Suit seeks restored health benefits for Pacific migrants

August 25, 2010 

The Honolulu Star Advertiser reports that Pacific islanders from nations that have Compacts of Free Association (COFA) with the U.S. living in Hawai’i are suing to restore health care benefits for these Micronesian residents who need critical care that would be denied under the separate and unequal “Basic Health Hawaii” plan created for COFA residents. The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of creating an unequal health benefit for this group. The article reports that the COFA islanders have a unique status within the U.S.:

Basic Health Hawaii, which went into effect in July, is a reduced benefits package created mostly for Compact of Free Association migrants. Residents of the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Marshall Islands and Palau can travel freely in the U.S. due to a 1986 federal agreement. In turn, the island nations gave the U.S. strategic military rights.

The federal government reimburses those states and territories most affected by migrants from the COFA islands for some of the cost of health, education and social services:

Under the Compact of Free Association, Hawaii, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa share $30 million in funding to alleviate the burden the migrants may place on health, educational, social or public-sector services.

Guam has the largest share of the pot, with $16.8 million. Hawaii has $11.2 million, all dedicated to “supplement state funds to support indigent health care,” according to the U.S. Office of Insular Affairs.

That is not enough for the state, which spends up to $50 million a year on medical assistance for migrants, said state Human Services Director Lillian Koller during a July interview with the Star-Advertiser, after the plan went into effect. The state spends about $130 million a year on total public services to migrants.

What’s not mentioned is that many of the Micronesians in Hawai’i are survivors of the 67 nuclear and atomic tests conducted by the U.S. in the Marshall Islands and are suffering the effects of those blasts. Furthermore, few people understand that the U.S. intentionally stunted the development of the Micronesian island states in order to keep them dependent and loyal to the U.S. in the post-WWII period.  The entire north Pacific is a U.S. colony in that sense.



Suit seeks restored health benefits for Pacific migrants

By Gene Park

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 24, 2010

Dialysis patient Manuel Sound needs 11 prescriptions for medication. Each month, he’s able to fill four.

He’s grateful that he’s allowed dialysis care under the recent Basic Health Hawaii plan, a state-funded plan that has been reduced after a compromise with the community it is targeted for: Compact of Free Association migrants. But it still limits his care.

“I need medication for high blood pressure. I need medication for cholesterol. I need medication for diabetes,” said the 70-year-old Kalihi resident, who moved to Hawaii from Chuuk eight years ago. “I have to talk to my doctor about cutting down on the medication, because sooner or later I won’t be able to afford it anymore.”

A class-action federal lawsuit was filed yesterday in an attempt to restore health benefits to Sound and about 7,500 Pacific island migrants in Hawaii.

Basic Health Hawaii, which went into effect in July, is a reduced benefits package created mostly for Compact of Free Association migrants. Residents of the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Marshall Islands and Palau can travel freely in the U.S. due to a 1986 federal agreement. In turn, the island nations gave the U.S. strategic military rights.

The state had initial plans for bigger cuts to benefits, including not covering lifesaving dialysis and chemotherapy treatments. A federal lawsuit from the migrant community, of which Sound was a main plaintiff, forced the state back to the drawing board.

A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on the state’s previous plan. Chemotherapy is now provided as part of the drug benefits in the current plan, while dialysis will be covered as a federally funded emergency service.

THE CRUX of the new lawsuit’s argument questions the constitutionality of providing inferior benefits due to immigrant status and duration of U.S. residency. The suit also alleges a violation of the American with Disabilities Act in that it forces migrants with disabilities to seek care in a hospital setting. It was filed by Lawyers for Equal Justice and firms Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing and Bronster Hoshibata.

“The state of Hawaii may not discriminate on the basis of national origin,” said Margery Bronster, a partner with Bronster Hoshibata and former state attorney general. “Once the U.S. government allowed COFA residents free access to the U.S., no state could limit those rights.”

State human services officials had not seen the lawsuit as of yesterday afternoon. Department of Human Services spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said officials will read the complaint before issuing any statements.

Under the Compact of Free Association, Hawaii, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa share $30 million in funding to alleviate the burden the migrants may place on health, educational, social or public-sector services.

Guam has the largest share of the pot, with $16.8 million. Hawaii has $11.2 million, all dedicated to “supplement state funds to support indigent health care,” according to the U.S. Office of Insular Affairs.

That is not enough for the state, which spends up to $50 million a year on medical assistance for migrants, said state Human Services Director Lillian Koller during a July interview with the Star-Advertiser, after the plan went into effect. The state spends about $130 million a year on total public services to migrants.

“There was no serious effort made to try to help Hawaii deal with this burden for so many years,” Koller said. “The little bit we get now doesn’t even come close to what the costs are. It shows a real lack of political will.”

Without the reduced benefits plan, which would save the state up to $15 million a year, layoffs and program cuts could occur, Koller said. The benefits should be funded in full by the federal government, she said.

“We are doing the best we can. We do care about all people who live here,” Koller said, “but we have not been able to garner the help we need to offer what these people deserve.”

Koller and Gov. Linda Lingle have made numerous requests for more funding, to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka.

“Many of these migrants arrive with health conditions that require costly and extensive treatment,” Lingle wrote in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in February. “They also arrive without adequate financial resources and without enough education or training to help them in obtaining employment. … The compact clearly provides that ‘it is not the intent of Congress to cause any adverse consequences for an affected jurisdiction.’”

Hawaii’s congressional delegation did gain the potential to bring in a so-called disproportionate- share allowance to local hospitals. The allowance is $2.5 million per quarter through December 2011.

“They have secured some significant federal resources to pay for uncompensated care provided in Hawaii hospitals that could be used to provide services for compact migrants,” said Inouye’s spokesman, Peter Boylan. “However, the state needs to release the necessary matching resources.”


The Basic Health Hawaii plan, administered by AlohaCare, Hawaii Medical Service Association and Kaiser Permanente, offers four medications a month, including brand-name chemotherapy drugs, and provides the following annually:

» Twelve outpatient doctor visits

» Ten hospital days

» Six mental health visits

» Three procedures

» Emergency dental and medical care, including kidney dialysis

NPR story on America’s H-bomb explosion in space

July 5, 2010 

Check out this scary story from NPR about the atmospheric nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. from Kalama (Johnston Atoll) approximately 800 miles from O’ahu.   I have heard stories of people watching the “light show”.   I wonder what the fallout may have been and if it had health affects.

There were several nuclear test shots from Kalama that were aborted on launch.  One, I think it was Sunfish Prime, exploded on the launch pad and scattered highly toxic and radioactive plutonium across the island and into the lagoon.  The military scraped up all the contaminated coral and created a landfill.  As its “permanent” disposal solution, the military buried the plutonium contaminated wasted in an unlined pit and covered it with crushed coral.  Plutonium has a half-life of 24,100 years, which means it remains “hot” for a very long time.     Since most of Kalama was built with fill to accommodate the military activities, it is very prone to erosion.  The military estimated the sea will breach the landfill  in 50 – 100 years, scattering plutonium into the sea.

Go to the NPR website and watch the video clip of the nuclear “light show”.   Eerie and frightening.


A Very Scary Light Show: Exploding H-Bombs In Space

by Robert Krulwich

July 1, 2010

Since we’re coming up on the Fourth of July, and towns everywhere are preparing their better-than-ever fireworks spectaculars, we would like to offer this humbling bit of history. Back in the summer of 1962, the U.S. blew up a hydrogen bomb in outer space, some 250 miles above the Pacific Ocean. It was a weapons test, but one that created a man-made light show that has never been equaled — and hopefully never will. Here it is:

Source: NPR

Credit: Reporter: Robert Krulwich, Producers: Jessica Goldstein, Maggie Starbard Supervising producers: Vikki Valentine, Alison Richards Production Assistant: Ellen Webber Researcher: Meagen Voss

(Some of the images in this video were until recently top secret. Peter Kuran of Visual Concept Entertainment collected them for his documentary Nukes In Space.)

If you are wondering why anybody would deliberately detonate an H-bomb in space, the answer comes from a conversation we had with science historian James Fleming of Colby College:

“Well, I think a good entry point to the story is May 1, 1958, when James Van Allen, the space scientist, stands in front of the National Academy in Washington, D.C., and announces that they’ve just discovered something new about the planet,” he told us.

Van Allen described how the Earth is surrounded by belts of high-energy particles — mainly protons and electrons — that are held in place by the magnetic fields.

Today these radiation belts are called Van Allen belts. Now comes the surprise: While looking through the Van Allen papers at the University of Iowa to prepare a Van Allen biography, Fleming discovered “that [the] very same day after the press conference, [Van Allen] agreed with the military to get involved with a project to set off atomic bombs in the magnetosphere to see if they could disrupt it.”

Discover It, Then Blow It Up

The plan was to send rockets hundreds of miles up, higher than the Earth’s atmosphere, and then detonate nuclear weapons to see: a) If a bomb’s radiation would make it harder to see what was up there (like incoming Russian missiles!); b) If an explosion would do any damage to objects nearby; c) If the Van Allen belts would move a blast down the bands to an earthly target (Moscow! for example); and — most peculiar — d) if a man-made explosion might “alter” the natural shape of the belts.

The scientific basis for these proposals is not clear. Fleming is trying to figure out if Van Allen had any theoretical reason to suppose the military could use the Van Allen belts to attack a hostile nation. He supposes that at the height of the Cold War, the most pressing argument for a military experiment was, “if we don’t do it, the Russians will.” And, indeed, the Russians did test atomic bombs and hydrogen bombs in space.

In any case, says the science history professor, “this is the first occasion I’ve ever discovered where someone discovered something and immediately decided to blow it up.”

