Continuing fallout from nuclear tests

Issue 

In 1946 the paramount chief of the Marshall Islands made the now famous statement: "If the US government and the scientists of the world want to use our island and atolls for furthering development, which with God's blessing will result in kindness and benefit to all mankind, my people will be pleased to go elsewhere". With less than a month's notice, all the inhabitants of Bikini were moved to another atoll, and so began a process by which many Marshall Islanders were relocated from their atolls, because of nuclear testing and radioactive fallout.

The largest test, code-named "Bravo", was conducted in 1954 on Bikini. This test was one of the dirtiest. Documentation obtained in 1982 under the US Freedom of Information Act confirmed that the US military proceeded with the blast with full knowledge that the wind patterns would lead to contamination of populated islands. The island of Rongelap was exposed to radioactive ash from the test, which had serious immediate and long-term health impacts on the Rongelapese people. Each year the Japanese peace movement holds meetings and rallies to commemorate this day, and to bring together survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, and to oppose nuclear testing in the Pacific.

At this year's meeting various issues were discussed, including a new independent Japanese study on the health of the Rongelap people and the World Court Project, a campaign to get the International Court of Justice to declare the illegality of nuclear weapons. ALYN WARE, who works with the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy and is coordinator of the World Court Project in New York, spoke to CAROLYN COURT about the Japanese connection with the Bravo test, and the reasons for the yearly commemoration of this test.

Ware: [The Bravo test] created quite a storm in Japan because of the radiation of Japanese fishing boats. The most well-known one was the Fifth Lucky Dragon. When that returned from the Marshall Islands it was heavily radiated; they'd picked up the radiation from the tuna catch. The crew was sick. One of the crew members, Aikichi Kuboyama died a few months later.

And it created quite a storm over the tuna of other fishing boats as well. We've since found out that there were over 800 fishing boats in the area. Since then we've also found out that there have been at least another two dozen people who have died from those fishing boats.

So there continues to be concern from Japanese scientists and the Japanese public?

Yes, and it's not just that they are concerned about their own people and their fish and what was happening there. It raised the connection between Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the use of the A-bombs there, and the testing of the nuclear weapons. And the fact that the Marshallese people were affected by the nuclear testing as well. That they suffered similar sorts of symptoms as the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki placed a really strong connection between the Japanese and the Marshall Island people.

Could you give us a picture of the conference, rallies and meetings that you've just attended?

One part of the conference was a report from a medical delegation that had gone from Japan to Rongelap. They had done a survey, checked those people who were living on Majuro — they had been just shifted from Rongelap, which was one of the closest islands to the nuclear testing.

They've found out that 37% had a high tumour marker in their blood — carcino embryonic antigen — which is an indicator of cancers. So that was quite a finding. It gives scientific backing to what people had been saying for a number of years: that the nuclear tests had been affecting people in the Marshall Islands, and they had had tumours, cancers and things like that. That report was a significant part of the conference.

Another significant part was the memorial day. There was a memorial service at the tomb of Aikichi Kuboyama, who was the first Japanese fisherman to die from the Bravo test, back in 1954.

Another significant part of the conference was the report on the World Court case on the legality of nuclear weapons. That's why I was invited over, because I've been coordinating this World Court case.

In Japan itself, the use of the nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was declared illegal in 1963 by a Tokyo district court. But that declaration has never been accepted by either the Japanese government or the nuclear weapons possessing governments. Now we've got this case going to the International Court of Justice to confirm that the use, and the threat to use, nuclear weapons is definitely illegal and a crime against humanity. The Japanese peace movements are backing this initiative all the way.

The last thing of significance was the gathering of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki appeal. That's a petition which is now the largest in the world. It's got over 100 million signatures on it calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons. It says that the use of nuclear weapons is a crime against humanity.

I was impressed to see the energy that has gone into gathering signatures on this petition by the Japanese peace movement. In Japan itself, it is about 44 to 45 million. They're aiming to get half of the Japanese population to have signed a petition by August this year, which will be the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
[This interview — here slightly abridged — was broadcast on One World, an environmental awareness program for the Pacific, produced by Carolyn Court for Radio Australia.]