Iroij halts DOE Enewetak flight

The Runit Dome nuclear waste storage facility at Enewetak is the focus of Department of Energy studies. Photo: Defense Nuclear Agency.
The Runit Dome nuclear waste storage facility at Enewetak is the focus of Department of Energy studies. Photo: Defense Nuclear Agency.

An angry letter from Enewetak Iroij Mores Abraham that caused cancellation of a US government-chartered AMI flight Friday sparked a strongly worded protest from Enewetak elected leaders Monday this week.

Abraham, who represents Enewetak on the Council of Iroij, wrote new US Ambassador Karen Stewart last Thursday that the Department of Energy “is conducting a project on my islands of Enewetak without my endorsement.” He called this and the ambassador’s brief visit the previous week to Enewetak on a DOE charter flight a violation of Marshallese custom.

The RMI Ministry of Foreign Affairs elevated Abraham’s letter to the diplomatic level by transmitting it through a “diplomatic note” to the US Embassy.

Abraham’s letter said the US has violated the Compact by not producing an environmental impact statement on DOE’s work at Enewetak. “Due to these egregious violations of Marshallese custom and bilateral agreements, I am suspending the DOE mission to my island tomorrow 12 August 2016.”

The flight was cancelled Friday, stranding DOE staff who had been working at the atoll from the previous week, according to reports.

Enewetak Senator Jack Ading and Mayor Jackson Ading were furious about the development, and expressed it in a letter to Foreign Minister John Silk Monday.

“We protest in the strongest terms the events that led to the embarrassing cancellation of a flight to Enewetak on August 12,” they said. “What is absolutely inexcusable is that we, the elected leadership of Enewetak, were not informed of this action and were not given the opportunity to respond on behalf of the people we represent.”

The Adings said it took years of pushing the US government to gain passage of US Congressional legislation for a “comprehensive new US-funded radiochemical monitoring program for Runit Dome. This work is very important for the health of our people, and we are disappointed that you would have allowed our hard-fought gains for our people to be jeopardized by failing to consult us on the matter.”

The Adings said they “have been kept fully informed of the important work that they (DOE) are doing and we fully support it.”

Last week, as the confrontational letter and situation occurred, Abraham’s wife, Brooke Takala, posted on social media: “The US/Department of Energy is conducting an experiment on Runit Dome but hasn’t bothered to let the community know what they are doing.”

The Adings said the RMI government’s “failure to consult” Enewetak’s elected leaders “has caused this matter to needlessly escalate into an international incident.”

The flight to Enewetak was re-scheduled to Monday this week.

Read more about this in the August 19, 2016 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.