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The Rongelap Report
Barbara Rose Johnston and Holly M. Barker
1630 North Main Street, #400 ^
Walnut Creek, California 94596
http :/Avww.LCoastPress.com
Copyright © 2008 by Barbara Rose Johnston
All rights reserved. No part ofthis publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording,
or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.
Hardback ISBN 978-1-59874-345-6
Paperback ISBN 978-1-59874-346-3
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Johnston, Barbara Rose.
Consequential damages of nuclear war : the Rongelap report/Barbara Rose Johnston
and Holly M. Barker,
p. cm.
Includes index.
ISBN 978-1-59874-345-6 (hardcover : alk. paper)
ISBN 978-1-59874-346-3 (pbk.: alk. paper)
1. Rongelap Atoll (Marshall Islands)—Claims vs. United States. 2. Nuclear weapons—
Testing—Health aspects—Marshall Islands—Rongelap Atoll. 3. Nuclear weapons—
Testing—^Environmental aspects—Marshall Islands—Rongelap Atoll. 4. Radiation
victims—Legal status, laws, etc.—Marshall Islands. 5. Radioactive pollution—Marshall
Islands. I. Barker, Holly M. II. Title.
KZ238.M37J64 2008
Printed in the United States ofAmerica
paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American
National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library
Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48—1992.
Cover design by Andrew Brozyna
Cover photo: John Anjain in April 1999, remembering the Bravo shot while standing on the
site of his boyhood home. This visit was Anjain’s first return to Rongelap since evacuation
in 1985. Photo courtesy W Nicholas Captain.
^f’f *
This book is dedicated
with respect and admiration
to those who can no longer tell their story in person
but whose experiences are partly recounted here:
Alab andformer mayor ofRongelap John Anjain
Mr. George Anjain
Ms. Almira Matayoshi
List of Illustrations
Prologue: Consequential Damages of Nuclear War
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The Rongelap Report: Hardships and Consequential Damages from
Radioactive Contamination, Denied Use, Exile, and Human Subject
Experimentation Experienced by the People of Rongelap, Rongerik,
and Ailinginae Atolls
Part 1: Introduction
Summary of Relevant Findings
Research Concerns
Research Methods
Report Framework
Photo Essay
after page 56
Part 2: Loss of a Healthy, Sustainable Way of Life
Valuing Land from a Marshallese Perspective
Land and Sea Tenure
Rules Governing Access and Use Rights
Cultural Land and Seascapes
Spiritual Values of Land and Seascape
Environmental Knowledge and Sustainable Resource Use
Flexible Patterns of Resource Use—Sustainable Living on Atoll Ecosystems 82
Taboos and Resource Management
Concluding Discussion
Part 3: Chain of Events and Critical Issues of Concern
Evacuation from Rongelap to Lae in 1946
Damage and Continued Loss of Access to Rongerik
The Bravo Event
Relocation from Rongelap to Kwajalein in 1954
Project 4.1 Research on Kwajalein
Relocation from Kwajalein to Ejit
Long-Term Human Subject Research Plans, Priorities, and Policies
Difficulties of Life in a Contaminated Setting
Degenerative Health and Health Care Issues on Rongelap
Human Subject Research Experiences
Evacuation of Rongelap in 1985
Current Conditions Endured by a Fragmented Rongelap Community
Part 4: Summary of Damages, Needs, and Compensation Concerns
Claims by the People of Rongelap for Hardship and Related Consequential
Damages of the Nuclear Weapons Testing Program
Consequences of These Events and Injuries
Household Economic Injuries
Compensation Concerns
Research Needs
Ideas for Remedial Action
Part 5: Conclusions and Recommendations
Violations of Trustee Relationships
Statements of Culpability
Relevant Case Precedents
Recommendations for Categories of Concern in This Claim
Concluding Remarks
Epilogue: Seeking Meaningful Remedy
Sample Marshallese text from the memoir ofJohn Anjain
List of documents submitted to the Nuclear Claims Tribunal in support
of the Rongelap claim
Letter from the Advisory Committee on Biology and Medicine to
Lewis Strauss, chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission,
November 19,1956
Memorandum from Gordon M. Dunning to C. L. Dunham,
June 13,1957. Subject: Resurvey of Rongelap Atoll
Letter from Hermann Lisco, MD, Cancer Research Institute,
New England Deaconess Hospital, to George Darling, Director,
Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, April 29,1966
Letter from Paul Seligman, U.S. Department of Energy, to
Mayor James Matayoshi, Rongelap Atoll Local Government Council,
April 29, 1999 â– 
1. The Marshall Islands
2. Marshall Islands and fallout from Bravo
3. Comparing Nevada Test Site and Bikini Atoll
4. John Anjain’s map of Rongerik
1. Levels of plutonium-239/240 and americium-241
Photo Essay
after page 56
1. Looking down on Majuro, April 1999
2. Marshallese sailing canoes, 1899
3. Man in outrigger canoe on Rongelap Lagoon, early 1950s
4. Rongelap man and two women, 1899
5. Copra drying on Rongelap, 1957