Code Name: Starfish Prime

The Americans launched their first atomic nuclear tests above the Earth’s atmosphere in 1958. Atom bombs had little effect on the magnetosphere, but the hydrogen bomb of July 9, 1962, did. Code-named “Starfish Prime” by the military, it literally created an artificial extension of the Van Allen belts that could be seen across the Pacific Ocean, from Hawaii to New Zealand.

In Honolulu, the explosions were front page news. “N-Blast Tonight May Be Dazzling: Good View Likely,” said the Honolulu Advertiser. Hotels held what they called “Rainbow Bomb Parties” on rooftops and verandas. When the bomb burst, people told of blackouts and strange electrical malfunctions, like garage doors opening and closing on their own. But the big show was in the sky.

To hear eyewitness accounts of what it looked like, listen to our broadcast on All Things Considered by clicking the Listen button on the top of this page.

Why Starfish Prime Created Rainbow Skies

To understand where the colors come from in Starfish Prime, you first have to know a little bit about Earth’s atmosphere. Nitrogen and oxygen are the two most abundant gases in our air. The concentration of each gas is different depending on the altitude.

When Starfish Prime detonated, charged particles — electrons — were released from the explosion. According to NASA astrophysicist David Sibeck, those particles came streaming down through the Earth’s atmosphere, energizing oxygen and nitrogen atoms, causing them to glow in different colors.

But why?

As electrons collide with the atoms, energy is transferred to the atoms. After holding onto it for a moment, the excess energy is released as light. When many excited atoms release energy together, the light is visible to the naked eye. Depending on the type of atom and the number of atoms, you get different colors.

It’s similar to what causes the aurora borealis, although those electrons are coming from the solar wind pounding into Earth. The electrons first encounter a high concentration of oxygen at the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, causing the atoms to release a red light. Then green appears as the electrons travel to lower altitudes where there are fewer oxygen atoms. Even lower, where more nitrogen atoms are present, the collisions throw off a blue light.

But in the Starfish Prime explosion, charged particles went in every direction. That’s why you see the sky filled with a rainbow of colors nearly all at once in the footage. — Meagen Voss

Nuclear survivors worry as U.S. presses for resettlement

March 2, 2010

N-test affected islanders worry as US presses for resettlement

Tuesday, 02 March 2010 00:00 By Giff Johnson – For Variety

MAJURO — Fifty-six years after an American hydrogen bomb blast in the Pacific exposed hundreds of people to radioactive fallout, the U.S. Congress is pressing islanders to return home by next year.

March 1 is a national holiday that recognizes Nuclear Victims Day in the Marshall Islands. This year, which marks the 25th year since Rongelap Islanders’ self-evacuated their radioactive islands, islanders are facing a U.S. ultimatum: move back to Rongelap in 2011 or face cutoff of funding support for the “temporary” community at Mejatto Island in Kwajalein Atoll, where about 400 islanders have lived since their 1985 evacuation.


“I don’t want to return to Rongelap,” said Lemeyo Abon, a Rongelap survivor of the U.S. nuclear testing era who turns 70 on July 5. “I am afraid,” she said in reaction to the U.S. Congress’ push to have Rongelap resettled by 2011. “If we go back it will be our death — is it the United States intention to eliminate us?”

The U.S. provided Rongelap Atoll Local Government with a $45 million resettlement trust fund to finance cleanup and rehabilitation work on Rongelap Island when studies after the islanders evacuated showed the atoll still contained high levels of radioactivity. Since 2000, the atoll’s local government has built a power plant, installed water-making equipment, paved roads and has completed nine of a planned 50 homes for a future resettlement. Following advice of U.S. government scientists, land where community facilities and homes are located has had the top 15 inches of top soil scraped off and replaced by crush coral rocks, and land with food crops such as coconut trees has been doused with potassium fertilizer to block uptake of radioactive cesium-137 by the roots.


With millions of dollars invested in the cleanup of Rongelap, U.S. congressional leaders want to see Rongelap resettled and the “temporary” home of Mejatto closed by the end of next year. Last October, six leading U.S. senators and representatives issued a letter to the Interior Department critical of the slow pace of resettlement. The letter also directed the Interior Department to withhold partial funding for Rongelap Atoll Local Government for the current fiscal year until it submitted a report on the resettlement to the Congress.

Allen Stayman, staff to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman who was a signer of the letter, said that “it is important to note that (the letter) was sent last October. Since then, congressional staff has had good communications with local government representatives and a target date for completion of resettlement and the closure of the facilities at Mejatto is to be set for the end of the next fiscal year, or October 1, 2011.”

Ongoing support

The U.S. Department of Energy is set to provide ongoing monitoring and support. “The DOE’s position is we support resettlement if the atoll wants to do it,” said Patricia Worthington, who heads the Office of Health and Safety in Washington.

While Rongelap local government is pressing ahead with building 40 more homes this year and next, Mayor James Matayoshi said Rongelap Islanders living on Mejatto have always wanted to return to their home islands, but questions about radiation safety continue to linger — despite U.S. government assurances of safety.


If contaminated soil around housing and community facilities is combined with potassium fertilizer treatment of agriculture areas, “the natural background dose plus the nuclear-test-related dose at Rongelap would be less than the usual background dose in the United States and Europe,” said Dr. Terry Hamilton of the California-based Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in mid-February.

“It is very hard for me to trust and believe any word that is said by Americans after what the United States and the Department of Energy has done to us,” said Abon. “What they did to us is criminal.”

When the 15-megaton Bravo test was detonated in 1954, no warning was given to people on Rongelap and other downwind islands. A snowstorm of radioactivity exposed unsuspecting Rongelap islanders to a near lethal dose of radiation, causing vomiting, skin burns and their hair to fall out — classic symptoms of high-level radiation exposure. In 1998, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control Radiation Studies Branch report on the Marshall Islands said that the 67 U.S. nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands spewed out 150 times more radioactive-iodine 131 than the 1986 reactive accident at Chernobyl. The majority of islanders exposed in 1954 have had thyroid tumors and cancers.

High spirits

Rongelap’s local government is not ignoring the U.S. insistence on resettlement, but a resettlement appears unlikely in 18 months. “People are in high spirits about the possibility of resettling,” Matayoshi said. “But the practicalities are the challenge now.”

Rongelap islanders left in 1985 fearing radiation exposure, which subsequent independent studies confirmed. While there are more than 60 small islands in the atoll, many of which are used for food gathering, the nuclear cleanup work has focused only on the main island. For Matayoshi, a successful resettlement revolves around U.S. commitments to Rongelap to provide safeguards and assurances, and people’s acceptance of these assurances.

DOE’s Worthington said their department wants to partner with Rongelap Atoll Local Government to set up a monitoring program in order to reconfirm the decision made to resettle or to make any adjustments needed. Monitoring will involve doing “whole body counts” for people before they go back and then once they return and continuing in an ongoing manner to maintain assurance of safety, she said. A whole body counter checks for cesium-137 uptake, providing the person being monitored with information within 15 minutes.


But Abon sees resettlement of Rongelap Atoll as “impossible” because only a small part of the atoll has had its nuclear contamination cleaned, while the population has grown significantly, meaning they need to use more islands to comfortably resettle.

Availability of imported food, needed to reduce intake of cesium-137 from staple crops such as coconuts, breadfruit and pandanus, is also a big worry to islanders.

“I foresee problems with provisioning the island because Rongelap is so far away from the centers,” said Abon. Remote islands in this western Pacific nation that are scattered over 750,000 square miles of ocean area receive government ship visits once every three-to-four months. Abon said that unlike the other outer island communities, if a ship is delayed to Rongelap, islanders should not eat from the land. “We will be forced to eat off the land. The poison is there even if you can’t taste, smell or see it,” warns Abon.

Matayoshi, whose mother was on Rongelap during the Bravo fallout, believes that the people’s “livelihood will be well-served living on Rongelap because of the convenience and benefits (of power, water and housing) and their access to freedom as the owners of the atoll.”

He adds, however, “We are not forcing anyone to take our view. We’ll lay out what is possible, what the options are and the consequences if we continue to delay the resettlement process.”

56th ‘BRAVO’ Nuclear Survivors Remembrance Day

February 25, 2010 

Nuclear Survivors Remembrance Day


March 1, 2010

56th anniversary of the ‘Bravo’ nuclear blast

Hawaii State Capitol Rotunda

10:00 am – 1:00 pm

All are invited to this solemn commemoration of the ‘Bravo’ nuclear test in remembrance of the survivors of the 67 nuclear blasts conducted by the U.S. in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958. This occasion marks the 56th year since Marshallese people on Rongelap and Utrok atolls were exposed to radioactive fallout from the U.S. hydrogen bomb test code-named ‘Bravo’. Bravo’ was 1000 times more powerful than the A-bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. The radioactive legacy of the U.S. nuclear tests conducted in the Marshall Islands continues to wreak havoc on the health of Marshallese  people and all Micronesians.

Special invited guests include the Honorable Jurelang Zedkaia, President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (to be confirmed) and retired UH Professor Beverly Keever, author of News Zero.  Survivors will tell their stories, and allies will share their thoughts.

Coordinated by RMI Consulate Office and ERUB II (Enewetak, Rongelap, Utrok and Bikini, the 4 atolls that were directly impacted by the U.S. military nuclear test program in 1946-1958).

For more information call the RMI Consulate office 808-545-7767, Gloria Heine 808-953-8807 or ERUB II: 808-224-6402

Download the poster for the 56th Nuclear Survivors Remembrance Day

Plans to cut health care for Micronesians will endanger lives

January 26, 2010

Planned cuts could risk health of Micronesians

By Gary T. Kubota

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 26, 2010

A proposed cut in the state government’s medical assistance to Micronesians could mean some of them will die as a result, the state was told yesterday during a public hearing.

