Marshall Islands: US opposes nuke-test health plan

October 19, 2007

US President George Bush has opposed US Senate legislation to fund health care for the nuclear-test-affected Marshallese. Sixty-seven US nuclear bombs were detonated in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958.

The US administration objects to the health plan on three counts. Firstly, it objects to the US Department of Energy conducting four-yearly monitoring of radiological conditions at Runit Island, where a dome of cement covers nuclear waste scraped off Enewetak Island. Enewetak, along with Bikini Atoll, was the site of most of the US detonations.

Secondly, it opposes covering civilian Marshallese and other Micronesians who worked on the nuclear test sites under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act along with US civilians similarly exposed.

Thirdly, it aims to block a permanent appropriation of US$2 million annually through to 2033 for the Marshallese Health Plan. The Compact of Free Association of 1986, which gave the Marshallese some limited independence, provided compensation but it was tragically inadequate and ended in 2001. In January 2005, the US State Department rejected a Marshallese request for extended nuclear compensation, determining that there was no legal basis for considering additional payments. However, that same year the US Congress appropriated $1 million for the Marshallese health care program.

The fourth point is one that both the US and the Marshallese agree on. No-one wants another study on the effects of nuclear testing. In January 2005, the State Department submitted the results of the latest in what has been a long line of scientific studies of the Marshallese since the US started their tests in 1946. From the Marshallese perspective, they feel that they have been studied enough. All they want is for the US to take responsibility for its military's impact on their lives and lands.

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