During the Cold War, the isolated islands of Oceania became a popular location for American, British, and French nuclear testing. In 1946, the United States government relocated the indigenous population of the Bikini Atoll, part of the Marshall Islands, to another atoll nearby. The U.S. then used Bikini as a nuclear testing facility, detonating more than 20 nuclear devices, including the first hydrogen bomb.

Photograph by James P. Blair
  • On January 29, 1996, French President Jacques Chirac announced the end of French nuclear weapons testing. The international community as well as environmental activists had been concerned for some time about France’s nuclear tests. France had detonated more than 200 nuclear bombs on unpopulated islands and atolls in the southern Pacific Ocean. The explosive effects of these test weapons were damaging to local ecosystems, and radiation from the bombs would leave many of the test islands polluted for thousands of years.

    President Chirac’s decision to test more bombs at Mururoa Atoll, just one year before the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, resulted in a worldwide outcry. International pressure included a boycott of French wine. Chirac’s decision to cease the tests was hailed as a victory for the global environmental movement.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    atoll Noun

    a coral reef or string of coral islands that surrounds a lagoon.

    Encyclopedic Entry: atoll
    detonate Verb

    to cause something to explode.

    ecosystem Noun

    community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ecosystem
    nuclear weapon Noun

    explosive device that draws power from the splitting and combining of atomic nuclei.

    pollute Verb

    to introduce harmful materials into a natural environment.

    pollution Noun

    introduction of harmful materials into the environment.

    Encyclopedic Entry: pollution
    radiation Noun

    energy, emitted as waves or particles, radiating outward from a source.