Asia/Pacific: Marshall Islands
What’s the conflict all about?
Between 1946 and 1958 the United States conducted 67 atmospheric nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands in Micronesia. One of these tests code-named “Bravo” was undertaken on March 1, 1954, and involved dropping a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb that was 1,000 more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Although local inhabitants had been evacuated before the earlier tests, those living on four tiny atolls were not taken off their islands until four days after the explosion. The radioactive cloud that resulted from that test spread over an area the size of New Jersey.
During the Clinton Administration, a number of documents were declassified that suggest that the Atomic Energy Commission decided after Bravo to use the inhabitants of the atolls as research subjects on the effects of radiation.
What does that really mean for the people?
Whether or not they received treatment, many have suffered from cancer over the years, and many women exposed to radiation have experienced stillbirth, miscarriages and deformities in infants.
How is the U.S. involved?
In 1985, The Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia entered into a Compact of Free Association with the United States. This agreement, in Title II, Section 177(c), expressed that the U.S. government “accepts responsibility for compensation owing to citizens of the Marshall Islands . . . for loss or damage to property and person . . . resulting from the nuclear testing program which the Government . . . conducted in the Northern Marshall Islands between June 30, 1946, and August 18, 1958.”
Section 177 established a $150 million Nuclear Fund, the income from which was to go to the people of the four atolls and for other programs. The Compact also provided for a Claims Tribunal in recognition that not all claims could be known at that time. The Tribunal was to receive $3 million each year from the Nuclear Fund. Section 177 also provided that it constituted full settlement of all claims. However, Article IX of the Compact provided for a “Changed Circumstance” procedure whereby Congress would entertain claims based upon information discovered in the future.
Since 1985, injuries and damages have been discovered or have arisen that were not known at the time of the Compact. In 1993, survivors of the Bravo test petitioned the U.S. government for additional compensation, and the United States agreed to pay $150 million into a trust fund, along with additional amounts to specific groups of survivors. The commission overseeing the fund has awarded more than $1 billion, but less than one percent has been paid, and thousands of claims are pending.
In 2000, pursuant to Article IX, the Republic of the Marshall Islands submitted a petition to Congress “Regarding Changed Circumstances Arising from U.S. Nuclear Testing in the Marshall Islands.” This petition calls for additional compensation measures to be taken by the United States in light of awards already made and in light of new information not available in 1985.
What are the most recent developments?
In December 2003, when President Bush signed an amended Compact of Free Association that extends for another 20 years U.S. funding to the Marshall Islands and to Micronesia, U.S. negotiators of the amended Compact did not address nuclear testing issues. The Bush Administration continues to oppose efforts in Congress to make further compensation awards in response to the petition submitted in 2000.
At a Senate hearing in July, 2005, the U.S. State Department brought suspect evidence that attempted to show that the cancer rates and birth defects are no higher than was first anticipated, and that the petition for “changed circumstances” of continuing and escalating health costs of the Marshallese people was unfounded.
How is the UCC involved?
The UCC and many other church bodies in Washington DC will continue to monitor and put pressure on the U.S. Senate and the State Department to fund the health care needs of the Marshallese.
How can I be involved?
Continue to press Congress and the Administration to pay fully for U.S. actions that have made thousands of islanders exiles in their own radioactive land, with all the accompanying health and social problems. The Pacific Islander and Asian American Ministries of the United Church of Christ has started an online petition, targeting Jeff Bingaman, Senator, U.S. Senate. The petition is called "Justice for Nuclear Survivors." Our goal is to reach 5,000 signatures. Sign the petition now.