Amchitka Island destroyed by nuclear bomb


A mysterious island that was the site of the largest underground nuclear test ever carried out by the United States remains geologically unstable some 50 years after being nearly destroyed by a five-megaton bomb.

Amchitka Island has been described by geologists as “one of the least stable tectonic environments in the United States”.

The island was the chosen site to test the unique W71 warhead design for the US LIM-49 Spartan anti-ballistic missile.

The Spartan was part of the American plan for World War III. It was intended to intercept incoming Soviet ballistic missiles while they were still outside Earth’s atmosphere and detonate their warheads before they could reach their targets.

Opponents of the test feared it would create a tsunami or even trigger a major earthquake. The testing controversy gave rise to the organization that later became Greenpeace.

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Today, the island is monitored for any leaks of radioactive material; the island is scheduled to become a restricted wildlife sanctuary in 2025

The United States Atomic Energy Commission [AEC] said the likelihood of the test triggering a severe earthquake “very unlikely”, unless it was already imminent on a nearby fault, and considered a tsunami “even more unlikely”.

Then-President Richard Nixon personally authorized the $200 million test, despite objections from Japan, Peru and Sweden.

The test took place on November 6, 1971. The colossal explosion lifted a large area of ​​the island’s surface about 15 feet into the air and when the smoke cleared a new lake was left behind.

The explosion recorded a seismic shock of 7.0 on the Richter scale
The explosion recorded a seismic shock of 7.0 on the Richter scale

Nearly three hundred fish were found dead floating in nearby seas after the test, and subsequent catches dropped dramatically.

The remains of more than 10,000 sticklebacks and 700 Dolly Varden have been found in lakes, streams and ponds across the island, according to figures from Greanpeace.

As many as a thousand sea otters were killed, their skulls shattered by the force of the blast pushing their eyeballs back into their sockets. Ducks were found with their backs broken and their legs driven into their bodies by the force of the blast.

While the explosion caused a seismic shock of 7.0 on the Richter scale, causing rockfalls and landslides across a total of 35,000 square feet, the predicted earthquake did not occur. materialized.

The test produced an explosive force nearly 400 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb.
The test produced an explosive force nearly 400 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb.

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But in the years since the test, concerns have been raised that large fissures could open up around the underground test site, allowing plutonium and other radioactive material to seep into the ‘ocean.

Although the island is currently uninhabited, it was occupied by the Aleutians from around 4,000 years ago until the late 1700s. It is part of a chain of islands that allowed the earliest settlers of Americas to cross on foot

The site is still monitored by the AEC, although monitoring is expected to end in three years, after which it is planned to turn the barren rock into a nature reserve.


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