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A Story 50 Years in the Making

A half-century ago, amid the height of the Cold War, the U.S. government almost went through with plans to detonate nuclear bombs a few dozen miles from Point Hope, Alaska, a community just past the northern edge of what would become KNOM’s listening area.

The purpose of the explosions would not have been for warfare but, rather, for large-scale engineering projects. The legacy of this halted plan and what happened instead — what was called Project Chariot — prompted a very unique reporting trip undertaken earlier this summer by outgoing KNOM news volunteer Zachariah Hughes.

Point Hope, Alaska. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KNOM.

Point Hope, Alaska. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KNOM.

In early August, Zach was able to join a small, elite group of journalists who flew to Point Hope and the Project Chariot site, a few dozen miles from the village, as part of a delegation organized by the U.S. Department of Energy. The flight brought Zach to Cape Thompson, the site that, in the 1960s, was slated for the controlled nuclear explosions. The detonations, meant to help create an “Arctic deep draft port,” were halted after extensive public opposition, but — as was revealed decades later, with the declassification of government records — high explosives (non-nuclear) were used at the site, nonetheless.

The Project Chariot site, near Cape Thompson and Point Hope, Alaska. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KNOM.

The Project Chariot site, near Cape Thompson and Point Hope, Alaska. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KNOM.

The government is now taking steps to clean up the site, even as many questions linger within the Point Hope community. Their concerns stem, in part, from the importance of Cape Thompson for traditional subsistence hunting, as well as a long desire to know the full accounting of what happened during Project Chariot, whose records are still being declassified and uncovered. In the words of former Point Hope mayor and experienced whaler Steve Oomittuk, “That Cape Thompson area is very vital to us.” Oomittuk is pictured wearing a traditional mask of Tulaqniqraq, the Raven Man, carved by his brother.

Thanks to you, we were able to bring this fascinating and crucial story to our region — and shed light on the life and complex history of a place (Point Hope) that even KNOM volunteers rarely get to see. We urge you to hear the story yourself.