Runit is a small island in the Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Where are the Marshall Islands? Here's a tiny reference map to orient you.
And why would you want to visit Runit? Well, for one thing, Runit is home to a very impressive concrete dome built there during the late 70's. After seeing the photo below, I'm sure you'll want to see it in person:
Spectacular, isn't it? The concrete cap is 18" thick and 350 feet wide. The tiny dots on the dome are people. So yes, it's big.
The dome was kind of like a gift from the United States to the people of the Marshall Islands. Why? Well, after World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union were both engaged in an unfriendly game of nuclear oneupmanship. As part of this competition the United States used various sites in the Marshall Islands from 1946-1958 to test nuclear weapons. Of course this resulted in enormous amounts of radioactive contamination to the environment and all life forms in the area, but fortunately 20 years later the U.S. was kind enough to scrape up some of the contaminated everything and dump it all into one of the atomic bomb craters. Then they poured concrete on the whole thing. The dome has developed lots of cracks in its surface and it's leaking toxic stuff into the environment, but the U.S. government says it has "no formal custodial responsibilities for the site", which I can only assume means that it's safe. So the next time you feel yourself desiring a tropical island getaway, don't forget Runit.
P.S. Almost forgot - here's a short excerpt from a recent news story about the legacy of atomic testing in the Marshall Islands (The Sydney Morning Herald, Aug. 18, 2008). You might want to read it.
Later I meet Lemeyo Abon. She - like 90 per cent of the children from her island of Rongelap who were exposed to radiation during the test era - has cancer, in her case thyroid cancer.
She vividly describes the morning of March 1, 1954, when a flash of light eclipsed the sun and white powder drifted down from the sky.
"It was fallout from Castle Bravo, the largest nuclear bomb the US ever detonated and one of the world's worst radiological disasters," says the 68-year-old grandmother.
Her warm, weathered face speaks of a life lived but not of the anguish. "First, there were lots of miscarriages among the women," she says. "Soon afterwards came the deformed babies - the 'jelly babies' or 'octopus babies' we called them.
"The birth defects have passed down the generations. My own granddaughter was born with a tail," she says, as if this were scarcely out of the ordinary. "She was medevaced to Honolulu for surgery and now she's 14. Sue's her name ... what a smart girl."
Read the whole story here.