Breathing life into nuclear issue

Maria Capital (left) and Lemeyo Abon (right) joined REACH-MI President Rosania Bennett to cut the cake officially launching the new organization. Photo: Giff Johnson.
Maria Capital (left) and Lemeyo Abon (right) joined REACH-MI President Rosania Bennett to cut the cake officially launching the new organization. Photo: Giff Johnson.

A new organization focused on the nuclear weapons testing legacy in the Marshall Islands says its aim is achieving justice for Marshall Islanders.

The group, Radiation Exposure Awareness Crusaders for Humanity — Marshall Islands (REACH-MI for short), officially launched itself Tuesday with a program attended by about 40 people held at Sandy’s. REACH-MI Vice President Ellen Milne-Paul said the nuclear test legacy is a cross-cutting issue for the Marshall Islands and a key aim of the new group is to create awareness among the younger generation about the US nuclear testing program. She also said they are running a logo contest among local high schools, offering a $100 prize, that will be announced on the March 1 Nuclear Day anniversary next year — the 70th anniversary of the relocation of Bikini Islanders and the start of US nuclear weapons tests.

Keynote speaker Bill Graham, who worked as Public Advocate at the Nuclear Claims Tribunal for 21 years, applauded REACH-MI for focusing efforts on the still unresolved nuclear legacy. Graham called the compensation package included in the Compact’s 177 Section a “flawed” agreement, in part because they US government did not share the many historical studies and reports on its nuclear weapons program with Marshall Islands negotiators in the early 1980s. Most of these documents were classified “restricted,” “confidential,” or “secret.”

He described a 1955 report on Bravo and the five other large nuclear tests conducted at Bikini in 1954 that was not declassified and made public until 1994. This report includes charts showing radiation exposure from each test at numerous atolls around the Marshall Islands, including Majuro, Arno and Jaluit, he said. “None of this information was shared with Marshall Islands negotiators,” he said.

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner said she supported REACH-MI because grassroots organizations can make a big difference. She described the nuclear testing as “a really traumatic history for us.” She then delivered a slam poetry presentation on the nuclear testing called “History Project” (which can be watched at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJm0pCbHB6Y) that she did as a 15-year old high school student in Hawaii. “We still have not gotten justice,” she said in conclusion.

REACH-MI President Rosania Bennett made the point about reaching out to Americans and the United States to achieve their goal through the Marshalls’ “brotherly love for the US.” Justice, she added, is “based on love.”

Read more about this in the December 18, 2015 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.

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