Early Days, 1954 Part Three – The Nuclear Arms Race and the Bikini

1954 Nuclear Testing 1

“Approximately five hours after detonation, it began to rain radioactive fallout at Rongelap. Within hours, the atoll was covered with a fine, white, powdered-like substance. No one knew it was radioactive fallout.  The children played in the snow. They ate it.” – Statement by Rongelap Atoll Local Government

I confess to finding it an intriguing fact that it was only in 1954, the year that I was born, that Germany and Finland finally made peace and declared the end of the Second World War.  I find that sobering, European conflict was still going on during my early lifetime! There were no serious hostilities or gun-fire of course but I still find that a chilling fact.

While some were making belated peace other countries elsewhere continued preparing enthusiastically for hostilities and in 1954 the United States began serious nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean on the island of Bikini Atoll and they carried out the detonation of a truly massive bomb codenamed Castle Bravo.

The result was rather unexpected. Rather like a bunch of ten year old’s messing with a box of fireworks, they really had little idea what they were doing and when it was detonated it proved much more powerful than any of the boffins responsible for developing it had predicted.  Combined with meteorological factors prevailing at the time (high winds I imagine) it created serious widespread radioactive contamination which even today has prevented people from ever returning to the island and has cost the US taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in on-going compensation payments to the unfortunate islanders that were affected.

Bikini Atoll evacuation


Sadly, it seems to me, military people anywhere don’t mind spending millions of taxpayer’s dollars/pounds/roubles/euros anywhere that suits their inherent belligerent redneck tendencies. Between 1940 and 1996 it is estimated that the United States spent a massive $5.8 trillion on its nuclear arms programme or about $21,000 per US citizen.

Figures as massive as this are impossible to imagine, it is as meaningless as telling me that the Earth is one hundred million miles from the sun when I only drive my car about eight thousand miles each year. It is as meaningless as telling me that UK national debt is rising by two billion pounds each week when I only get £130 a week state pension. It is as meaningless as telling me that the Earth is five billion years old when I struggle to believe that I have reached sixty!

To try and help, someone once calculated if you attempted to count $5.8 trillion at the rate of $1 a second, it would take almost twelve days (non stop) to reach $1 million, nearly thirty-two years to reach $1 billion, thirty-two thousand years to reach $1 trillion and about one hundred and eighty-five thousand years to reach $5.8 trillion.  If after all that time you had counted it correctly you would certainly be guaranteed a job as a bank clerk!

chemistry set

A piece of advice – never trust a scientist – especially a nuclear scientist. With a yield of fifteen Megatons Castle Bravo was the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the USA. The scientists were completely surprised because this far exceeded the calculated yield of four to six megatons, which by any standards is a fairly serious miscalculation.  I would have liked to have been in the control room at the time to see the reaction because if the sky was red the air would certainly have been blue!

This margin of error would mean that man would never have landed on the Moon in 1969 because they would have missed it by several thousand miles and Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin would have travelled further into deep space than the Starship Enterprise;  but then again perhaps man never did go to the Moon!  I previously wrote a post about the hoax here.

As Charlie Croker famously said in the film ‘The Italian Job’ – “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off”

1954 Italian Job

or as Sundance Kid similarly remarked – “Do you think we used enough dynamite there Butch?”

1954 Butch and Sundance

More big figures – to put that into some sort of perspective the bomb was the equivalent of fifteen million tonnes of TNT and was about one thousand two hundred times more powerful than each of the atomic bombs which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

This is what happened in Japan in 1945…

1954 Hiroshima

This isn’t the biggest test bomb ever however because that distinction belongs to the Soviet Union who in 1961 exploded a test version of the biggest bomb ever made, the Tsar nuclear bomb, which was between fifty and sixty megatons, so enormous in fact that no one can be absolutely sure just how powerful it was!

Castle Bravo was important for two reasons, firstly it signified the state of tension in the world called the Cold War (more about that later) that was around for the next thirty years or so which wasn’t such a good thing but secondly and much more importantly it inspired the introduction of the bikini swimsuit and I’ve always been grateful for that.

The new swimsuit pushed at the boundaries of what was previously considered acceptable in respect of flesh exposure.  Devout Catholic countries like Spain banned people from wearing it in public places.  The swimsuit, that was a little more than a provocative brassiere with tiny g-string pants, was invented by a French engineer called Louis Réard and the fashion designer Jacques Heim. It was allegedly named after Bikini Atoll, the site of the weapon tests on the reasoning that the burst of excitement it would cause on the beach or at the lido would be like a nuclear explosion. Plenty of fallout and very hot!

