“Grief, terror and righteous anger” has not faded for Marshall Islanders despite the passage of 71 years since the first nuclear weapons test at Bikini Atoll, President Hilda Heine told the Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day ceremony Wednesday in Majuro.
The event, that included a parade, ringing of a bell 71 times to mark the years since the first Bikini tests, and speeches, was held at the courtyard of the former RMI capital building in Majuro.
This year’s nuclear test commemoration did not end as usual with the morning program. A three-day “Nuclear Legacy Conference: Charting a Journey Toward Justice” kicked off Wednesday afternoon at the International Conference Center with a keynote address by Ambassador Tony deBrum, and presentations by Marshall Islanders and experts from the US and Japan who traveled to Majuro to attend the conference.
At Wednesday morning’s ceremony, President Heine said the US government had not been honest as to the “extent of radiation and the lingering effects the US Nuclear Weapons Testing Program would have on our lives, ocean and land.”
She pointed out that US government studies kept secret from the Marshall Islands during negotiations on a compensation agreement reached in the 1980s “have now shown that 18 other inhabited atolls or single islands were contaminated by three of the six nuclear bombs tested in Operation Castle, as well as by the Bravo shot in 1954. The myth of only four ‘exposed’ atolls of Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrik, has shaped US nuclear policy on the Marshallese people since 1954, which limited medical and scientific follow up, and compensation programs.
“As your President, I cannot and will not accept the position of the United States government.”
Heine pointed out that Nitijela adopted into law the National Nuclear Commission to lead efforts for nuclear justice.
US Ambassador Karen Stewart honored islanders who suffered from nuclear testing and said “we will never forget Marshallese who sacrificed for global security.” Speaking about those who had already passed away, she said she was “encouraged by their and your courage for justice and your courage to build a better society.” Stewart said the US “will continue to be your partner…for a brighter future for the Marshall Islands.” She praised the aims of the three-day nuclear legacy conference, saying it was vital for the younger generation to learn about these issues.
Enewetak Senator Jack Ading, speaking on behalf of other nuclear-affected atolls, pointed out that few survivors of the 1940s evacuations and nuclear weapons tests are still alive. “For most of us, the paradise that God created is just a legend from our elders,” he said. “By the time most of us were born, our paradise was a paradise lost.”
Ading said the 67 weapons tests left a “toxic legacy” that will affect the Marshall Islands for generations.
A number of doctors, scientists and researchers from the United States and Japan are participating in the three-day Nuclear Legacy Conference that started Wednesday afternoon and is open to the public at the ICC.
Read more about this in the March 3, 2017 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.