AMCHITKA (/æmˈtʃɪtkə/ ; Aleut : Amchixtax̂ ) is a volcanic,
tectonically unstable island in the
Rat Islands group of the Aleutian
Islands in southwest
Alaska . It is part of the
National Wildlife Refuge . The island is about 68 kilometers (42 mi)
long, and from 3 to 6 km (1.9 to 3.7 mi) wide. The area has a
maritime climate , with many storms, and mostly overcast skies.
Amchitka was populated for more than 2,500 years by the Aleut people,
but has had no permanent population since 1832. The island has been
part of the United States since the
Alaska Purchase of 1867. During
World War II
World War II , it was used as an airfield by US forces in the Aleutian
Islands Campaign .
Amchitka was selected by the United States Atomic Energy Commission
to be the site for underground detonations of nuclear weapons . Three
such tests were carried out: Long Shot, an 80-kiloton (330 TJ ) blast
in 1965; Milrow, a 1-megaton (4.2 PJ) blast in 1969; and Cannikin in
1971 – at 5 Mt (21 PJ), the largest underground test ever conducted
by the United States. The tests were highly controversial, with
environmental groups fearing that the Cannikin explosion, in
particular, would cause severe earthquakes and tsunamis .
no longer used for nuclear testing. It is still monitored for the
leakage of radioactive materials .
* 1 Geography
* 2 Early history
World War II
World War II and after
* 4 Demographics
* 5.1 Plans for nuclear testing
* 5.2 Long Shot test
* 5.3 Milrow and Cannikin tests
* 5.3.1 Controversy
* 5.3.2 Cannikin tested
* 5.4 1973 and beyond
* 6 Notes and references
* 7 Further reading
* 8 External links
Amchitka Island, Harlequin Beach
Amchitka is the southernmost of the
Rat Islands group in the Aleutian
Chain, located between 51°21′N 178°37′E / 51.350°N
178.617°E / 51.350; 178.617 and 51°39′N 179°29′E /
51.650°N 179.483°E / 51.650; 179.483 . It is bounded by the
Bering Sea to the north and east, and the Pacific Ocean to the south
The eastern part of the island is a lowland plateau, with isolated
ponds and gently rolling hills. There is low but abundant
vegetation, consisting of mosses, lichens, liverworts, ferns,
grasses, sedges, and crowberry . The center of the island is
mountainous, and the western end is barren and vegetation is sparse.
Amchitka has a maritime climate , often foggy and windswept, with
cloud cover 98 percent of the time. While temperatures are moderated
by the ocean, storms are frequent. Geologically, the island is
volcanic, being a part of a small crustal block on the Aleutian Arc
that is being torn apart by oblique subduction . It is "one of the
least stable tectonic environments in the United States."
Aleutian Cackling Geese in flight over
Amchitka Island Amchitka
Island, Beach Fleabane in full bloom (Senecio pseudo-arnica)
The human history of
Amchitka dates back at least 2,500 years, with
the Aleut people. Human remains, thought to be of an Aleut dating
from about 1000 AD, were discovered in 1980.
Amchitka is said to have been seen and named St. Makarius by Bering
in 1741, was sighted by Billings in 1790, and visited by Shishmaref in
Daikokuya Kōdayū and 15 Japanese castaways landed on
Amchitka after drifting for seven months. The castaways were taken
care of by Russian employees of Zhigarev and hunted with indigenous
people. Six of the castaways died in three years.
WORLD WAR II AND AFTER
Aleutian Islands Campaign ,
Amchitka Air Force Base , and
Landing at Amchitka
In June 1942, the Japanese occupied some of the western Aleutian
islands, and hoped to occupy Amchitka. Eager to remove the Japanese,
Joint Chiefs of Staff
Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed to move quickly to regain the
territory. American planners decided to build a series of airfields to
the west of
Umnak , from which bombers could attack the invading
The U.S. Army established bases at Adak and 13 other locations. At
the War Department's suggestion, an initial reconnaissance of Amchitka
was carried out in September 1942, which found that it would be
difficult to build an airstrip on the island. Nevertheless, planners
decided on December 13 that the airfield "had to be built" to prevent
the Japanese from doing the same. A further reconnaissance mission
Amchitka from 17 to 19 December, and reported that a fighter
strip could be built in two to three weeks, and a main airfield in
three to four months. The plan was approved and began in 1942.