Health experts also raised questions about the long-term savings when preventive measures are denied to a group of Micronesians who choose to live in Hawaii but are unable to afford medical insurance and must be covered by the state’s Quest program.

“The state will not likely save money if it proceeds with this plan,” said Dr. Neal Palafox, chairman of family medicine and community health at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine.

Palafox, who said he was speaking as an individual, said taking away health care that prevents illnesses will increase the likelihood of health complications for Micronesians, who are prone to certain diseases, including diabetes.

Palafox said the state’s estimated population of Micronesians in Hawaii was 13,000, far below other reports of 17,000 to 20,000.

He said he had not seen state health officials present an analysis of the change’s impact.

More than 110 people attended the public hearing at the state’s Liliuokalani Building yesterday.

Under a Compact of Free Association signed by the federal government, residents of Palau, the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia are allowed to work and reside in the United States.

Micronesians say their islands do not have the high level of medical services available in Hawaii.

State health officials said Hawaii receives $11 million from the federal government for all services provided to Micronesians, while spending an average of $120 million annually. The proposal aims to save up to $8 million a year.

Faced with a tight budget, health officials have proposed keeping state medical assistance for Micronesians who are under the age of 19 or pregnant.

But the proposal cuts medical services for other Micronesians in Hawaii, except in the event of emergencies.

The proposal is to transfer 7,000 adult noncitizens from Quest into a new Basic Health Hawaii Program.

Manuel Sound, 70, a former lieutenant governor of the Federated States of Micronesia, said if he misses too many dialysis treatments, he will be dead.

Sound said Micronesians have been affected by U.S. nuclear tests done from 1946 to 1958 and have high rates of kidney and heart disease.

He said he felt the state was picking on Micronesians.

“This is really unfair,” he said. “This is discrimination.”

Masae Kintaro said the U.S. military recruits Micronesians to serve in wars, including her husband, who died fighting in Vietnam.

“He didn’t die for American citizens only. He died for our people,” she said.

Micronesians fight for health care

September 7, 2009 


Pacific immigrants face a death panel of their own.

by Alan D. McNarie

Sep 2, 2009

Retired cook Calvin Nelson says that when he came to Hawaii from Kwajalein after the United States had seized his home for a new missile range, he was told, “everything will be covered.” But 20 years later, he learned that a new health program that the state government was issuing for himself and thousands of other Micronesian immigrants wouldn’t pay for the kidney dialysis that kept him alive.

He vowed that if that happened, he would go back and reclaim his home on the missile range.

“Well, I guess I don’t have any choice but to go home and to go to heaven. There’s no other way for me to receive treatment,” he told the Weekly.

Trucy James was in a similar situation, except there was no home left for her to return to. It was destroyed in a nuclear bomb blast-one of 67 such nuclear tests that devastated much of the island chain. Now, like Nelson, she faced a cutoff of her dialysis, without which both would be dead in a matter of days.

Nelson, James and approximately 108 other legal Micronesian immigrants on dialysis got a last-minute reprieve from the governor on August 31, when Senior Policy Advisor Linda Schmidt and Health and Human Services Director William Koller told a group of Micronesian protestors outside Lingle’s office that their kidney dialysis would be covered for the next two years.

Not so lucky, perhaps, were 130-160 Micronesians, including Marshallese nuclear test refugees, who need radiation therapy or chemotherapy for cancer. According to a Health and Human Services press release, the dialysis patients could be treated because Federal courts had ruled dialysis an “emergency treatment” and the Federal government would eventually reimburse the State for such treatment-but “We cannot cover chemotherapy in the same way because the Federal Government does not consider it an emergency.”

“We are working with the American Cancer Society and other providers to find a way to continue chemo treatments,” said the press release. Queens Medical Center said Tuesday it will continue to treat Micronesian cancer patients at no cost, for now.

Hundreds of Micronesian immigrants may lose their benefits entirely, because they didn’t file the proper paperwork on time.

Who pays?

At the heart of the Micronesian health crisis is the state’s budget crunch and a dispute between the U.S. and the State over who should foot the bill for the immigrants. The U.S. is obligated to provide for Micronesian immigrants’ health needs under the Compact of Free Associations, which guarantees residents of the former U.S. Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands access to some U.S. domestic programs and services in exchange for military concessions from the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Palau and Republic of the Marshall Islands-including the missile range at Kwajalein. Under COFA, the federal government also divides $30 million of “Compact Impact” money annually among Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands to help defray the cost of providing services to Micronesian immigrants. The Lingle administration maintains that it spent over $101 million to provide such services in 2007, but only got $11 million in Compact Impact payments from the U.S. government.

In response to this gap, the Lingle administration is removing Micronesian immigrants over the age of 18 from a program that provided the equivalent of QUEST (Medicaid) coverage, and is enrolling them instead under a new program called “Basic Care Hawaii,” which provides only a fraction of the former coverage. The administration claims it will save $15 million dollars by making the change. Critics contend, however, the change will force the immigrants be forced to use hospital emergency rooms instead of their former health care providers, thus straining the ER’s ability to provide services to all residents.

From Eniwetok to Ocean View

Particularly hard-hit may be the Big Island-especially the rural district of Kau, where relatively cheap land prices and rental costs have lured thousands of Micronesians. According to Dr. Keola G. K. Dowling, who serves as Care Coordinator for COFA Immigrants at the Big Island’s nonprofit Bay Clinics, the island holds 2,000-3,000 Marshallese, 3,000 Chuukese, 1,500 Kosraeans, 150-300 Yapese, 1,500-1,800 Pohnapeians, and 200 Palauans. But Dowling believes those estimates are low. He says more than a thousand Marshallese reside in the remote Kau community of Ocean View alone.

“Almost all of the Eniwetok refugees live there,” he says. “Some Bikinians too. They definitely consider themselves nuclear refugees.”

The U.S. Eniwetok and Bikini were used as nuclear testing grounds, setting off 67 open-air atomic and hydrogen bomb blasts that equaled, Dowling says, “1.7 hiroshima-sized bombs every morning 12 years…One of the islands in their homeland was turned into white light. It was vaporized.”

“Of 160 Micronesians who are under chemotherapy in Hawaii, most of them are from the Marshall Islands, and most of those came from where they blasted those bombs on Eniwetok and Bikini,” Dowling notes.

Bureaucracy vs. culture

The Micronesians’ supporters also claim that many immigrants didn’t know to register for the new program, thanks to a combination of cross-cultural difficulties and poor government planning.

“Their exposure to bureaucratic systems and the necessity of doing paperwork has been pretty limited,” says retired UH-Hilo Professor Craig Severance, who has lived in Micronesia and who wrote a letter to Lingle supporting a delay in the implementation of the new program. He notes that while “Those that have been here for a while are well adjusted,” newcomers from the outer islands have trouble with bureaucracy, and “part of the trouble is not so much their fault as it is the agencies…It’s the responsibility of the agencies to make that transition easy, and not difficult. It’s also to make the translation and the communication of expectations clear, rather than simply stereotyping all Micronesians as being the same.”

When members and supporters of Micronesians United called an ad hoc to discuss the health crisis, some participants brought stories of immigrants who were stymied in their efforts to get their paperwork in for the transition, because they were referred to automated phone services that were either entirely in English or were so badly translated that Marshallese islanders didn’t recognize the reputed Marshallese phone recordings as their own language.

“A lot of them that did call them said that the recording was automated and ‘We didn’t understand it, says Leilani Resureccion of the nonprofit Alii’s Hale, which works with Pacific islanders in Kau. “If you don’t get your form in, then you will lose your health care for yourself and for your family.”

Both Severance and Resureccion note that state law requires the government to supply translators for those who need them.

But translation wasn’t the only problem. Ocean View has no post office. Many of the immigrants get their mail at post office boxes in Kona, 40-plus miles away, and many do not have cars, so they don’t often check their boxes often. So many may not have gotten the notification letters and forms that were mailed out.

Resureccion notes that the Marshallese are a “very communal” people and that the best way to get the word out was through meetings.

“Did the health workers actually come out here and hold meetings to inform them of the change?” she asks rhetorically. “You know what the answer is? No.”

So the Lingle administration may save even more money than it anticipated, by dropping many members from its health care rolls entirely.


Participants at the August 31 meeting accused the Lingle administration of achieving the savings it claimed by essentially cream-skimming-keeping Micronesian patients who were unlikely to cost much and dumping high-expense, chronic care patients. One noted that the State of Hawaii was probably actually making a profit off under-18 Micronesians, who required little health care.

“Migrants under 18 are not being taken off of Quest because they get two-for-one matching funds from the Feds,” he claimed.

Downing also notes that the Lingle Administration could have saved money simply by reducing bureaucratic waste. He notes, for instance that both Bay Clinics and another organization got grants to do redundant studies of the immigrants’ needs.

“There was a third entity called the COFA task force, and they had very big funding. As far as I know, they’ve never published anything of what they did,” he adds.

PR problem

On top of their bureaucratic woes, Micronesians in Hawaii are also battling the same image problems that many immigrant groups face. When the Honolulu Advertiser ran a story about the health care crisis, online comments ran heavily in favor of the cuts; many of those commented made remarks to the effect that the Micronesians were freeloading.

That’s far from the truth, according to their supporters. Resurecion says that in Kau, many of the Micronesians work as macadamia nut and coffee harvesters.

“Most of the Micronesians we know are working and some of them are working in professional capacities,” says Severance.

Downing agrees.

“We do not want people ever to be saying of Micronesians that they were victims.”


Dahr Jamail: Destroying Indigenous Populations

June 20, 2009 

Truthout Original

Destroying Indigenous Populations

Saturday 20 June 2009

by: Dahr Jamail, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

The Fort Laramie Treaty once guaranteed the Sioux Nation the right to a large area of their original land, which spanned several states and included their sacred Black Hills, where they were to have “the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation” of the land.

