Marshall Islands nuclear survivors speak

Ikaika M Hussey

On the 54th anniversary of 'Bravo', March 1, 2008, survivors of the U.S. nuclear testing program in the Marshall Islands and the people gathered at the International Convention Center to pay tribute to members who have died from radiation contamination. Over 600 people attended the event. 'Bravo', a thermo nuclear device was 1000 times stronger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Nuclear fallout exposed the people who were living on Rongelap and Utrik atolls.

Statement of Minister Amenta Matthew
For Nuclear Survivors Day
March 1, 2008

Ladies, Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests,

Today is the 54th anniversary of the Bomb. We gather here together to honor both the victims and the survivors of US Nuclear Testing. I will share with you, the story of the people of Utrik. Among those on Utrik exposed to 'poison' were my grandmother, cousin, and many other close family members. My family, as well as all who lived on Utrik Atoll during the time of the Bomb, suffered the terrible consequences of radiation exposure.

On morning of March 1, 1954, the life of all our people was forever changed, when the Bomb, a thermo-nuclear device code named "Bravo" was detonated 300 miles west of Utrik. History will record that the Bravo 'bomb' had 1000 times the explosive power of the bombs dropped on Japan, and was by far the largest explosion to have taken place anywhere in the world up to that time.

People living on Utrik remember seeing a "bright light" something like a second sun rising in the west. Others recall that the "sky turned red" and heard a loud explosion like thunder, and thought a new war had started. In a very real sense March 1, 1954 was the beginning of a new "war" but this war was upon the people of Utrik, and others in the Marshall Islands. Our enemy, was invisible contamination what we call "poison" that invaded our food, our water, our land, our homes, our bodies and the bodies of our children.

At first, the invisible enemy, "poison" was not known. For many years that after the bomb, our people went about their lives. They did not know they were living with 'poison' as no one warned them of the danger they were facing, or the risk to their lives and the lives of their children. Poison cannot be seen, or heard or felt. No one on Utrik knew where the poison was located, or how it got into our food, into our water, and invaded our lives.

In America however, scientists knew about 'poison' or radiation as they called it. They knew about the dangers we faced. But these scientists did not want to help us. No, instead the wanted to study us. In a top-secret meeting held in New York City, in 1956, the Advisory Committee on Biology and Medicine of the US Atomic Energy Commission discussed the situation of the Utrik people. Dr. Merrill Eisenbud, the man responsible for the health and safety of people involved in the Nuclear Testing Program, made the following comments, and I quote him here. He said: "We think that one very intriguing study can be made and plans are on the way to implement this — Uterik Atoll is the atoll farthest from the March 1 shot where people were exposed." Dr. Eisenbud further said Utrik "is by far the most contaminated place in the world and it will be very interesting to go back and get good environmental data, .what isotopes are involved and a sample of food changes in many as to get a measure of the human uptake when people live in a contaminated environment."

Dr. Eisenbud was in charge of the Health & Safety Laboratory. He was responsible for protecting our health. As you can see, he was not interested in protecting the health of the Utrik people. He did not talk about how to prevent the people from being exposed to radiation. He did not try and warn the people, and tell them how to avoid being exposed to poison. Instead, he spoke about how to study the people when they are living on a land contaminated by invisible "poison."

Today, we in the Marshall Islands know firsthand what happens when people are exposed to radiation. Our surviving elders witnessed personally the devastation brought by 'poison.' As one of our survivors will tell you, our island home was visited by a plague of sickness and death. The unholy scourge of radiation silently made its way into everything and everybody on our beautiful island home. For many many years our people were left to live on land with levels of radiation deadly to humans. Those who knew, didn't protect us, didn't clean our land, and didn't do what they could have, and should have, done to protect all of our people from the consequences of Bomb.

Today, we seek compensation for what was done to our people. Our scientists, and our lawyers have proven before the Nuclear Claims Tribunal the injuries suffered by the people of Utrik. We have also learned that people from many other atolls have suffered from exposure to 'poison'. As the Senator from Utrik Atoll, I will diligently pursue all claims of our people for fair and just compensation. As the Minister of Health, I will work just as hard to insure that all of our Marshallese people who have suffered from the "Bomb" will receive fair treatment, and the healthcare needed to treat their injuries.

All Marshallese must stand together, united, and never cease till justice is finally done for the Marshall Islands. We must continue to press forward with out claims before the US Congress, and in the Courts, and at the United Nations. It is my hope that on this day of remembrance, we shall re-dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of fair compensation for all, and so that at long last the world can atone for what was done here to our people.

Thank you, very much for your time and attention.