Read here about the War of the Bikini in Benidorm Spain

Thankfully in 1996 the nuclear powers signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty’ and since then only North Korea has continued to test nuclear weapons.

The USA remains the only country to use a nuclear device in a combat situation.

Famous actresses wearing bikinis.  Can you name them? Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

37 responses to “Early Days, 1954 Part Three – The Nuclear Arms Race and the Bikini

  1. Did you ever read my story of how the name petunia came about?

    You can read it here:

    Just search for “petunia” . . . in case you’re wondering, there’s a tie-in to the Bikini Atoll test.


  2. https://youtu.be/IKqXu-5jw60 Here’s the propaganda the US Government posted on the television screens and movie screens in schools in the 1950s. I remember watching it as a kid, thinking surviving a nuclear blast was just this simple. Whew! By the time of the Cuban missile crisis, though, I understood the realities of the atomic bomb much better, and barely could sleep till the USSR and the USA worked out a solution that didn’t involve Armageddon. “Duck and cover” – yeah, sure!


    • Thanks for the link. It is hilarious. About as much use as the ‘brace, brace’ safety instruction on an airline.


      • LOL! Exactly! Remember, duck and cover!


      • I seem to remember that advice in UK was hide in the cupboard under the stairs. I imagine this could have been quite dangerous if the house was blown up because you would be stuck with no chance of escape or rescue. Never mind radiation sickness or third degree burns you would starve to death!


      • That’s how air raid shelters strike me. While there is something to putting as much between you and an explosion as possible, a collapsed building over that shelter could imprison you for what was left of your life, given your building would be just one of many that rescuers had to try to open up. I’m afraid it would be like the battleships sunk at Pearl Harbor at the start of the US involvement in WWII – there were people trapped a.live in the sunken hulls who never were rescued because those trying to rescue them couldn’t cut through to them fast enough. It was slow, tragic, terrible death.


  3. Well, I don’t think we have enough nuclear weapons to feel 100% safe and I will be writing in to Donald to offer our front garden as a place for a secret underground bunker capable of accommodating one ICBM. There would be no rent involved as long as it doesn’t interfere with my parking the car on the drive. An added bonus would be that it might put a stop to all that fracking which is apparently really dangerous for house foundations.


  4. An informative and though provoking post, Andrew. I was 12 in 1954 and this is the first time I have learned of Germany/Finland. I think I got 3,4,5,6,and 8


  5. Diana Dors, Jane Mansfield, Brigitte Bardot, Jane Russel, Marilyn Monroe, how am I doing?


  6. It’s horrifying – I’m not sure how we have managed to survive as long as we have.


  7. Please can we have fewer posts about your memories and more pictures of girls in bikinis?


  8. As a child, I lived near a Defense Research Station in Alberta, Canada where the US did nuclear testing. What better place to test this stuff than the Canadian prairies? I actually saw a mushroom cloud from our ranch. Very scary stuff and I didn’t sleep well for years.


  9. Thank you for including so many interesting facts that I was totally unaware of.
    I recognised a few of the ‘Film Stars’ but not all. It reminded me of a book I was given as a child. It was full of glamorous female stars sporting beach wear, evening gowns and day wear.I had no idea who most of them were but I loved the book and wanted to be these women.

    No one would ever give that type of book to a little girl today, but I do remember showing it to my own daughters so that they could see the film stars from yesteryears. I’ve no idea what happened to the book.


  10. Very interesting! I would have never associated the bikini with such an appalling and tragic event of such proportions. What a strange world we live in!


  11. Talking bombs.. just watched the unabomber series.. interesting man.. 😉


  12. My memory is fading rapidly for names. Can only think of Marilyn Monroe, but doesn’t Bikini 8 bear a striking resemblance to Melanoma Trump?


  13. Would you believe that as a boy I wrote a letter to Jane Russell, after I saw her in a film called The Outlaw I think it was ; and she sent me an autographed photo, the very one you’re showing here?
    I get somewhat confused with the words billion and trillion, I’n not sure waht they mean these days, I thought a billion was a million million, ie 12 zeros, but it’s only 9 now and a trillion was 18 zeros now its 12, I think. not that it worries me, it’s just another way of making everything out to be bigger than it actually is,
    The way things were when I was a boy. at least I think tha’ts how it was.!
    Bugger it I’m going to go get drunk!
    !,000,000 = One million
    1.000,000,000,000 = I billion
    1,000,000,000,000,000,000,= 1 trillion


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