However, when gold was discovered in the Black Hills, President Ulysses S. Grant told the army to look the other way in order to allow gold miners to enter the territory. After repeated violations of the exclusive rights to the land by gold prospectors and by migrant workers crossing the reservation borders, the US government seized the Black Hills land in 1877.

Charmaine White Face, an Oglala Tetuwan who lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation, is the spokesperson for the Teton Sioux Nation Treaty Council (TSNTC), established in 1893 to uphold the terms of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868. She is also coordinator of the voluntary group, Defenders of the Black Hills, that works to preserve and protect the environment where they live.

“We call gold the metal which makes men crazy,” White Face told Truthout while in New York to attend the annual Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the United Nations in late May. “Knowing they could not conquer us like they wanted to … because when you are fighting for your life, or the life of your family, you will do anything you can … or fighting for someplace sacred like the Black Hills you will do whatever you can … so they had to put us in prisoner of war camps. I come from POW camp 344, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. We want our treaties upheld, we want our land back.”

Most of the Sioux’s land has been taken, and what remains has been laid waste by radioactive pollution.

“Nothing grows in these areas – nothing can grow. They are too radioactive,” White Face said.

Although the Black Hills and adjoining areas are sacred to the indigenous peoples and nations of the region, their attempts at reclamation are not based on religious claims but on the provisions of the Constitution. The occupation of indigenous land by the US government is in direct violation of its own law, according to White Face.

She references Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution: “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

The spokesperson for the TSNTC declares, “We need our treaty upheld. We want it back. Without it we are disappearing. They might have made us into brown Americans who speak the English language and eat a different kind of food, and are not able to live with the buffalo like we are supposed to, but that is like a lion in a cage. You can feed it and it will reproduce, but it is only a real lion when it gets its freedom and can be who it’s supposed to be. That’s how we are. We are like that lion in a cage. We are not free right now. We need to be able to govern ourselves the way we did before.”

Delegations from the TSNTC began their efforts in the United Nations in 1984 after exhausting all strategies for solution within the United States.

Homeland Contamination

There is uranium all around the Black Hills, South and North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. Mining companies came in and dug large holes through these lands to extract uranium in the 1950′s and 1960′s prior to any prohibitive regulations. Abandoned uranium mines in southwestern South Dakota number 142. In the Cave Hills area, another sacred place in South Dakota used for vision quests and burial sites, there are 89 abandoned uranium mines.

In an essay called “Native North America: The Political Economy of Radioactive Colonialism,” political activists Ward Churchill and Winona LaDuke state that former US President Richard Nixon declared the 1868 Treaty Territory a “National Sacrifice Area,” implying that the territory, and its people, were being sacrificed to uranium and nuclear radiation.

The worst part, according to White Face, is that, “None of these abandoned mines have been marked. They never filled them up, they never capped them. There are no warning signs … nothing. The Forest Service even advertises the Picnic Springs Campground as a tourist place. It’s about a mile away from the Cave Hills uranium mines.”

The region is honeycombed with exploratory wells that have been dug as far down as six to eight hundred feet. In the southwestern Black Hills area, there are more than 4,000 uranium exploratory wells. On the Wyoming side of the Black Hills, there are 3,000 wells. Further north into North Dakota, there are more than a thousand wells.

The Black Hills and its surroundings are the recharge area for several major aquifers in the South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming regions. The crisis can be gauged from the simple description that White Face gives: “When the winds come, they pick up the [uranium] dust and carry it; when it rains or snows, it washes it down into the aquifers and groundwater. Much of this radioactive contamination then finds its way into the Missouri River.”

She informs us that twelve residents out of about 600 of the sparsely populated county of Cave Hills have developed brain tumors. A nuclear physicist has declared one mine in the area to be as radioactively “hot” as ground zero of Hiroshima.

Red Shirt, a village along the Cheyenne River on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, has had its water tested high for radiation and local animals have died after consuming fish from the river.

After three daughters of a family and their mother died of cancer, a family requested White Face to have the municipal water tested. The radiation levels were found to be equal to those inside an x-ray machine. Little wonder then that the surviving sons and their father are afflicted with the disease. People procuring their grain and cattle from the region are advised to be extra cautious.

One cannot but feel the desperation of her people when White Face bemoans, “It’s pure genocide for us. We are all dying from cancer. We are trying not to become extinct, not to let the Great Sioux Nation become extinct.”

The Ogala Sioux are engaged in ongoing legal battles with the pro-uranium state of South Dakota. They are aware of the unequal nature of their battle, but they cannot afford to give up. White Face explains how “… Our last court case was lost before learning that the judge was a former lawyer for one of the mining companies. Also, the governor’s sister and brother-in-law work for mining companies [Powertech] and a professor, hired by the Forest Service to test water run-off for contamination, is on contract with a company that works for the mining company. When I found out the judge was a lawyer for the mining company I knew we would lose, but we went ahead with the case for the publicity, because we have to keep waking people up.”

Other tribes, such as the Navajo and Hopi in New Mexico, have been exposed to radioactive material as well. Furthermore, the July 16, 1979, spill of 100 million gallons of radioactive water containing uranium tailings from a tailing pond into the north arm of the Rio Puerco, near the small town of Church Rock, New Mexico, also affected indigenous peoples in Arizona.

Her rage and grief are evident as White Face laments, “When we have our prayer gatherings we ask that no young people come to attend. If you want to have children don’t come to Cave Hills because it’s too radioactive.”

The exploitative approach to the planet’s resources and peoples that led to these environmental and health disasters collides with White Face’s values: “I always say that you have to learn to live with the earth, and not in domination of the earth.”

Nuking the Colonies

The US government practices another approach. In occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, the uranium that has caused genocide of sorts at home has proceeded to wreak new havoc.

Two Iraqi NGO’s, the Monitoring Net of Human Rights in Iraq (MHRI) and the Conservation Center of Environment and Reserves in Fallujah (CCERF) have extensively documented the effects of restricted weapons, such as depleted uranium (DU) munitions, against the people of Fallujah during two massive US military assaults on the city in 2004.

In March 2008, the NGO’s were to present a report titled “Prohibited Weapons Crisis: The effects of pollution on the public health in Fallujah” to the 7th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council

Muhammad al-Darraji, director, MHRI and president, CCERF, was to present the report with an appeal, “We are kindly asking the High Commissioner for Human Rights to look at the content of the report in accordance with the General Assembly’s resolution 48/ 141 (paragraph 4) of 20 December 1993, to investigate the serious threat (to the) health right in Fallujah and Iraq, and to relay the results of this investigation to the Commission on Human Rights to take the suitable decisions.”

Attached to the aforementioned is another report co-authored by Dr. Najim Askouri, a nuclear physicist trained in Britain and a leading Iraqi nuclear researcher and Dr. Assad al-Janabi, director of the Pathology Department at the 400-bed public hospital in Najaf. Their report includes a section on the “Depleted Uranium Crisis” from Najaf, 180 miles from where DU was used in the First Gulf War.

Dr. Najim begins the report by noting that Coalition Forces, mostly US, used 350 tons of DU weapons in about 45 days in 1991, primarily in the stretch of Iraq northwest of Kuwait where Iraqi troops were on their retreat. Then, in 2003, during the Shock and Awe bombing of Baghdad, the US used another 150 tons of DU. He says that cancer is spreading from the conflict area as a health epidemic and will only get worse. The cancer rate has more than tripled over the last 16 years in Najaf.

According to Dr. Najim, “When DU hits a target, it aerosolizes and oxidizes, forming a uranium oxide that is two parts UO3 and one part UO2. The first is water soluble and filters down into the water aquifers and also becomes part of the food chain as plants take up the UO3 dissolved in water. The UO2 is insoluble and settles as dust on the surface of the earth and is blown by the winds to other locations. As aerosolized dust, it can enter the lungs and begin to cause problems as it can cross cell walls and even impact the genetic system.”

One of Dr. Najim’s grandsons was born with congenital heart problems, Down Syndrome, an underdeveloped liver and leukemia. He believes that the problems are related to the child’s parents having been exposed to DU.

Detailing a skyrocketing rate of cancer and other pollution-related illnesses among the population of Fallujah since the two sieges, the report states, “Starting in 2004 when the political situation and devastation of the health care infrastructure were at their worst, there were 251 reported cases of cancer. By 2006, when the numbers more accurately reflected the real situation, that figure had risen to 688. Already in 2007, 801 cancer cases have been reported. Those figures portray an incidence rate of 28.21 [per 100,000] by 2006, even after screening out cases that came into the Najaf Hospital from outside the governorate, a number which contrasts with the normal rate of 8-12 cases of cancer per 100,000 people.

“Two observations are striking. One, there has been a dramatic increase in the cancers that are related to radiation exposure, especially the very rare soft tissue sarcoma and leukemia. Two, the age at which cancer begins in an individual has been dropping rapidly, with incidents of breast cancer at 16 (years of age), colon cancer at 8 (years of age), and liposarcoma at 1.5 years (of age).” Dr. Assad noted that 6 percent of the cancers reported occurred in the 11-20 age range and another 18 percent in ages 21-30.

“The importance of this information confirms there is a big disaster in this city…. The main civilian victims of most illnesses were the children, and the rate of them represents 72 percent of total illness cases of 2006, most of them between the ages of 1 month and 12 years…. Many new types and terrible amounts of illnesses started to appear [from] 2006 until now, such as Congenital Spinal cord abnormalities, Congenital Renal abnormalities, Septicemia, Meningitis, Thalassemia, as well as a significant number of undiagnosed cases at different ages. The speed of the appearance these signals of pollution after one year of military operations refers to the use of a great amount of prohibited weapons used in 2004 battles. The continued pollution maybe will lead to a genetic drift, starting to appear with many abnormalities in children, because the problems were related to exposure of the child’s parents to pollution sources and this may lead to more new abnormalities in the f uture. According to the security situation with many checkpoints and irregular cards to allow the civilians to enter or exit the city until now, all this helps to continue the terrible situation for this time. Therefore, we think that all these data is only 50 percent of the real numbers of illnesses.”

