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Video clip synopsis – The people of Bikini Atoll are still waiting to return home more than 50 years after the United States Navy removed them.
Year of production - 1983
Duration - 4min 14sec
Tags - Bikini Atoll, culture, DIY Doco, energy, environment, indigenous cultures, Marshall Islands, nuclear energy, nuclear weapons, Pacific region, power, self-determination, see all tags


Lifetime in Limbo

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About the Video Clip


A Lifetime in Limbo is an excerpt from the documentary The Marshall Islands – Living with the Bomb, an episode of the six-part series The Human Face of the Pacific, made in 1983.

The Marshall Islands – Living with the Bomb
The people of the Bikini Atoll were removed from their homelands as a result of American testing of nuclear bombs in the Pacific. They now live on another island, dependent on American food and support. They can never go back to Bikini Atoll because it is poisoned beyond the possibility of habitation. This film is a poignant, impressive study of a people whose culture has been vanquished.

The Human Face of the Pacific
This series is composed of six documentaries covering six Pacific nations and territories, giving a wide-ranging view of contemporary Pacific society. It shows the variety of ways of life from subsistence to urbanisation and the challenges from outside to what has been called ‘the Pacific way’.

A Film Australia production in association with Cinema Enterprises.

Curriculum Focus


This Digital Resource can be used to achieve the following Stage 6 Modern History Outcomes:

P1.1 describe the role of key individuals, groups and events of selected studies from the eighteenth century to the present

P1.2 investigate and explain the key features and issues of selected studies from the eighteenth century to the present

P2.1 identify forces and ideas and explain their significance in contributing to change and continuity from the eighteenth century to the present

P3.2 locate, select and organise relevant information from different types of sources

P4.1 use historical terms and concepts appropriately

P4.2 communicate a knowledge and understanding of historical features and issues, using appropriate and well-structured oral and written forms.

Students learn about political, economic, social and technological features of this case study and the impact of change on the Bikini Islanders. They also learn about the forces for change that emerged after WW 2 that led to the US nuclear testing in the Pacific

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more information.

Background Information


After World War 2 the Pacific became a ‘nuclear playground’ as the US, Britain and France conducted atomic and nuclear tests. From 1946, 67 nuclear weapons were exploded in the Marshall Islands. The US claimed that the destructive potential of atomic energy could usher in a new age of peace and an end to world wars.
The traditional inhabitants of Bikini atoll were evacuated on a ‘temporary basis’ in 1946 to make way for the tests. Over the next few years they were relocated to the atolls of Rongerik, Kwajalein, Kili and Jaluit. To this day they still have not been able to resettle permanently on Bikini due to residue levels of radiation appearing in food supplies like coconut and breadfruit.
The biggest and most damaging blast in the Marshall Islands was the H-bomb known as ‘Bravo’ in 1954. Hundreds of times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the fallout and scale of damage was enormous and not predicted by scientists.

By the 1980s, the long-term effects of exposure to radiation had become a very contentious issue. US official findings often diverged from the evidence of the Marshall Islanders but it is clear that the many relocations and the dependence on the United States and its imported foods has produced long term ill-health and anxieties in the population. Confined to a new semi-urban environment, Bikinians fear for the future of their children, who are influenced by American cultural values through television and who no longer know their traditional way of life and culture.
The Bikinians have petitioned for compensation from the US Government because of the damage done to their island homes and the negative impact it has had on their health, life-style and the future of their children.

In 2001, the Nuclear Claims Tribunal determined damages to be paid to Bikinians. There is not enough cash to honour the award and it is left to the Bikinians to petition the US for more money. A decision is expected to take some years. In December 2003, President Bush signed the new Compact of Free Association with Marshall Islands and Micronesia, worth $3.5bn over 20 years.

Despite attempts to clean up the contamination, permanent resettlement on Bikini has not been possible.

Classroom Activities

  1. Investigate the background to the nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands. Find out what the geographic, ideological and political motives were for the testing done by the United States.
  2. Apart from the Marshall Islands – where else in the Pacific was nuclear testing carried out?
  3. After watching this video clip record what you see as the problems for the Bikini Islanders today. Consider whether you believe the US authorities would have anticipated such problems for the Bikini islanders into the twenty-first century.

Further Resources


Go to Pacific Stories Learning for Interactive Compass Map with facts about the Pacific region.

For interview transcripts, books and references for this Digital Resource go to Pacific Stories, choose Living with the Bomb, select INDEX, and go to MORE INFORMATION.