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A UT student’s work on a research team helps Pacific Islanders make informed decisions about returning home decades after nuclear tests.

Adam Stratz is a doctoral student in nuclear engineering and a Department of Homeland Security nuclear forensics graduate fellow at the UT Radiochemistry Center of Excellence.

His expertise earned him a spot as the only student to participate in a radiation survey of some of the most notable nuclear test sites in US history.

Adam Stratz poses in front of a sign welcoming visitors to Bikini Atoll, site of the largest nuclear explosion the U.S has ever conducted.
Adam Stratz poses with a sign welcoming visitors to Bikini Atoll.

A team from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory selected Stratz to help study radiation levels this summer in the Marshall Islands.

For two decades after World War II, the Bikini, Enewetak, Kwajalein, Majuro, and Rongelap Atolls were ground zero for the US nuclear weapons program.

From 1946 to 1958, the United States conducted 67 tests in the area. That period includes the most powerful nuclear test explosion ever conducted by the United States, at more than 1,000 times the force of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

A pair of twin blast craters from the Cactus, left, and Lacrosse nuclear weapons tests on Enewetak Atoll are visible from the air. The Cactus crater was filled with debris and capped with concrete.
Twin blast craters from the Cactus (left) and Lacrosse nuclear weapon tests on Enewetak Atoll. The Cactus crater was filled with debris and capped with concrete.

Before the program commenced, the native people were removed to other islands, away from the blasts and the radiation.

High radiation levels in the Marshall Islands prevented their return for years.

Stratz and the Lawrence Livermore team collected and tested radiation levels in items ranging from coconuts and fruit to fish and giant clams.

A giant clam harvested from the waters of the Marshall Islands. The clams, which can grow to 50 pounds, collect plutonium from the sea.
A giant clam harvested from the waters of the Marshall Islands. The clams, which can grow to fifty pounds, collect plutonium from the sea.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come in and test and monitor animal and plant life as well as soil and water at these atolls,” Stratz said.

When the data is analyzed, the results will help determine whether the few remaining people who once lived on the impacted islands will be allowed to return.

A giant clam harvested from the waters of the Marshall Islands. The clams, which can grow to 50 pounds, collect plutonium from the sea.
Fruits and vegetables gathered in the islands are bagged for shipping to a lab where they will be tested for radioactivity.

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