The Sioux tell their youth to avoid their radioactive native lands if they wish to procreate and prosper. Those in Iraq have no option but to lead maimed lives in their native land.

On February 4, 2009, Muhammad al-Darraji sent President Barack Obama a letter, along with the aforementioned report. A few excerpts are presented here:

“We have the honor to submit with this letter our report on the effects on public health of prohibited weapons used by the United States during its military operations in Fallujah (March-November 2004). It was our intention to present the report to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations on 4 March 2008, but both security and political reasons played a significant role in making this task impossible. The report, now in your hands, contains vast evidence and documentation on the catastrophic and continuous pollution in Iraq (to prevent) which nobody has taken any real action to help the victims or clean up polluted places. Some months ago, and in June 2008, I sent this report directly to some US congressmen. Two of them went to my town, Fallujah, and visited the general hospital to investigate the claims contained in our report. No substantial result came out of this visit. In February 2009 one of my colleagues, who worked in the hospital’s statistical office and helped gather information about the pollution, was killed by unknown individuals. The blood of my friend is the driving force that led me to write to you directly in order for you to release the facts for which my friend paid with his life. Therefore, we are kindly asking you to look at the content of the attached report and to investigate the serious threats to the right to life of the inhabitants of Fallujah and other polluted places in Iraq, as well as to publicly release the results of this investigation under right of information about what really happened in Iraq.”

The president has yet to respond.


Jason Coppola and Bhaswati Sengupta contributed to this article.


Nuclear survivors of Rongelap

November 22, 2008

Weekend Edition
November 21 / 23, 2008

The Voices of Rongelap
Cautionary Tales From a Nuclear War Zone


John Anjain, Alab of Rongelap, Marshall Islands:

Early in the morning of March 1, 1954, sometime around five or six o’clock, American planes dropped a hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll. Shortly before this happened, I had awakened and stepped out of my house. Once outside, I looked around and saw Billiet Edmond making coffee near his house. I walked up and stood next to him. The two of us talked about going fishing later in the morning. After only a few minutes had passed we saw a light to the west of Rongelap Atoll. When this light reached Rongelap we saw many beautiful colors. I expect the reason people didn’t go inside their houses right away was because the yellow, green, pink, red, and blue colors which they saw were such a beautiful sight before their eyes.

The second thing that happened involved the gust of wind that came from the explosion. The wind was so hot and strong that some people who were outside staggered, including Billiet and I. Even some windows fell as a result of the wind.

The third thing that happened concerned the smoke-cloud which we saw from the bomb blast. The smoke rose quickly to the clouds and as it reached them we heard a sound louder than thunder. When people heard this deafening clap some of the women and children fled to the woods. Once the sound of the explosion had died out everyone began cooking, some made donuts and others cooked rice.

Later some men went fishing, including myself. Around nine or ten-o’clock I took my throw net and left to go fishing near Jabwon. As I walked along the beach I looked at the sky and saw it was white like smoke; nevertheless I kept on going. When I reached Jabwon, or even a little before, I began to feel a fine powder falling all over my body and into my eyes. I felt it but I didn’t know what it was.

I went ahead with my fishing and caught enough fish with my throw-net to fill a bag. Then I went to the woods to pick some coconuts. I came back to the beach and sat on a rock to drink the coconuts and eat some raw fish. As I was sitting and eating, the powder began to fall harder. I looked out and saw that the coconuts had changed color. By now all the trees were white as well as my entire body. I gazed up at the sky but couldn’t see the clouds because it was so misty. I didn’t believe this was dangerous. I only knew that powder was falling. I was somewhat afraid nevertheless.

When I returned to Rongelap village I saw people cooking food outside their cook-houses. They didn’t know the powder was very dangerous. The powder fell all day and night long over the entire atoll of Rongelap. During the night people were sick. They were nauseous, they had stomach, head, ear, leg and shoulder aches. People did not sleep that night because they were sick.

The next day, March 2, 1954, people got up in the morning and went down to get water. It had turned a yellowish color. “Oh, Oh” they cried out and said “the powder that fell down yesterday and last night is a harmful thing.” They were sick and so Jabwe, the health-aide, walked around in the morning and warned the people not to drink the water. He told them that if they were thirsty to drink coconuts only.

. . . At three o’clock in the afternoon of March 2, 1954 a seaplane from Enewetak Atoll landed in the lagoon of Rongelap and two men came ashore. Billiet and I asked them why they had come to Rongelap and they responded by saying they had come to inspect the damage caused by the bomb. They said they would spend twenty minutes looking at all the wells, cement water catchments, houses and other things. The two men returned quickly to their plane and left without telling anyone that the food, water, and other things were harmful to human beings.

Everyone was quite surprised at the speed with which the men surveyed everything in the island and then returned to their plane. People said maybe we’ve been really harmed because the men were in such a hurry to leave. Although they said they would look around for about twenty minutes, they probably didn’t stay here for more than ten minutes. So in less than ten minutes after their arrival on Rongelap, the two men had already taken off.

. . . On that day we looked at the water catchments, tubs and other places where there was a great deal of water stored. The water had turned a strong yellow and those who drank it said it tasted bitter.

On March 3, early in the morning, a ship and a seaplane with four propellers appeared on Rongelap. Out of the plane came Mr. Oscar de[Brum] – and Mr. Wiles, the governor of Kwajelein Atoll. As their boat reached the shore, Mr. Oscar cried out to the people to get on board and forget about their personal belongings for whoever thought of staying behind would die. Such were the words by which he spoke to them. Therefore, none of the people went back to their houses, but immediately got on the boats and sailed to board the ship that would take them away. Those who were sick and old were evacuated by plane.

. . . At ten o’clock in the morning we left Rongelap for Ailinginae Atoll and arrived there at three in the afternoon. We picked up nineteen people on this atoll and by five o’clock we were on our way to Kwajalein.

On March 4, we arrived on Kwajalein and met the Admiral who then sent us to where we were to stay. A day later, Dr. Conard and his medical team arrived. The doctors were very thorough in checking and caring for our injuries and showed much concern in examining us. The Admiral was also very concerned about our situation and took us in as if we were his own children. His name was Admiral Clark.

Ever since 1954 Dr. Conard has continued to examine the fallout victims on a yearly basis. These visits are very important for all the people on Rongelap and others in the Marshall Islands. These medical examinations are also of great importance for men throughout the world.

. . . From 1959 to 1963 and 1964, after the Rongelapese had returned to Rongelap from Majuro, many women gave birth prematurely to babies which looked somewhat like animals. Women also had miscarriages. During these years many other strange things happened with regard to food, especially to fish in which the fertilized eggs and liver turned a blackish color. In all my forty years I had never seen this happen in fish either on Rongelap or in any of the other places I’ve been in the Marshall Islands. Also, when people ate fish or [arrowroot] starch produced on Rongelap, they developed a rash in their mouths. This too I had never seen before.

. . . I, John, Anjain, was magistrate of Rongelap when all this occurred and I now write this to explain what happened to the Rongelap people at that time.

[In 1954] the people of Rongelap stayed on Kwajalein for three months and the DOE [Atomic Energy Commission] people removed the Rongelap people to Majuro. The people lived in Majuro for three years and in 1956 the DOE, Trust Territory government and the UN came to Majuro and I went with them to attend a meeting with them at the school in Rita. And they told me that it is time that we go back home. And I asked “are we really going home while Rongelap is contaminated?” And the answer that they give me is that “it is true that Rongelap is contaminated but it is not dangerous. And if you don’t believe us, well then stay here and take care of yourself.”

. . . In 1957 the people returned to Rongelap and the DOE promised that there wouldn’t be any problems to the Rongelap people. However in 1958 and 1959 most of the women gave birth to something that was not resembling human beings. There was a woman giving birth to a grape. Another woman gave birth to something that resembles a monkey. And so on. There was a child born at that time and there was no shell covering the top of that child’s head.

The American doctors came every year to examine us. Every year they came, and they told us that we were not sick, and then they would return the next year. But they did find something wrong. They found one boy did not grow as fast as boys his age. They gave him medicine. Then they began finding the thyroid sickness.

My son Lekoj was thirteen when they found his thyroid was sick. They took him away to a hospital in America. They cut out his thyroid. They gave him some medicine and told him to take it every day for the rest of his life. The same thing happened to other people. The doctors kept returning and examining us. Several years ago, they took me to a hospital in America, and they cut out my thyroid. They gave me medicine and told me to take it every day for the rest of my life.

A few years after the bomb, Senator Amata Kabua tried to get some compensation for the people of Rongelap. He got a lawyer, and the lawyer made a case in court. The court turned our case down. The court said it could not consider our case because we were not part of the United States. Dwight Heine went to the United Nations to tell them about us. People from the United Nations came to see us, and we told them how we felt. Finally, in 1964, the U.S. Congress passed a bill. The bill gave us money as a payment for our experience. Some of the people spent all their money; some of them still have money in the bank. After we got the money, they began finding the thyroid sickness.

In 1972, they took Lekoj away again. They said they wanted to examine him. They took him to America to a big hospital near Washington. Later, they took me to this hospital near Washington because they said he was very sick. My son Lekoj died after [I] arrived. He never saw his island again. He returned home in a box. He is buried on our island. The doctors say he had a sickness called leukemia. They are quite sure it was from the bomb.

But I am positive.

I saw the ash fall on him. I know it was the bomb. I watched him die.


