Statement by Samuel K. Lanwi, Jr., Deputy Permanent Representative Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Marshall Islands to the UN Office and other international organizations in Geneva
Scottish CND Commemorative Event
Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day
01 March 2021
Good afternoon everyone,
I would like to start by thanking the organizers of this event for their great work. We are honored to have been invited to this year’s commemoration of Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day. Back home in our islands, we are commemorating today’s anniversary with the theme, “We Are Not Alone”. With this message, we are acknowledging the solidarity among other frontline communities in our shared journeys for justice and with this event, we are again reminded that we are not alone.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands has first-hand experience with the horrific effects of nuclear weapons and this occasion is an important one in our nuclear legacy. March 1 marks the 67th anniversary in the Marshall Islands of the U.S. hydrogen bomb test, codenamed Bravo. Not only does this anniversary serve to remind us of the sacrifices and damages we endured from nuclear weapons on that day, but it also reminds us to honor and support the victims and survivors of nuclear testing throughout the Marshall Islands.
Between 1946 and 1958, the US government detonated 67 thermonuclear atmospheric tests in the Marshall Islands. The scale of the 67 tests in the Marshall Islands is equivalent to a detonation of 1.7 Hiroshima bombs every day for 12 years. The March 1, 1954 Bravo test was the most powerful nuclear device detonated by the United States, which at 15 megatons was 1000 times the force of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1944. This test rained heavy fallout on nearby inhabited atolls and ushered in a new era of radiation-related studies on humans, the trauma of which continues to be felt today in the Marshall Islands.
The United States Government’s decision to proceed with the Bravo test despite knowing that the winds would carry the fallout to nearby inhabited islands represents a deep sadness in our nuclear legacy story, matched only by the sadness of the forced displacement of the Bikini and Enewetak people from their island homes to accommodate the other test series. The promise of a temporary displacement would turn into one that persists today for the people of Bikini and Rongelap atolls, whose homelands remain unsafe and too dangerous for their return. As a result, these communities have been forced to connect to new lands, not of their own, and learn new ways to adapt and survive.
Cumulative long-term impacts on our health and environment are well studied but too many uncertainties still exist, including the impacts of radiation exposure on future generations. Cancer rates are abnormally high among Marshallese people and illnesses that were never known prior to the testing period are now prevalent throughout the islands.
When the Marshall Islands gained its independence from the United States in 1986, the U.S. Government provided initial funding of 150 million USD to establish the Nuclear Claims Tribunal. The Tribunal was the mutually agreed upon forum for hearing all claims of personal injury and property damages arising out of the U.S. nuclear testing program. The Tribunal is no
longer in operation due to insufficient funds to adequately respond to the scale of damages that were revealed throughout its years of operations. We continue to explore avenues with the United States to acknowledge the manifest inadequacy of its initial funding provision to support nuclear-related damages so that the Tribunal can continue its work.
Today, a stark, physical symbol of the U.S. nuclear testing era sits at sea level at the end of a small island in Enewetak Atoll. The Runit Dome is a massive concrete structure covering an unlined crater filled with over 100,000 cubic yards of radioactively contaminated soil and debris left over from the testing activities. Due to the normal wear and tear of concrete, as well as rising sea levels, the Runit Dome exterior has started to crack in some places and the radiation inside the Dome is flowing freely with the lagoon water that meets its outer edges. As the sea level rises and high tide events become more frequent, it is not difficult to sense the impending grave threat that a low-level nuclear waste facility poses to its surrounding environment, particularly to the health of the community living nearby. A threat of this scale requires a response of equal scale and the Marshall Islands is working with the U.S. and other partners to help us address and prevent a potentially looming disaster.
Our nuclear story is borne of tragedy, but it is a story of strength and resilience, as well. The Marshall Islands has been taking various steps to address the nuclear legacy we inherited. In the Marshall Islands National Strategy for Nuclear Justice, which was adopted in 2019, one of the five key pillars is focused on building our national capacity to monitor, understand radiation impacts on our environment, and to take action where required. In line with this effort, the Marshall Islands has also extended invitations to the Special Rapporteurs on the right to a
healthy environment, on toxic waste, and on the right to truth, justice, reparation, and non- recurrence, to conduct a visit to the Marshall Islands.
Through these and other initiatives, the Marshall Islands is continuing its resolve and determination to work with our closest ally, the United States, and other allies in the global community, to bring attention to the ongoing health and environmental impacts of nuclear weapons that we continue to grapple with today.
The tragic events of the 1st of March 1954 will not be forgotten by the people of the Marshall Islands and we ask our friends in the global community to stand in solidarity with us not only on this occasion, but throughout our journey towards justice. We are committed to ensuring that our future generations are educated about our nuclear legacy so that they will continue to carry the stories of sacrifice and survival forward. We hope that they too will know that they are not alone.
Kommol tata & I thank you all.