The Guardian 25 May, 2005

Marshall Islands seek
further test compensation

Committees of the US House of Representatives are to hold hearings shortly to determine whether or not to grant claims for increased compensation from the tiny central Pacific state of the Marshall Island. Between 1946 and 1958, 67 nuclear tests were conducted on its territory which is made up of a string of coral atolls, including Bikini Atoll, where the 15-megaton Bravo nuclear bomb was detonated in 1954. Its force was equivalent to 1,000 Hiroshima bombs and blanketed the atoll in snow-like fallout for two to three days.

The US military had not evacuated the inhabitants of Bikini and, on other atolls where officials had at least taken that precaution, the islanders were allowed to return to their homes before a cleanup had been carried out. The US denied evidence of burns and hair loss among the inhabitants and later maintained that only four atolls — Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrikwere — were affected.

The US finally paid US$270 million in compensation to the Marshall Islands in the mid-1980s; an amount the victims insist was inadequate given that only limited amounts of it went to those suffering health consequences. Furthermore, though a recent US National Cancer Institute estimated that the tests had directly caused 530 cancers, it also calculated that over half of the cancers likely to be caused by the tests are yet to develop.

The release of the institute’s findings prompted the Marshall Islands government to appeal to the US Congress for a further US$3 billion. Though the previous agreement did not commit the US to pay further compensation, it did leave the door open to an application if the original settlement proved "manifestly inadequate". Marshall Islands President Kessai Note has pledge that his country will "work tirelessly together to make certain that the nuclear issue is settled in a fair and just manner".

In related developments, the Guam Legislature is considering whether to petition the US for compensation for the health consequences of the Marshall Islands tests. Though Guam is located nearly 2,500 kilometres from the Marshall Islands, a US National Research Council report found that it did receive measurable fallout and "should be eligible for compensation under the RECA [Radiation Exposure Compensation Act] in a similar way to that of other down-winders."

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