Statement of Almira Matayoshi to the Nuclear Claims Tribunal, Marshall Islands (2001):

I was pregnant when they dropped the bomb [Bravo]. I was flown off of Rongelap with the other pregnant women and elderly people. The rest of the people left on the boat. I gave birth to Robert on Ejit, and he was normal. The child I had after Robert, when we had returned to Rongelap, I gave birth to something that was like grapes. I felt like I was going to die from the loss of blood. My vision was gone, and I was fading in and out of consciousness. They emergency evacuated me to Kwajalein, and I was sure I was going to die. After the grapes, I had a third child. It wasn’t like a child at all. It had no bones and was all skin. When I gave birth they said, “Ak ta men en?” [What is that thing?]. Mama said uror [a term denoting exacerbation]. It was the first strange child that people had seen. I was the first. That time was the worst in my life. I feel both angry and embarrassed.


What words can possibly communicate what it is like to see and survive such sights? To become increasingly fearful that the intense beauty of your world-the water, the sand, the plants, the soil, the sea, and all the creatures within-has been fundamentally transformed by invisible, untouchable, all-encompassing poison? After years and years of living in a radioactive laboratory as the subject of scrutiny and study, what does it mean to find your fears confirmed-that your favorite foods are taboo, that your loved ones grow old before their time and your children fail to thrive? What does it mean to “survive” downwind from the the United States proving grounds – where nuclear war was practiced and perfected by Cold War warriors?

In 1946, after evacuating the people of Bikini and nearby atoll communities in the Marshall Islands, the United States detonated two atomic weapons: the same type of bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. In 1947 the United Nations designated the Marshall Islands a United States Trust Territory. Over the next eleven years, this U.S. territory played host to another sixty-five atmospheric atomic and thermonuclear tests. The largest of these tests, code named Bravo, was detonated on March 1, 1954. This 15-megaton hydrogen bomb was purposefully exploded close to the ground. It melted huge quantities of coral atoll, sucking it up and mixing it with radiation released by the weapon before depositing it on the islands and inhabitants in the form of ash, or radioactive fallout. The wind was blowing that morning in the direction of inhabited atolls, including Rongelap and Utrik, some 100 and 300 miles from the test site at Bikini. The Marshallese communities on Rongelap, Ailinginae, and Utrik atolls, U.S. servicemen on Rongerik Atoll (weathermen who were monitoring winds and fallout), and the twenty-three-man crew of the Japanese fishing vessel Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon) received near-lethal doses of radiation from the Bravo event.

International protests and calls for a ban on nuclear weapons testing prompted the U.S. government to publicly acknowledge the incident and accept liability. The Marshallese filed an April 20, 1954, complaint to the United Nations Trusteeship Council:

We, the Marshallese people feel that we must follow the dictates of our consciences to bring forth this urgent plea to the United Nations, which has pledged itself to safeguard the life, liberty and the general well being of the people of the Trust Territory, of which the Marshallese people are a part.

. . . The Marshallese people are not only fearful of the danger to their persons from these deadly weapons in case of another miscalculation, but they are also very concerned for the increasing number of people who are being removed from their land.

. . . Land means a great deal to the Marshallese. It means more than just a place where you can plant your food crops and build your houses; or a place where you can bury your dead. It is the very life of the people. Take away their land and their spirits go also.

In response to this petition the United States assured the General Assembly of the United Nations:

The fact that anyone was injured by recent nuclear tests in the Pacific has caused the American people genuine and deep regret. . . . The United States Government considers the resulting petition of the Marshall Islanders to be both reasonable and helpful. . . . The Trusteeship Agreement of 1947 which covers the Marshall Islands was predicated upon the fact that the United Nations clearly approved these islands as a strategic area in which atomic tests had already been held. Hence, from the onset, it was clear that the right to close areas for security reasons anticipated closing them for atomic tests, and the United Nations was so notified; such tests were conducted in 1948, 1951, 1952 as well as in 1954. . . . The question is whether the United States authorities in charge have exercised due precaution in looking after the safety and welfare of the Islanders involved. That is the essence of their petition and it is entirely justified. In reply, it can be categorically stated that no stone will be left unturned to safeguard the present and future well-being of the Islanders.

The United States promised the Marshallese and the United Nations General Assembly that “Guarantees are given the Marshallese for fair and just compensation for losses of all sorts.”

These guarantees worked: the United States was able to continue its atmospheric weapons testing program in the Marshall Islands through 1958 and at its Nevada test site through 1963, when the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union finally signed on to a limited test ban treaty.

The United States has not, however, fully lived up to its promises to the United Nations or the Marshallese people to safeguard their well-being. Atmospheric weapons testing in the Pacific resulted in considerable human and environmental harm.

Atmospheric nuclear weapons tests released numerous radioisotopes and dangerous heavy metals. An estimated 2 percent of the radioactive fallout was iodine-131, a highly radioactive isotope with an 8-day half-life. The nuclear war games conducted by the United States in the Marshall Islands released some 8 billion curies of iodine-131. To place this figure in broader context, over the entire history of nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Proving Grounds, some 150 million curies of iodine-131 were released, and varying analyses of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster estimate an iodine-131 release of 40 to 54 million curies. Much of the iodine-131 released in the Marshall Islands was the by-product of the March 1, 1954, Bravo test detonation of the hydrogen bomb. Designed to produce and contain as much radioactive fallout in the immediate area as possible, in order to create laboratory-like conditions, Bravo unleashed as much explosive yield as one thousand Hiroshima-sized bombs. Communities living downwind from the blast, especially the Rongelap community, were acutely exposed to its fallout.

Evacuated three days after the blast, the people of Rongelap spent three months under intense medical scrutiny as human subjects in Project 4.1. They spent three years as refugees and were returned to their still-contaminated atoll in 1957 with assurances that their islands were now safe. They lived on Rongelap for another twenty-eight years and as the closest populated atoll to the Pacific Proving Grounds, they were exposed to additional fallout from another series of nuclear tests in 1958. While living on Rongelap, the community was visited annually, and later biannually, by U.S. government scientists and medical doctors conducting follow-up studies begun under Project 4.1. Researchers collected fish, plants, soil, and human body samples to document the presence of radioisotopes deposited from sixty-seven tests, the movement of these isotopes through the food chain and the human body, and the adverse health impact of this radiation on the human body.

The community left Rongelap in 1985 after receiving information from some U.S. scientists that confirmed their long-held fears that their ancestral homeland was contaminated with radiation at levels that posed a serious risk to their health. Today, the Rongelap community lives in exile, largely on borrowed or rented lands in Kwajalein and Majuro atolls. Recent efforts to remediate fallout hazards on areas of some islands and to rebuild homes and community structure on the island of Rongelap suggest that the community may, someday soon, have the choice of returning home. Whether or not remediation is successful and people decide to return remains to be seen.

The people of Rongelap are not the only nuclear nomads created by the actions of military and nuclear powers over the past six decades. They are, however, one of the most studied communities.

Following their acute exposure in 1954 the people of Rongelap enrolled in a medical research program sponsored by the Atomic Energy Commission. The program was designed to document the movement of radiation through the atmosphere, food chain, and human body, with the goal of understanding the long-term effects of human exposure to ionizing radiation.

Over the years, U.S. scientists added to the research program “control” subjects, including people on Rongelap who were not present during the Bravo test, people on the nearby atoll of Utrik, people on Likiep (another populated atoll in the northern Marshall Islands), and people on Majuro. Control subjects were typically selected to match the acutely exposed by age and sex, and scientists studied these people in many instances for four decades. Comparative studies documented increases in thyroid disorders, stunted growth in children, and increases in many forms of cancer and leukemia, cataracts, and other radiation-related illnesses.

For four decades, U.S. government scientists returned to the Marshall Islands to conduct exams and collect blood, tissue, bone marrow, teeth, and other samples. These studies generated a broad array of scientific findings, including the recognition that not only can acute exposures to radiation stimulate short-term effects but that late effects can emerge years and decades following the initial exposure. For example, by studying the Marshallese population, scientists found that radio-iodine-131 adheres to and accumulates in the thyroid, stimulating the production of benign and cancerous nodules and interfering with the production of hormones, leaving pregnant women and children especially vulnerable. They also discovered that people who were not exposed to an acute level of ionizing radiation but were exposed to low-levels on a daily basis because they lived in an area contaminated by fallout also developed thyroid and other radiogenic problems. The lessons learned by scientists included an awareness of the many complicated ways that radiation adversely affects the human body.

The Rongelap study was structured in ways that required the involvement of children from other atolls, especially children in the southern part of the nation. Such involvement extended over decades. Control subjects were selected at the direction of authorities. Being singled out resulted in social stigmatization (people were shunned because of the social perception that all people studied by the medical survey team were damaged by radiation). Control subject experiences included thorough examinations with photographs and x-rays; measurement of internal radiation with whole-body counters; the sampling of blood, bone marrow, skin, and other tissue; and, on a number of occasions, the injection of radioisotopes, vaccines, and other nonexplained substances. The experience of serving as a research control was intrusive, painful, and potentially harmful to the health of the participant.

The research agenda was shaped to meet U.S. military and scientific research objectives rather than the personal health needs of the affected population. The pressing question for the U.S. government was how to document and interpret the Marshallese experience in ways that might predict the consequences for U.S. troops or U.S. citizens exposed to radiation in the event of nuclear war. Marshallese health concerns, especially worries that radiation from fallout remained in their environment, poisoning their food and their bodies, were often ignored.

The classified nature of this research had profound effects within the Marshall Islands and within the broader scientific research community. Research protocols, data, and findings were restricted to those with security clearance. Patients, and later the Marshall Islands government, were denied access to medical records generated by this research.

