Midway between the bottom of Africa and the Princess Astrid Coast of Antarctica, it’s arguably the most solitary piece of real estate on Earth, a lonely pimple jutting out of the gray, heaving seas of the South Atlantic. You could journey to the most remote inhabited spot on Earth, Tristan da Cunha, and you’d still have another 1,000 miles to go to reach Bouvet Island.
Ninety-three percent of it is covered in glacial ice, the rest in penguin guano. It’s an overseas possession of Norway. Other than dispatching a small crew every decade or so to service an automated weather station, Oslo pretty much ignores its forlorn outpost. It would be the perfect spot to test a nuclear bomb from a clandestine nuclear weapons program.
Which, apparently, is what someone did on September 22, 1979. Someone – possibly South Africa or Israel, possibly Taiwan – set off a 2-to-3 kiloton thermonuclear device in the waters off Bouvet Island. It might have gone unnoticed, but the telltale double flash was spotted by the unblinking eye of an American spy satellite and the radiation was detected by Australian scientists in Antarctica. The official position of the U.S. State Department is that it never happened, but the scientific community believes this is a political cover-up.