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Bikini Atoll submitted for listing as World Heritage Site

Bikini Atoll, the North Pacific site of US nuclear testing 60 years ago and namesake of the swimsuit, has been submitted for listing as a World Heritage Site.

Locals hope the impact of the 12 years of nuclear testing will aid their bid, and in turn bring tourism back to the atoll, which forms part of the Marshall Islands in Micronesia in the North Pacific.

Jack Niedenthal, a spokesman for the people of the Bikini Islands, told The Times that Bikinians believe the “tremendous amount of history” at their former Pacific island home should validate its entry into the World Heritage list.

If approved, he said that it would be one of only a few 20th-century listings to feature on the World Heritage list, which also features sites such as Hiroshima and Auschwitz

“There’s a tremendous amount of history there,” Mr Niedenthal told The Times from his home in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, where the majority of around 4,000 Bikinians live.

“Bikinians believe they really contributed to the good of mankind because the nuclear operations were blown up all over Bikini instead of elsewhere in the world.”

Mr Niedenthal helped draw up the 86-page submission document, which is yet to be approved by Unesco’s World Heritage Programme, along with an Australian consultant Nicole Baker. It would be the first nomination for a north Pacific site.

For inclusion on the World Heritage list a site must have outstanding universal value and transcend national boundaries.

According to Mr Niedenthal, Bikini Atoll fits the criteria because it is the site of the largest hydrogen bomb test by the US and should be considered because it confronted what he describes as “nuclear colonialism”.

The submission states: “Nuclear bomb tests at Bikini Atoll shaped the history of the people of Bikini, the history of the Marshall Islands and the history of the entire world.”

A world heritage nomination involves a multi-level review and Mr Niedenthal said that he does not expect an answer on the Bikini Atoll’s inclusion for at least a year.

Other World Heritage listings with similar confronting values include the Auschwitz Birkenau, the site of the Nazi concentration camp in Poland, and the Genbaku Dome, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, which is the only structure left standing in the area where the first atomic bomb exploded in August 1945.

Bikini Atoll consists of 23 islands surrounding a 229 sq miles (594 sq km) lagoon. Three islands were totally vaporised during the nuclear tests.

Mr Niedenthal said that Bikinians, who live on the surrounding islands, hope that being included on the World Heritage list – which currently has 828 properties – will help their ailing tourism industry, which ceased in May last year due to high fuel costs and a the collapse of a local airline.

He said that Britons were the second most frequent tourist group to visit the island, after Americans, particularly for wreck diving in the areas around where the bombs were tested.

Mr Niedenthal describes Bikini as the only world-famous place in the Pacific: “It’s got nuclear test buildings, craters and a bathing suit.”

The nuclear-tested islands lent their name to the famous swimsuit after the French designer, Louis Réard, who created the two-piece, declared that his invention would have an explosive impact. His rival had earlier designed a version called “the atom”.


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