This biomedical research was conducted by Brookhaven National Laboratory with monies appropriated by the U.S. Congress for the health of the Rongelap people. However, rather than investments in local health infrastructure, funds were used to periodically transport medical staff and supplies from the United States to the Marshall Islands for brief examinations of the “exposed” and “control” populations; to analyze the samples that were collected; to occasionally treat conditions that were defined as radiogenic in nature; and, in later years, to acquire and supply a ship with the necessary technology to conduct whole-body counting, x-ray, and other laboratory procedures. Some of the residents who developed thyroid tumors and other radiogenic conditions were brought to the United States for study and surgical removal of the thyroid gland.

When the U.S. government states that it has provided millions of dollars to the Marshall Islands for issues related to the weapons testing, it does not mention that enormous portions of this money went into advancing U.S. scientific interests, not into services for the people.

The culture of secrecy that characterized biomedical research in the Marshall Islands facilitated efforts to shape public opinion on the safety of the nuclear weapons testing program. Scientific findings were cherry-picked: those studies released to the public were carefully selected; conclusions were carefully worded to support the contention that exposed communities suffered no lasting effects from their exposure and that their exposure presented no threat to the health of subsequent generations. Manipulated “findings” were used to counter calls within the United Nations to establish a ban on nuclear weapons testing; to calm local and regional complaints that exposure to radiation was producing a wide array of untreated health effects, especially reproductive effects; and to reduce the economic liability of the U.S. government in meeting its obligations to its former territory.

As the decades passed, people experienced a growing incidence of adverse health effects, most notably the late onset of thyroid cancer and stunted growth and retardation in children in “exposed” as well as “control” populations. These health problems fed concerns that Rongelap Atoll was still dangerously contaminated and posed a significant hazard to occupants, a fact that became evident in the restudy of radiological conditions in the northern Marshall Islands in 1978. The results of this survey and the input of a few independent foreign experts led the Rongelapese to evacuate their homes in 1985, with the assistance of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior on what proved to be its final voyage in the Pacific. The evacuation of Rongelap occurred without the assistance or approval of the U.S. government. The restudy confirmed that much of the northern Marshall Islands was indeed still contaminated and that some areas would not be habitable without extensive remediation for at least twenty-five thousand years.

In 1986, after years of negotiations and the threat of some $7.1 billion in damage claims making their way through the U.S. court system, the United States and the Republic of the Marshall Islands signed a Compact of Free Association, releasing the U.S. government from pending legal claims through the establishment of a compensation trust fund. The Compact of Free Association requires the United States to continue efforts to adequately address the full range of damages and injuries resulting from the testing program. Section 177 of the compact outlines responsibilities for monitoring the environment and human health effects of radiation from the nuclear weapons tests in the northern Marshall Islands (Bikini and Enewetak, the two ground-zero locations and Rongelap and Utrik atolls, the two communities enrolled in the Project 4.1 biomedical study). An additional provision of section 177 enables the Republic of the Marshall Islands to petition the U.S. Congress for additional compensatory funds should conditions change or new information come to light. Congress set aside $150 million to fund the provisions of the initial compact, which established a compensation trust fund with funds administered through a Nuclear Claims Tribunal that receives claims and issues awards for personal injury and property damage.

When the Compact of Free Association was negotiated and the Nuclear Claims Tribunal established much of the scientific record was classified: The Marshallese were never fully briefed on the nature of the nuclear weapons testing program and the full extent of its damages. This inequitable access to fundamental information has severely hampered Marshallese efforts to achieve a meaningful and comprehensive remedy. For example, to this day, the United States acknowledges in its compensatory programs the obligation to address nuclear-weapons-related damage to property and people in only four atolls: Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrik. The U.S. documentary record tells another story: a 1955 survey, declassified in 1994 and released to the RMI in 1995, reports fallout from the 1954 Bravo test occurring at hazardous levels on twenty-eight atolls throughout the Marshall Islands. The entire nation, not simply the four atolls, is downwind, and the whole country has been adversely affected by nuclear weapons.

Today, the Rongelap community lives in exile, largely on borrowed or rented lands in Kwajalein and Majuro atolls. Recent efforts to remediate fallout hazards on areas of some islands and to rebuild homes and community structure on the island of Rongelap suggest that the community may, someday soon, have the choice of returning home. Whether or not remediation is successful and people decide to return remains to be seen.

The Marshallese have suffered more illness, death, and grief than any population should endure, and historical wrongs resulting from the nuclear weapons testing program have been compounded by inadequate and underfunded medical assistance. Despite the seriously elevated cancer rates in the Marshall Islands, as of this writing there is no oncologist in the country. There is no ability to provide chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Perhaps worst of all, there is no ability to undertake a nationwide screening for cancer to catch the illness in its early stages and provide patients with the greatest chance for survival and an improved quality of life.

A minimalist approach to health care has been provided through the Compact of Free Association (177 Agreement): Some seventeen thousand people receive health care through the 177 Health Care Program established to address the radiogenic health issues of the people of Enewetak, Bikini, Rongelap, and Utrik islands. This system is woefully underfunded and lacks comprehensive cancer treatment capability. Many people have filed personal-injury claims with the Nuclear Claims Tribunal and, with their compensation, moved to Hawaii and the continental United States seeking, among other things, better health care. The NCT has ordered millions of dollars in compensation for personal-injury claims, but many more people have been found eligible than originally anticipated. Thus the majority of awards have yet to be paid in full to victims or their surviving families. And while a compensatory payment provides assistance at one level or another, in no way does it provide the means to restore overall health.

What is clearly lacking in the Marshall Islands, and sorely needed, is a high-quality medical care program that would address direct and indirect health problems caused by U.S. activities during the nuclear test period, and build the capacity of the Marshall Islands to address these needs.

The story of Rongelap is one of systemic injury, and inadequate and at times abusive response on the part of the U.S. government. U.S. government activities in the Marshall Islands resulted in profound consequences for the entire nation, unmet U.S. obligations, and an intergenerational responsibility. Under the Bush Administration, the U.S. government views its responsibility to its former territorial possession, and those people adversely affected by the nuclear weapons testing program, as a set of limited obligations that have in large part been addressed.

Political administrations come and go, but radiogenic contamination and disease present protracted, ulcerating, intergenerational problems. The toxic and radioactive contamination of soil, water, terrestrial and marine biota, and human life that is the legacy of nuclear war games in the Marshall Islands is difficult and expensive to monitor, let alone remediate. The health complications of radiation exposure for individuals and their offspring are similarly expensive to monitor and treat. Nevertheless, just as the U.S. government continues to appropriate billions of dollars for the cleanup of the plutonium processing plant in Hanford, Washington, and as it continues to make appropriations to provide full compensation to people living downwind from the Nevada Test Site, so too must it honor commitments to the inhabitants of the former trust territory, who deserve the same level of health care and cleanup as U.S. citizens.

In today’s world-where uranium mining occurs at historic levels, where depleted uranium is widely used in military training and war, and where nuclear power and weapons production are again on the agendas of the world’s nations-these lessons have currency. The experiences of the people of Rongelap, whose lives were transformed not only by acute exposure but also by chronic exposure to low-level radiation, should be read as a timely, cautionary tale.

This essay is excerpted from The Consequential Dangers of Nuclear War: the Rongelap Report

Barbara Rose Johnston is an anthropologist and senior research fellow at the Center for Political Ecology, and a member of the expert advisory group for UNESCO’s Water and Cultural Diversity Project. She is the co-author of The Consequential Dangers of Nuclear War: the Rongelap Report. Her documentation of dam legacy issues in Guatemala is available in Spanish and English at She can be reached at:

Holly M. Barker served as the advisor to the Republic of the Marshall Islands Embassy for 18 years and now teaches anthropology as a full-time lecturer a the University of Washington. Her latest book is Consequential Damages of Nuclear War – The Rongelap Report, by Barbara Rose Johnston and Holly M. Barker (Left Coast Press 2008). She can be contacted at

Nuclear War and Its Consequences

April 21, 2007

April 21 / 22, 2007

Reparations (and a Little Justice) for the the People of Rongelap

Nuclear War and Its Consequences


In 1946 the United States detonated two atomic weapons in the Marshall Islands. In 1947, the United Nations designated the Marshall Islands a United States Trust Territory, and over the next eleven years the territory hosted another sixty-five atmospheric atomic and thermonuclear tests. The largest of these tests, code named “Bravo,” was detonated on March 1, 1954. A 15-megaton hydrogen bomb, Bravo was exploded close to the ground, melting huge quantities of coral atoll, sucking it up and mixing it with radiation released by the weapon before depositing radioactive ash fallout – on the islands and its’ inhabitants. The wind was blowing that morning in the direction of inhabited atolls, including Rongelap and Utrik, some 100 and 300 miles from the test site at Bikini. Some communities, and Japanese fishermen aboard the Daigo-Fukuryumaru (Lucky Dragon, a tuna ship working in near-by waters), received near-lethal doses of radiation.

In an atomic detonation, uranium atoms are transformed through fission. One of the radioactive isotopes formed is krypton-90, a very hot isotope that almost immediately deteriorates, changing into rubidium-90 with a half-life of 4.28 minutes. Rubidium-90 decays into strontium-90, an element in global fallout that presents a great threat to human health. In humans, strontium-90 behaves chemically like calcium and easily finds its way to bones, teeth, and even arterial plaque, emitting beta radiation throughout its half-life of 28.9 years. Strontium-90 can be absorbed by eating food, drinking water, or breathing. Like a great many environmental toxins, it is bioaccumulative, meaning it is easily incorporated into the environment, and concentrations increase as one moves up the food chain. The derivative element of strontium-90 is yttrium-90, which decays after some 64 hours into the nonradioactive zirconium-90. When absorbed in humans, strontium-90 and its energetic daughter, yttrium-90, can generate bone deformities, bone tumors, and cancers of the blood-cell- forming organs. Irradiation of the bone marrow also impairs the immune system. Another fallout element, cesium-137, emits beta particles and relatively strong gamma radiation in its decay to barium-137, a short-lived decay product that in turn decays to a nonradioactive form of barium. The half-life of cesium-137 is 30.17 years, and because of the chemical nature of cesium, it moves easily through the environment at increasingly concentrated levels. Upon entering the human body, cesium-137 can produce acute and chronic health effects, including cancer. Iodine-131, with an eight-day half-life, is quickly absorbed in the human body and is one of the elements of greatest concern in local fallout. Iodine-131 accumulates in the thyroid. Acute exposure causes thyroid disease and tumors, and long-term exposure to lower levels of iodine-131 causes thyroid cancer.

