International Disarmament Institute News

Education and Research on Global Disarmament Policy

Pacific Region

Back to Pacific Nuclear Test Archive Contents Page

From 1946 to 1996, the US, UK and France detonated 318 nuclear devices in the Pacific region in the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia/Te Ao Maohi, Kiribati, Australia, the US territory of Johnston/Kalama Atoll and Amchitka Island, Alaska. Fallout was dispersed throughout the region. In addition to nuclear detonations, the UK conducted some 600 dangerous “minor trials” in Australia, and the US tested chemical weapons, explosives and ballistic missiles in the Marshall Islands. This has left a devastating legacy of sickness, anxiety, displacement, radiation and environmental damage. The humanitarian impact extends beyond the communities most affected to the thousands of military and civilian personnel – from the USA, France, UK, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand/Aotearoa – who participated in the tests and suffered from exposure to radiation.

The following documents provide crucial general and global overviews of the humanitarian, human rights and environmental impact of nuclear weapons use and testing. For our own global overview, click here.

Indicators of Humanitarian, Human Rights and Environmental Harm from Nuclear Weapons in the Pacific Region

  • 28,000 Australian and New Zealand/Aotearoa troops exposed to radiation following atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • Total of 318 US, UK and French nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia/Te Ao Maohi, Kiribati, Australia (plus 600 dangerous “minor trials”), Johnston/Kalama Atoll (US Territory) and Amchitka Island, Alaska.
  • Tens of thousands of military and civilian personnel from the UK, Australia, France, New Zealand/Aotearoa and Fiji participated in the tests; many suffered exposure to radiation.
  • Fallout was detected across the South Pacific region, including in Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga and Tuvalu. While New Zealand government monitoring concluded that radiation “levels constituted no public health hazard“, further research is required into the human and environmental implications of fallout.
  • Pacific nuclear testing killed thousands of animals, destroyed fragile ecosystems and damaged coral atolls; test sites in Marshall Islands, French Polynesia/Te Ao Maohi and Amchitka Island show signs of leaching radioactive material into the ocean.
  • Areas of the land and seas of the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia/Te Ao Maohi, Kiribati, Australia, Johnston/Kalama Atoll (US Territory) and Amchitka Island, Alaska continue to be contaminated by radiation.

Official Documents

Kiribati. (2014) “Joint Statement on Behalf of Pacific Island Nations: Second Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons Nayarit, Mexico, 13-14 February 2014.” External link.

K.M. Matthews. (1992/1993) Radioactive fallout in the South Pacific: A History. Part 2: Radioactivity measurements in the Pacific Islands. Christchurch, National Radiation Laboratory. Download.

U.S. Department of Energy. (1994) United States Nuclear Tests: July 1945 through September 1992. Las Vegas, U.S. DoE Nevada Operations Office. Download.

Academic Studies

Stewart Firth. (1987) Nuclear Playground. Sydney, Allen and Unwin.

Nic Maclellan. (2017) Grappling with the Bomb: Britain’s Pacific H-Bomb Tests. Acton, ANU Press. External link.

Tilman A. Ruff. (2015) ‘The humanitarian impact and implications of nuclear test explosions in the Pacific region.’ International Review of the Red Cross. 97(899). pp. 775-813. External link

Civil Society and Thinktank Studies

Nic Maclellan. (2014) Banning Nuclear Weapons: A Pacific Islands Perspective. ICAN Australia. External link.

Skip to toolbar