American forces made an unopposed landing on
Amchitka on January 12,
1943. Despite facing difficult weather conditions and bombing from the
Japanese, the airfield was usable by February 16. The
was now 80 km (50 mi) away from their target,
Kiska . The military
eventually built numerous buildings, roads, and a total of three
airstrips on the island, one of which would later be rebuilt and used
by the Atomic Energy Commission in the late 1960s. At its peak, the
Amchitka reached 15,000 troops.
Aleutian Islands campaign was successfully completed on August
24, 1943. In that month, a strategic intercept station was
established on the island, which remained until February 1945. On 31
December 1949 the Air Force Base was closed due to insufficient
personnel and staff. The Army closed its communications facility at
Amchitka in August 1950. On 31 December 1950 the Air Force 2107th Air
Weather Group pulled the last of its personnel out of
Amchitka and the
facility was abandoned.
The site later hosted an Air Force White Alice telecommunication
system in 1959 to 1961, and a temporary relay station in the 1960s and
1970s. A prototype Relocatable Over-the-Horizon Radar system existed
Amchitka between 1991 and 1993 to conduct surveillance on Russia.
U.S. Decennial Census
Amchitka was listed as a CDP (Census Designated Place) on the 1990
U.S. Census with a population of 25. This was the only time it
appeared on the census.
PLANS FOR NUCLEAR TESTING
The locations of the nuclear tests
With the pullout of military forces from
Amchitka in 1950, the
Department of Defense initially considered the island for nuclear
testing planned for 1951. Requiring information about the cratering
potential of nuclear weapons , plans were made to detonate two
20-kiloton (84 TJ) devices. After approximately 34 test holes had
been drilled, the site was deemed unsuitable, and the project was
moved to the
Nevada test site
Nevada test site .
In the late 1950s, scientists realized that improved seismological
knowledge was necessary for the detection of Soviet underground
nuclear explosions . The 1.7-kiloton (7.1 TJ) "Rainier" test (part of
Operation Plumbbob , performed in Nevada) produced strong seismic
signals, but looked much like an ordinary earthquake. In 1959, Dr.
James R. Killian , the
Special Assistant to the President for Science
and Technology, formed the Panel on Seismic Improvement (which
subsequently recommended the program that came to be known as Vela
Uniform ), with the twin goals of improving seismic instruments and
deploying them globally, and researching in more depth the seismic
effects of nuclear explosions. The project was subsequently initiated
by the Eisenhower administration.
Together with the Atomic Energy Commission, the DoD began assessing
Amchitka for use as part of the
Vela Uniform tests.
LONG SHOT TEST
This film still shows dirt being displaced from the Long Shot
To conduct the
Vela Uniform test Long Shot,51°25′35.84″N
179°11′14.13″E / 51.4266222°N 179.1872583°E /
51.4266222; 179.1872583 the Department of Defense occupied Amchitka
from 1964 to 1966, with the AEC providing the device, measuring
instruments, and scientific support. The goal was "to determine the
behavior and characteristics of seismic signals generated by nuclear
detonations and to differentiate them from seismic signals generated
by naturally occurring earthquakes."
Although it would not be publicly announced until March 18, 1965,
senior Alaskan officials were notified the previous February. After
the devastating Great
Alaska earthquake of March 27, 1964, the
governor expressed concern about the psychological effects of the test
on the populace. He was quickly reassured.
Long Shot was detonated on October 29, 1965, and the yield was 80
kilotons (330 TJ). It was the first underground test in a remote area,
and the first test managed by the DoD. While there was no surface
collapse, tritium and krypton were found at the surface following the
test; this was not made public until 1969.
