Movement Renaissance, 1954–1958
Beginning in 1954, a second wave of uneasiness about nuclear weapons swept around the world. The rapid development of the hydrogen bomb—a weapon with a thousand times the power of the bomb that had destroyed Hiroshima— revived the idea that humanity was teetering on the brink of disaster. Atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, particularly, stimulated public concern. They scattered clouds of radioactive debris around the globe and, furthermore, symbolized the looming horror of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear war. Deeply disturbed by the nuclear arms race, prominent individuals issued eloquent warnings, banthe-bomb organizations waged nuclear disarmament campaigns, and public opinion turned in an antinuclear direction. And these developments had important consequences.
Not until 1954 did nuclear testing deeply impress itself on public consciousness. The turning point was the first U.S. H-bomb test, conducted by the AEC on March 1, 1954. It occurred on Bikini atoll, located in the Marshall islands. The AEC had staked out a danger zone roughly the size of New England around the test site. But the blast proved to be more than twice as powerful as planned and generated vast quantities of highly radioactive debris. Within a short time, heavy doses of this nuclear fallout descended on four inhabited islands of the Marshall grouping—all outside the danger zone—prompting U.S. officials to evacuate 28 Americans working at a U.S. weather station and, days later, 236 Marshallese. The Americans went relatively unscathed, but the Marshall islanders soon developed low blood counts, skin lesions, and hemorrhages under the skin and ultimately suffered a heavy incidence of radiation-linked illnesses, including thyroid cancer and leukemia.