully this was the last. Its flash was visible 700 miles away; the earth was scoured, melted and swept clean; and window panes were partially broken 600 miles away. [Note 2]

In 1986 a Soviet reactor exploded in Chernobyl, now Ukraine, close to Belarus. The nearby city of Pripyat, population 49,000, had to be, and is still, completely abandoned.

Presently, nuclear nations include the US, Russia, China, France, Italy, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel.  Neighbors, eg, France/Italy, India/Pakistan, each with atomic bombs know that there can be no 'winner.'

Tom Lehrer's (brilliant) song "Who's next?" ends with

... We'll try to stay serene and calm -- When Alabama gets the bomb ...

There may be people who believe that a little poison here and a little poison there doesn't matter. Perhaps there are Ayatollahs thinking just that, as well as, hopefully, more serious citizens there thinking, and knowing, the opposite.

I asked a Jewish friend: If Iran had a bomb, would the Ayatollahs and military men in Teheran actually choose non-existence for the price of their desires -- and my friend replied, 'What about Holmes?' The only reply I could come up with was that this was a different matter, because James Holmes was insane. [Note 1]   (Where Isis fits into this would have to be a topic for another commentary.)

Finally, from bikinis to Bikini Atoll testing grounds, for this observer Iran's bomb / no bomb question has surely been given undue political precedence over the deeper problem --  which is the religiously-based teaching of hatred -- a level of hatred such that mutual suicide can even get considered, over negotiation, and more negotiation.


1.  James Holmes is the 24 year old graduate assistant who shot up a movie theater in Colorado in July 2012. He was convicted, in 2015, for 24 counts of murder, and, pleading insanity, was sentenced to life in prison.

2.  Some of the data in this paragraph is from Wikipedia.

Dr. David Nightingale is Professor Emeritus of Physics at the State University of New York at New Paltz, and is the co-author of the text, A Short Course in General Relativity.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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