MILROW AND CANNIKIN TESTS
Though performed as part of the Nuclear Weapons Testing Program, "
purpose of the Milrow test was to test an island, not a weapon." It
was a "calibration shot", intended to produce data from which the
impact of larger explosions could be predicted, and specifically, to
determine whether the planned Cannikin detonation could be performed
safely. Milrow was detonated on October 2, 1969 51°24′52.06″N
179°10′44.84″E / 51.4144611°N 179.1791222°E /
51.4144611; 179.1791222 , with an approximate yield of 1 to 1.2
megatons (4.2–5.0 PJ).
The shockwave reached the surface with an acceleration of over 35 g
(340 m/s2), causing a dome of the Earth's surface, approximately 3 km
(2 mi) in radius, to rise about 5 meters (16 ft). The blast "turned
the surrounding sea to froth" and "forced geysers of mud and water
from local streams and lakes 50 feet (15 m) into the air". A "surface
collapse feature", also known as a subsidence crater , was formed by
material collapsing into the cavity formed by the explosion.
Cannikin was intended to test the design of the Spartan
anti-ballistic missile (ABM) interceptor – a high-yield warhead that
"produced copious amounts of x-rays and minimized fission output and
debris to prevent blackout of ABM radar systems." The test would
"measure the yield of the device, measure the x-ray flux and spectrum,
and assure deployment of a reliable design."
A few days after the Milrow test, the Don\'t Make A Wave Committee
was organized at a meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia ,
The Committee's name referred to predictions made by a Vancouver
journalist named Bob Hunter , later to become
Greenpeace member 000.
He wrote that the test would cause earthquakes and a tsunami. On the
agenda was whether to fight another blast at the island, or whether to
expand their efforts to fight all perceived threats against the
environment. As he was leaving, one man gave the traditional farewell
of the peace-activist movement, "Peace." "Make it a green peace,"
replied another member. The Committee would later become
The AEC considered the likelihood of the test triggering a severe
earthquake "very unlikely", unless one was already imminent on a
nearby fault, and considered a tsunami "even more unlikely". Others
Russell Train , then Chairman of the Council on
Environmental Quality , argued that "experience with Milrow ... does
not provide a sure basis for extrapolation. In the highly nonlinear
phenomena involved in earthquake generation, there may be a threshold
value of the strain that must be exceeded prior to initiation of a
large earthquake. ... The underground explosion could serve as the
first domino of the row of dominoes leading to a major earthquake. ...
as in the case of earthquakes it is not possible at this time to
assess quantitatively the probability of a tsunami following the
explosion." Film stills from the Cannikin test show the effects
on the surface of the 5-megaton (21 PJ) detonation below, equivalent
to a 7.0 earthquake.
In July 1971, a group called the Committee for Nuclear Responsibility
filed suit against the AEC, asking the court to stop the test. The
suit was unsuccessful, with the Supreme Court denying the injunction
by 4 votes to 3, and
Richard Nixon personally authorized the $200
million test, in spite of objections from Japan, Peru, and Sweden.
"What the Court didn’t know, however, was that six federal agencies,
including the departments of State and Interior, and the fledgling
EPA, had lodged serious objections to the Cannikin test, ranging from
environmental and health concerns to legal and diplomatic problems.
Nixon issued an executive order to keep the comments from being
Don't Make A Wave Committee chartered a boat, in which
they had intended to sail to the island in protest, but due to weather
conditions they were unable to reach their destination.
