FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(The Den)---Following file extracted from the archives-- 11° 32′ 42″ N, 162° 21′ 10.8″ E
Honolulu Star-Bulletin-- (13 April, 1980)--
Nuclear burial ground
By FLOYD K. TAKEUCHI Advertiser Editorial Writer
RUNIT, Marshall Islands — From the air, Runit Is-land's 370-foot wide concrete dome looks like a ground-ed spaceship or an oversize upside-down saucer. But this unusual structure, so out of place on this barren. wind-swept spit of sand and coral, serves a deadly pur-pose. It caps over 110,000 cubic yards of highly radioactive soil and debris. The plutonium-enriched waste was literally scraped off the top of many of Enewetak Atoll's 40 islands where 43 nuclear bombs were ex-ploded between 1947 and 1958.
INDEED, THE DOME sits over a crater blown out by a 1958 explosion code-named "Cactus." A similar crater now is a tidal pool next to the dome. Runit is a fitting place for a nuclear burial ground. Nineteen tests were centered around the island, which is situated halfway up the eastern end of the atoll. It is so contaminated with deadly radioactive ele-ments — plutonium, strontium-90 and cesium-137 — that it will be off-limits forever. Anyone who walks over the island's sandy surface must wear a protective gauze mask and special boots. Even those who only walk on the 25-foot high dome must be checked for radiation on their hands and feet. The Cactus crater dome is supposed to shield the surrounding environment from the radioactive waste. It will have to do the job for a long time. While the half-life of strontium and cesium are around 30 years, plutonium's is 24,000 years. That means in the year 25,980 there will still be half as much plutonium radiation there as at present.
The concrete cap, which required over 43,000 bags of cement to build, is between 16 and 21 inches thick. In an effort to slow erosion from the sea, Army engi-neers built a seawall of sand and coral on the ocean side of the dome. They also have to contend with corro-sive salt spray, a common occurence on the low-lying island. Asked if the dome, which was completed last year: could survive the elements for 24,000 years or more, an Army spokesman said no damage is expected. A scientist with the Enewetak cleanup project joking-ly said, "I'd bet on it " The Runit dome is an awesome sight, from both the air and ground There is only sparse vegetation on the small island, and the only other structures are the re-mains of two bunkers.
WITH THE EXCEPTION of occasional visitors who arrive by helicopter, the only mammals on contaminat-ed Runit are the rats. Their hardy ancestors survived the nuclear testing by hiding in underground burrows. This latest genera-tion scampers in the underbrush, eating vegetation that is chock-full of strontium and cesium. Rats also have survived on Enewetak's other islands. According to resident scientists at the Mid-Pacific Marine Laboratory on Enewetak island who have been studying the atoll's rat population, the only observable mutation they have discovered so far is a slight abnor-mality in some rat palates. Dr. Steve Vessey, who heads the project, added they have found "no real scare stories, no two-headed rats." (Honolulu Star Bulletin--13 April 1980 )
ATTN: ALL TUNA TRAWLERS, STAY CLEAR OF AREA FOR 1000 YEARS..