One family’s journey to their contaminated home

In 2013, Terry Hamilton, the scientist contracted by the DOE via Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, published a Runit report that evaluates the integrity of the 358 cement panels that make up the dome’s cover. The report confirmed that radionuclides seep outside of the dome via the groundwater. Yet, Hamilton says, this doesn’t matter — the lagoon’s sediment is already more contaminated than what’s inside the dome.

The report was never translated into Marshallese or distributed to the local population. In a country where many people already feel like they have been treated as America’s guinea pigs, this contributes to further mistrust of the DOE.

Another scientist, Ken Buesseler, of the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, whose team studied the area in 2013, confirmed that the area around the dome is highly contaminated. “They didn’t get everything in the dome,” Buesseler said.

U.S. government reports and anecdotes from clean-up workers confirm that vast amounts of irradiated debris and soil were dumped and bulldozed into the lagoon directly: some of it concrete sealed, some not.

According to Buesseler’s findings, the area around Runit is the source of half of all plutonium contamination in Enewetak. Other high dosages are near various points where bombs detonated. Most of the lagoon’s seafloor is contaminated. Enewetak is the main source of plutonium in all of the Pacific.

Buesseler and his team collected sediment samples from 60 to 80 centimeters below the seafloor. But he suspects the contamination reaches even deeper. “Usually, you’d see contamination in the top 10 centimeters. Here you have no end in sight.”