Category: Pacific/Regional News
02 Mar 2017
By Giff Johnson – For Variety
MAJURO — “Grief, terror and righteous anger” has not faded for Marshall Islanders despite the passage of 71 years since the first nuclear weapons test at Bikini Atoll, President Hilda Heine told a Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day ceremony Wednesday in Majuro.
The event included a parade, ringing of a bell 71 times to mark the years since the first Bikini tests, and speeches to mark March 1, the anniversary of the Bravo hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll in 1954. It is a national holiday in the Marshall Islands.
This year’s nuclear test commemoration did not end as usual with the morning program. A three-day “Nuclear Legacy Conference: Charting a Journey Toward Justice” kicked off Wednesday afternoon in Majuro with a keynote address by Ambassador Tony deBrum, and presentations by Marshall Islanders and experts from the United States and Japan who traveled to Majuro to attend the conference.
At Wednesday morning’s ceremony, President Heine said the U.S. government had not been honest as to the “extent of radiation and the lingering effects the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Testing Program would have on our lives, ocean and land.”
She pointed out that U.S. government studies kept secret from the Marshall Islands during negotiations on a compensation agreement reached in the 1980s “have now shown that 18 other inhabited atolls or single islands were contaminated by three of the six nuclear bombs tested in Operation Castle, as well as by the Bravo shot in 1954. The myth of only four ‘exposed’ atolls of Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrik, has shaped US nuclear policy on the Marshallese people since 1954, which limited medical and scientific follow up, and compensation programs.
“As your president, I cannot and will not accept the position of the United States government. Unlike the U.S., we acted in good faith. That is why ours is a moral case for which we are more than justified to seek redress.”
U.S. Ambassador Karen Stewart honored islanders who suffered from nuclear testing and said “we will never forget Marshallese who sacrificed for global security.” Speaking about those who had already passed away, she said she was “encouraged by their and your courage for justice and your courage to build a better society.” Stewart said the U.S. “will continue to be your partner…for a brighter future for the Marshall Islands.”
Enewetak Sen. Jack Ading, speaking on behalf of other nuclear-affected atolls, pointed out that few survivors of the 1940s evacuations and nuclear weapons tests are still alive. “For most of us, the paradise that God created is just a legend from our elders,” he said. “By the time most of us were born, our paradise was a paradise lost.”
Ading said the 67 weapons tests left a “toxic legacy” that will affect the Marshall Islands for generations. Although 43 of those tests were at Enewetak, Ading said “my homeland was gone after the first nuclear device was exploded in 1948.”
The testing vaporized three islands in Enewetak, and a crater from one test was turned into “a massive dump for radioactive waste” that is now “leaking and devoid of warning signs or barriers. It is a constant source of concern.”
A number of doctors, scientists and researchers from the United States and Japan are participating in the three-day Nuclear Legacy Conference that started Wednesday afternoon.