Over the 12 years that the United States played their nuclear weapons war games in the Marshall Islands they released some 3 billion curies of iodine-131, a highly radioactive isotope with an 8-day half-life. To place this figure in broader context, over the entire history of nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Proving grounds some 150 million curies of iodine-131 were released, and varying analyses of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster estimate an iodine-131 release of 40 to 54 million curies.

Human Health Effects of Nuclear War

What does it mean to host the largest and dirtiest nuclear weapons ever detonated by the United States? Declassified studies of the Marshallese following their acute exposure to Bravo fallout in 1954 documented beta burns, loss of hair, depressed red cell and leukocyte counts, flu-like symptoms, nausea, fingernail discoloration, radioactivity in the urine, and changes at the cellular level in blood and bone marrow. Over the next four decades US scientists regularly visited Rongelap, conducting medical exams and collecting biological samples. Their classified research documented immune-deficiency diseases, metabolic disorders (diabetes), growth impairment in children, cancers, leukemia, premature aging (dental decay, cataracts, degenerative osteoarthritis), and a host of reproductive problems including miscarriages, congenital birth defects, and sterility. The long-term study of the Marshallese also confirmed what other classified research suggested: that radioiodine-131 adheres to and accumulates in the thyroid, stimulating the production of benign and cancerous nodules and interfering with the production of hormones, leaving children and pregnant women especially vulnerable. Thyroid cancer and other radiogenic changes occur not only in people exposed to an acute level of ionizing radiation but also in those who were born or moved into contaminated areas long after the initial blast and fallout had occurred.

How Do You “Repair” the Damages from Nuclear War?

In 1988, the United States, acknowledging its remaining obligations to the people of the Marshall Islands, established a Nuclear Claims Tribunal as part of the terms by which the Marshall Islands gained independence from its former colonial master. The NCT functions as an administrative court governed by Marshallese and United States law and international legal norms. It received claims and issues payments from the $150 million fund established in 1988. Since 1991, the NCT has paid a portion of the personal injury claims of Marshall Islanders, and a much smaller portion of property damage claims. Despite the obvious inadequacy of the fund to cover all of the health damages, let alone provide funds to remediate and restore the environment and compensate the Marshallese for the long-term or permanent loss of their homelands, the NCT continued to function under its established mandate to hear and act upon claims, with the Marshallese government retaining the right to return to United States Congress and request additional monies should the initial fund prove inadequate because a broader array of damages are understood as circumstances change and new information has come to light.

In 1994 Holly Barker began working with the Marshallese people to document the experiences of life after being so horribly exposed to radiation. Her efforts were sponsored by the Marshallese governments and helped to encourage the development of personal injury claims. In 1999 I began, with Holly Barker, efforts to rethink the meaning of land value with regards to the methods used to define and assess property damage.

Our work was sponsored by the Public Advocate for the Nuclear Claims Tribunal, Bill Graham. He was concerned that the methods used in the claims for atomized islands (Bikini and Enewetak awards) used Western notions of property and the values associated with loss of access and use of dry land, and such methods would fail to properly address the damages experienced by the people of Rongelap who had their land, but had intensely contaminated lands. We approached this problem by establishing for the Nuclear Claims Tribunal the traditional way of life–where land is not owned, rights to use land reflect maternal ties and the stewardship performance. Land cannot be bought or sold, it is larger than money–land is the means to sustain a way of life. And we argued that the compensation principle should reflect the loss, and related consequential damages, of a healthy way of life. To support this approach, we drew the Tribunal’s attention to methodologies and case precedents used in the United States, Canadian and Australian courts that identify and value the material resources that support Native American/First Nation/Aboriginal ways of life, as well as the methodologies used to assess impact to human health and related values assigned to environmental contamination.

Our 1999 land value research occurred with the help of a Marshallese advisory committee, and this work was followed by the 2001 hardship report and expert witness testimony in a “consequential damages” hearing that was three days of testimony and tears. The hearing took place in Majuro, the capital city of the Republic of the Marshall Islands in October 29–November 2, 2001. With the testimony and lived experiences of the Marshallese supported by the declassified words and findings of US scientists, we documented and recounted the traditional way of life, the chain of events as experienced by a community immediately downwind from 67 atmospheric weapons tests, the pain and hardship of radiation exposure, evacuation, and serving as scientific objects in a scientific research study that went for some four decades, and the struggles to understand (let alone adjust) to the many new health problems that increasingly constrained life in a radioactive world. And as participants in this proceeding, all of us – judges, experts, witnesses, lawyers, and the attending Rongelap community – learned that “reparation” involves process as well as material outcome. When the hearing was concluded, a Marshallese elder told me, we do not need the judges findings, this was our Nuremberg Tribunal, and we know we have won.

But then the months turned to years. Post-hearing proceedings slogged on, and no judgement was issued. Pain became muted, the intensity of the claim and the hearing distant. So many people have died in the years since – several the Marshallese “land valuation” advisors are now dead from cancers, as is the chief judge on the Marshallese Nuclear claims tribunal, and two of our primary Rongelap witnesses.

One Billion Dollar Judgement

On April 17, 2007, some sixteen years since the first claims were filed, the Nuclear Claims Tribunal finally issued their decision in the Rongelap case. As laid out in the 34-page judgement: “The Tribunal has determined the amount of compensation due to the Claimants in this case is $1,031,231,200. This amount includes $212,000,000 for remediation and restoration of Rongelap and Rongerik Atolls. This award further includes $784,500,000 for past and future lost property value of Rongelap, Rongerik and Ailinginae Atolls as a result of the Nuclear Testing Program. Finally, it includes $34,731,200 to the Claimants for consequential damages.”

Notably, the loss of land award reflects “loss of way of life damages” including the loss of the means to live in a healthy fashion on the land (people were on island, but exposed to high levels of radiation).

And, the consequential damages award includes not only the resulting pain, suffering and hardships from “loss of a healthy way of life” but also awards personal injury awards to subjects identified as receiving chromium-51 injections which were “an additional burden to the already considerable exposure from consuming contaminated foods and living in a radioactive environment.” With regard to the larger involvement of the Rongelap people in four decades of human subject research, the Tribunal found that “the emotional distress resulting from the participation in these studies and the manner in which they were carried out, warrants compensation, and is a component in the consequential damages related to the period of time the people spent on Rongelap from 1957 to 1985.”

The Nuclear Claims Tribunal was forced to halt payments in 2006 due a lack of funds. Today there is approximately $1 million left in the fund. The Rongelap award, the prior awards to Bikini, Enewetak, and Utrik, as well as a huge portion of the personal injury awards – will not be paid unless US Congress acts on the RMI’s “changed circumstance” petition filed in September 2000. New information not only includes public awareness that nuclear weapons tests adversely affected the entire nation, but new scientific evidence that low-level exposures to radiation produces significant health risks, and that these risks were not understood when the Compact was originally negotiated. In 2004, the National Cancer Institute predicted that nearly 500 cancers will manifest in the years to come in Marshall Islands as a direct result of the testing program–cancers that would not exist had the U.S. government not used the Marshall Islands to conduct atmospheric weapons tests. More than 200 of those cancers have yet to surface because of the long latency period of certain types of cancer and the aging of the population. In 2006, the Bush Administration, in their report to Congress responding to the RMI’s request for additional funds, argued that no new information has come to light and the United States has fulfilled all its obligations with regards to the damages associated with atmospheric weapons program.

Given this impasse, the local governments for Bikini, Enewtak, Utrik, and now Rongelap, are appealing to the US Court of Claims to consider the findings of the Nuclear Claims Tribunal and issue a judgement ordering the United States government to pay. A hearing on these cases is expected to take place on April 23, 2007 in Washington.


Despite the questions surrounding payment of the award, the judicial findings in the Rongelap Claims are significant and create precedents that other cases can build upon. For the people of Rongelap, who began their petitions for help and justice more than 50 years ago, a formal decision has been announced to the world, and the injustices they suffered have been acknowledged.

This is reparations: the years and decades and lifetimes of struggle to insure that historical injustice is not pushed aside, dismissed, and denied. The ceaseless efforts to secure your day in “court.” To stand face to face with responsible parties and have experience accepted. To have the consequences of injustice assessed and the pain, suffering and hardships understood. To hear culpable parties acknowledge their wrong. To see judgements issued against those parties. To be asked “how can we make amends” and to have your voice heard. Reparations is about the process as much as it is about the outcome. And most of all, more than all the money in the world, reparations is about insuring never again. Now, more than ever, this world needs to consider what the Marshallese know all to well.

Barbara Rose Johnston is the senior research fellow at the Center for Political Ecology and 2006-07 residential scholar at the School for Advanced Research on the Human Experience in Santa Fe, NM. Her most recent book, Half-lives and Half-Truths: Confronting the Radioactive Legacies of the Cold War (SAR Press 2007) includes chapters by Johnston and by Holly Barker on human subject experimentation in the Marshall Islands, the health consequences of radiation exposure, and the problematic history of the United States response to Marshallese needs. She can be reached at