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Discussions with Deb: Merry Christmas Island

December 14, 2020

December 14, 2020

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In 1946 the Andrews Sisters recorded their classic song, Christmas Island, a cheerful, optimistic little ditty that shared the country’s relief from the horrors of WW2. I grew up hearing it and I bet many of you did too. But did you know there was a real Christmas Island with a history of nuclear tests?

The story goes that on Christmas Eve 1777, Captain Cook arrived on a lovely coral atoll about 1,340 miles south of Honolulu, which he named Christmas Island, in honor of the date of his arrival. Christmas Island was renamed Kiritimati in 1979 when the Republic of Kiribati declared independence from the United Kingdom. But from 1957-1962 the UK and US participated in 33 nuclear tests in and around Christmas Island.

Although Christmas Island was a UK possession, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) airdropped 24 bombs from aircraft just south of the island from April 25-July 11, 1962 to test atomic weapons as a joint exercise with Department of Defense (DOD) and AEC. About 25,309 personnel from DOD, the Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy, and Army participated in Operation Dominic, along with civilian personnel. About 500 islanders were involved as well. In return for the use of Christmas Island, the Brits were allowed to participate in the Nevada Test Site underground nuclear tests.

Three national labs, Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Livermore California, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and Sandia Labs in New Mexico participated in the Operation Dominic tests, along with 77 civilian contractors, some, but not all, of which are covered by EEOICPA. Hmmm, looks like I’m going to need to spend some time investigating those contractors!

So, while we are all stuck here at home for Christmas during the pandemic, there is nothing to stop us from remembering our history, dreaming of hanging our stocking on palm trees; and wishing for a holiday season full of love and laughter.