Testing the limits of testing

For such a remote location in such a hostile environment, Amchitka Island has seen a lot of action. Located in the Rat Islands group of the Aleutians, the tiny volcanic island is foggy, windswept, and often under siege by Bering Sea storms.

Amchitka first popped onto the international radar when the Japanese invaded the Aleutians at the outset of World War II. The U.S. military responded quickly, taking the island and establishing an air base. At its peak, the occupancy of Amchitka reached 15,000 troops. The Army abandoned the site in August 1950.

A decade later, the government was back. In the first of three underground nuclear tests, the 80 kiloton Long Shot was detonated 2,000 feet below the island’s surface. In 1969, the 1.2 megaton Milrow test took place. In the week following that test, a new organization was formed in Vancouver, the Don’t Make A Wave Committee, in part to challenge further testing at Amchitka. Legend has it that as he left the meeting, one member bid the others “Peace.” Someone replied, “Make it a green peace.” But that’s a different story.

The final nuclear test was the massive 5 megaton Cannikin test—the largest in U.S. history—in 1971.

Things quieted down after that. In 2001, the Department of Energy returned to the island to assess environmental issues associated with the drilling of shafts for the atomic tests. Drilling mud pits, contaminated with diesel fuel, were stabilized with the addition of clean soil, a polyester membrane covering, more soil, and seed.

As part of their remediation project, the Department of Energy Office of Legacy Management will continue to monitor the site until 2025, after which the site is intended to become a restricted access wildlife preserve. Talk about green and peace.