Cannikin was detonated on November 6, 1971 51°28′13.20″N
179°6′40.75″E / 51.4703333°N 179.1113194°E /
51.4703333; 179.1113194 , as the thirteenth test of the Operation
Grommet (1971–1972) underground nuclear test series. The announced
yield was 5 megatons (21 PJ) – the largest underground nuclear test
in US history. (Estimates for the precise yield range from 4.4 to
5.2 megatons or 18 to 22 PJ). The ground lifted 20 feet (6 m), caused
by an explosive force almost 400 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb
. Subsidence and faulting at the site created a new lake, over a mile
wide. The explosion caused a seismic shock of 7.0 on the Richter
scale , causing rockfalls and turf slides of a total of 35,000 square
feet (3,300 m2). Though earthquakes and tsunamis predicted by
environmentalists did not occur, a number of small tectonic events
did occur in the following weeks, (some registering as high as 4.0 on
the richter scale) thought to be due to the interaction of the
explosion with local tectonic stresses.
According to wildlife surveys following the Cannikin event by the
Alaska Fairbanks , 700–2,000 sea otters were killed by
overpressures in the
Bering Sea as a direct result of the explosion.
This survey showed that number of sea otters endangered by the blast
was far greater than the Atomic Energy Commission had predicted.
1973 AND BEYOND
The AEC withdrew from the island in 1973, though scientists continue
to visit the island for monitoring purposes. In 2001, the DoE
returned to the site to remove environmental contamination. Drilling
mud pits were stabilized by mixing with clean soil, covering with a
polyester membrane, topped with soil and re-seeded.
Concerns have been expressed that new fissures may be opening
underground, allowing radioactive materials to leak into the ocean. A
Greenpeace study found that Cannikin was leaking both plutonium
and americium into the environment,. In 2004, scientific divers from
the University of
Alaska Fairbanks collected shallow subtidal
organisms and reported that "There were no indications of any
radioactive leakage, and all that was really wonderful news." Similar
findings are reported by a 2006 study, which found that levels of
plutonium "were very small and not significant biologically".
The Department of Energy continues to monitor the site as part of
their remediation program. This is expected to continue until 2025,
after which the site is intended to become a restricted access
NUCLEAR TESTS AT AMCHITKA
21:00, October 29, 1965
51°26′12″N 179°10′47″E / 51.43655°N
179.17976°E / 51.43655; 179.17976 (Long Shot Nuclear Test)
80 kt (330 TJ)
2,343 ft (714 m) shaft
22:06, October 2, 1969
51°24′56″N 179°10′48″E / 51.41559°N
179.17992°E / 51.41559; 179.17992 (Milrow Nuclear Test)
~ 1 Mt (4.2 PJ)
4,002 ft (1,220 m) shaft
22:00, November 6, 1971
51°28′11″N 179°06′12″E / 51.46961°N
179.10335°E / 51.46961; 179.10335 (Cannikin Nuclear Test)
< 5 Mt (21 PJ)
6,104 ft (1,860 m) shaft
NOTES AND REFERENCES
This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force
Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/.
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* ^ AFHRA Document 00496942
* ^ "AN/TPS-71 ROTHR (Relocatable Over-the-Horizon Radar)".
Federation of American Scientists. June 29, 1999. Retrieved
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* ^ A B Kohlhoff, Dean W. (November 2002).
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* ^ A B C D E F Miller, Pam. "Nuclear Flashback: Report of a
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Alaska – Site
of the Largest Underground Nuclear Test in U.S. History" (PDF).
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* ^ "The Milrow Test (DOE Historical Test Film 800040)". Archived
from the original on 28 September 2006. Retrieved 2006-10-09.
* ^ See Miller "Nuclear Flashback" or Schneider "Amchitka's nuclear
* ^ Merritt, Melvin (June 1971). "Ground Shock and Water Pressures
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* ^ Vidal, John (2005-05-04). "The original Mr Green". London: The
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* ^ A B The
Greenpeace Story in: Chuck Davis, editor in chief.
(1997). The Greater
Vancouver Book: An Urban Encyclopedia. Linkman
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* ^ "COMMITTEE FOR NUCLEAR RESPONSIBILITY, INC. v. SCHLESINGER ,
404 U.S. 917 (1971)". US Supreme Court. 1971-11-06. Archived from the
original on 2007-03-22. Retrieved 2006-10-11.
