What It’s Like To Live On An Island Surrounded By Missile Tests

For many Americans, the U.S. nuclear testing of the late 1940s and '50s might seem like a distant memory — or something that has been forgotten altogether. But for the 13,000 residents of Ebeye Island in Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, the aftermath of missile testing is very real. Atomic Dust, a 2014 photo series by documentary photographer Vlad Sokhin shows the fallout on Ebeye, a tiny island that has been plagued with overcrowding, poverty, and outbreaks of disease.
In the 1940s, residents were moved to Ebeye Island, that's around half-way between Australia and Hawaii, from nearby Marshall Islands when the U.S. Army launched the missile-testing program "Operation Crossroads." In 1954, the military detonated a nuclear bomb on one of the northern Marshall Islands' Bikini Atoll, under the code name "Castle Bravo." It was the largest-ever U.S. nuclear test and made the island unlivable, forcing residents who had been moved ahead of the blast to stay on Ebeye.
As the nuclear tests continued in the Marshall Islands, Ebeye became more and more crowded, leading to outbreaks of various diseases, including cholera, measles, and polio.
Refinery29 has reached out to the U.S. Army for comment and will update this story when we get a response.
The United States has "expressed regret" about the accident, according to a statement on the website for the U.S. Embassy in Majuro.
"While international scientists did study the effects of that accident on the human population unintentionally affected, the United States never intended for Marshallese to be hurt by the tests," the statement reads. "Today, the United States is committed to a full and open collaboration with the Republic of the Marshall Islands in radiological monitoring, rehabilitation of affected atolls, and nuclear-related health-care assistance."
As The Washington Post notes, the U.S. Army still "operates a missile test range" on the neighboring Marshall island, Kwajalein Atoll. The ongoing U.S. missile testing still affects the health of Ebeye residents today, according to Sokhin. The tests can lead to the flu, pink eye, and other ailments, an employee at an Ebeye hospital told the photographer.
Refinery29 talked to Sokhin about life on Ebeye and what he hopes people will take away from his photo series.
Click through to see what life is like for the residents of Ebeye.

Kaelyn Forde contributed reporting.

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