Saturday, March 11, 2006
'NOW WE HAVE NO CHOICE"
This follow up on the article from a few days back is from Marianas Variety.
BIKINI, ENEWETAK TO FILE NUKE LAWSUITS AGAINST U.S.
By Giff Johnson
March 10, 2006
MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, March 10) — Islanders from two
ground zeros for 67 American nuclear tests and a third island that was
engulfed in radioactive fallout in a Chernobyl-style nuclear accident are to
file lawsuits in United States courts seeking more than $1 billion in
Seeing virtually no progress on the Marshall Islands government’s petition
to the U.S. Congress asking for additional nuclear test compensation that
was filed nearly six years ago, the nuclear test affected atolls are
preparing to take their cases back to the U.S. court system for action.
Bikini Atoll will file a claim in U.S. courts this month, the 60th
anniversary of their removal by the U.S. Navy to start the first post-World
War II nuclear tests, according to Bikini Senator Tomaki Juda. The Bikinians’
lawsuit will be an effort to get payment on the $563 million judgment issued
but not paid by the Nuclear Claims Tribunal in 2001, said Bikini official
Jack Niedenthal on Wednesday.
Bikini was the site of 23 nuclear tests, including the 1954 Bravo hydrogen
bomb, which was the largest U.S. weapon ever tested.
Enewetak Atoll, which received the first land damage award from the Nuclear
Claims Tribunal in April 2000, is gearing to file a suit in the next several
weeks in order to beat the six-year statute of limitations for filing a
claim. Enewetak wants to get action on a $386 million Nuclear Claims
Tribunal award. Enewetak was the site of 44 nuclear tests.
Because of a lack of funds, the Tribunal made only two small payments on
these awards in 2002 and 2003, amounting to about $2.2 million for Bikini
and $1.6 million for Enewetak.
Although the Tribunal has not yet ruled on Rongelap Atoll’s land damage
claim, Rongelap is preparing for U.S. court action later this year.
Rongelap’s lawyers and scientific advisors will begin a series of community
meetings next week Tuesday in Majuro to discuss legal strategy. Unsuspecting
islanders on Rongelap, about 100 miles east of Bikini, were engulfed in
radioactive fallout from the 1954 Bravo test. They suffered serious burns
and other radiation-induced illnesses in the days after the test, and have
suffered numerous health problems, including a high rate of thyroid tumors,
in the 50 years since Bravo.
"If we get the Tribunal award by August, then we’ll file (in the U.S.
courts) later this year," said Rongelap Mayor James Matayoshi, adding that
the Tribunal has no funding left to satisfy any awards made.
"We have no other choice," he said. "The message from the United States
government is that ‘changed circumstances’ doesn’t exist."
A provision in a now-expired nuclear compensation agreement between the U.S.
and Marshall Islands governments said that if the Marshall Islands could
show that there were "changed circumstances" that rendered the $270 million
compensation already paid "manifestly inadequate," then the U.S. Congress
would consider additional compensation.
Nuclear test-affected islanders, including officials from the Majuro-based
Nuclear Claims Tribunal, say that the U.S. compensation was clearly
inadequate based on new information about the numbers of cancers that are
arising from people’s exposure and new scientific understanding about the
hazards of radiation. A petition seeking several billion dollars in
additional nuclear test compensation and health care has been pending with
the U.S. Congress since 2000 with little movement.
The Bush administration last year issued a report to the Congress stating
that there is no legal obligation for the U.S. government to provide more
compensation. U.S. Ambassador to the Marshall Islands Greta Morris told the
Bikini people at a ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of their relocation
last Friday that the U.S. government continues to be "concerned about the
damage done to the Marshallese people and environment caused by the nuclear
tests in the 1940’s and 1950’s." She also expressed the U.S. government’s
"deepest gratitude to the people of the Marshall Islands for your
contribution to security, peace and freedom through your participation in
the nuclear testing program."
But she described the 1986 compensation package as a "full and final
settlement" of all Marshall Islands claims and confirmed that the Bush
administration does not support additional compensation.
"Allow me to stress that nothing in the administration’s report in any way
reflects a weakening of U.S. commitments to the Marshallese people," Morris
said. "Indeed, the United States has no closer relationship with any nation
in the world than it has through the Compact of Free Association with the
Bikini and Enewetak had lawsuits pending in the U.S. courts for land
damages, and thousands of Marshall Islanders had personal injury claims
pending when the first Compact of Free Association with its nuclear test
compensation package came into effect in 1986. The more than $5 billion in
lawsuits were dismissed in 1986 by a U.S. judge on the basis that an
alternative forum — the Compact’s $270 million compensation section, which
included direct compensation payments to four nuclear affected atolls and
established the Nuclear Claims Tribunal to review claims for future nuclear
damages — had been created by the two governments to address the nuclear
test problem problem.
Matayoshi said the nuclear affected atolls spent the last 20 years going
through this process, but that because the Tribunal was not adequately
funded by the U.S. to pay the amounts awarded, the process has failed to
satisfy the claims.