* ^ "Round 2 at Amchitka". U.S.
TIME . New York City. 1971-07-17.
Archived from the original on 2008-12-21. Retrieved 2006-10-09.
* ^ A B "The
Amchitka Bomb Goes Off". TIME. 1971-11-15. Retrieved
* ^ "Green Light on Cannikin". TIME. 1971-11-08. Retrieved
Jeffrey St. Clair ,
CounterPunch , 27 September 2013, The Bomb
that Cracked an Island
* ^ Sykes, Lynn R.; Graham C. Wiggins (January 1986). "Yields of
Soviet Underground Nuclear Explosions at Novaya Zemlya, 1964–1976,
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* ^ Fritz, Stacey (April 2000). "The Role of National Missile
Defense in the Environmental History of Alaska". University of Alaska
* ^ A B Perlman, David (2001-12-17). "Blast from the past:
Researchers worry that radiation from nuclear test decades ago may be
damaging marine life today". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved
* ^ Engdahl, E. R. (December 1972). "Seismic effects of the MILROW
and CANNIKIN nuclear explosions". Bulletin of the Seismological
Society of America. 62 (6): 1411–1423. doi :10.2172/4687405 .
* ^ Jewett, Stephen; Hoberg, Max; Chenelot, Heloise; Harper, Shawn;
Burger, Joanna; Gochfeld, Michael. (2005). "Scuba Techniques Used In
Risk Assessment Of Possible Nuclear Leakage Around
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* ^ Burger, J; et al. (October 2006). "Radionuclides in marine
Kiska Islands in the Aleutians:
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91 (1–2): 27–40. PMID 17029666 . doi
* ^ "
Amchitka Island". Department of Energy. Archived from the
original on 2006-09-25. Retrieved 2006-10-11.
* ^ "United States nuclear tests: July 1945 through September 1992"
(PDF). Department of Energy. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12
October 2006. Retrieved 2006-10-11.
* ^ A B C Johnson, "Mark". "Results from the
Survey" (PDF). University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Retrieved 2006-10-11.
* United States Air Force portal
* Military of the United States portal
* Hunter, Robert. The
Amchitka An Environmental
Odyssey. Vancouver, B.C.:
Arsenal Pulp Press , 2004. ISBN
* Sense, Richard G., and Roger J. Desautels.
Progress Reports. Las Vegas, Nev: Holmes ;background:none
Nuclear weapons tests of the United States
* "Hardtack I"
* "Hardtack II"
* "Little Feller"
* Project 56
* "Roller Coaster"
* Area 15
* Area 16
* Area 18
* Area 30
* South Atlantic
Pacific Proving Grounds
* Central Nevada
* Sand Springs Range
* Carson National Forest
Nevada Test and Training Range
National Atomic Testing Museum
* Fallout: An American Nuclear Tragedy
Alvin C. Graves
Desert Rock exercises
Unethical human experimentation in the United States
International Day against Nuclear Tests
Nevada Desert Experience
Nuclear weapons testing
Radiation Exposure Compensation Act
Reactor-grade plutonium nuclear test
* Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie
Islands in the
* Great Sitkin
* Little Sitkin
* Little Tanaga
Sea Lion Rock
Sea Otter Rocks
* St. Lawrence
* St. Matthew
* St. Michael
* St. Paul
* Walrus (Pribilof)
* ISLAND GROUPS
Aleutian * Andreanof
* Four Mountains
* Walrus and Kritskoi
Eleventh Air Force in
World War II
World War II
Previously: Alaskan Air Force (1941-1942)
* Alexai Point
* Fort Glenn
* Fort Morrow
* Fort Randall
* Annette Island
* Ogliuga Island
Air Transport Command
Northwest Staging Route
(xfr to 11AF 1945)
* Big Delta
* Mile 26
* Moses Point
* XI Bomber
* XI Fighter
* 28th Bombardment
* 343d Fighter
* UNITED STATES ARMY AIR FORCES
Amchitka additional terms
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