6. Able Test, Operation Crossroads, 1946
7. Baker test. Operation Crossroads, 1946
8. “George” test. Operation Greenhouse, 1951
9. Operation Ivy’s shot King, 1952
10. Bravo Test, Operation Castle, 1954
11. Project 4.1, documenting loss of hair and beta burns
12. Examination of burns suffered by a Rongelap boy
13. Monitoring radiation levels on Rongelap after the Bravo test
14. Exhuming those who died during the three years of exile
15. Return to Rongelap, 1957
16. Return to Rongelap, 1957
17. Rongelap children lining up for medical survey exams, 1961
18. “Control subjects,” long-term human radiation research program, c. 1960s
19. Dr. Robert Conard examining thyroids, c. 1973
20. Evacuation of Rongelap, 1985
21. Greenpeace assisted in the evacuation of Rongelap, 1985
22. Carol and her Grandfather
23. Brookhaven scientists document stunting
10 *> Illustrations
Intergenerational worries, 1982
Intergenerational worries, date unknown
DOE assurances
Return to Rongelap, April 1999
Lijon Eknilang testifying to the RMI Nuclear Claims Tribunal, 2001
Project 4.1 protest on Bravo Day, 2004
Women of Rongelap at a community gathering, 2004
Rongelap Councilwoman Rokko Langinbelik, 2004
A third-generation Utrik child born in 2005
Consequential Damages of Nuclear War
Statement of John Anjain:
Early in the morning ofMarch 1, 1954, sometime aroundfive or six o’clock, American
planes dropped a hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll. Shortly before this happened, I had
awakened and stepped out ofmy house. Orue outside, I looked around and saw Billiet
Edmond making coffee near his house. I walked up and stood next to him. The two ofus
talked about goingJbhing later in the morning. After only afew minutes had passed we
saw a light to the west ofRongelap Atoll. When this light reached Rongelap we saw many
beautiful colors. I expect the reason people didn’t go inside their houses right away was
because the yellow, green, pink, red, and blue colors which they saw were such a beautiful
sight before their eyes.
The second thing that happened involved the gust ofwind that camefrom the
explosion. The wind was so hot and strong that some people who were outside staggered,
including Billiet and I. Even some windowsfell as a result of the wind.
The third thing that happened concerned the smoke-cloud which we sawfrom the
bomb blast. The smoke rose quickly to the clouds and as it reached them we heard a sound
louder than thunder. When people heard this deafening clap some ofthe women and
childrenfed to the woods. Once the sound of the explosion had died out everyone began
cooking, some made donuts and others cooked rice.
Later some men wentfishing, including myself Around nine or ten-o’clock I took my
throw net and left to gofishing nearfabwon. As I walked along the beach I looked at
the sky and saw it was white like smoke; nevertheless I kept ongoing. When I reached
fabwon, or even a little before, I began tofeel afine powderfalling all over my body and
into my eyes. Ifelt it but I didn’t know what it was.
I went ahead with myfishing and caught enoughfish with my throw-net tofill a bag.
Then I went to the woods to pick some coconuts. I came back to the beach and sat on a
rock to drink the coconuts and eat some rawfish. As I was sitting and eating, the powder
Prologue ❖ 13
began tofall harder. I looked out and saw that the coconuts had changed color. By now
all the trees were white as well as my entire body. I gazed up at the sky but couldn’t see
the clouds because it was so misty. I didn’t believe this was dangerous. I only knew that
powder wasfalling. I was somewhat afraid nevertheless.
When I returned to Rongelap village I saw people cookingfood outside their cook­
houses. They didn’t know the powder was very dangerous. The powderfell all day and
night long over the entire atoll ofRongelap. During the night people were sick. They were
nauseous, they had stomach, head, ear, leg and shoulder aches. People did not sleep that
night because they were sick.
The next day, March 2, 1954, people got up in the morning and went down to get
water. It had turned a yellowish color. “Oh, Oh” they cried out and said “the powder that
fell down yesterday and last night is a harmful thing. ” They were sick and sofabwe, the
health-aide, walked around in the morning and warned the people not to drink the water.
He told them that if they were thirsty to drink coconuts only.
. .. At three o clock in the afternoon cfMarch 2, 1954 a seaplanefrom Enewetak Atoll
landed in the lagoon ofRongelap and two men came ashore. Billiet and I asked them
why they had come to Rongelap and they responded by saying they had come to inspect
the damage caused by the bomb. They said they would spend twenty minutes looking at
all the wells, cement water catchments, houses and other things. The two men returned
quickly to their plane and left without telling anyone that thefood, water, and other things
were harmful to human beings.
Everyone was quite surprised at the speed with which the men surveyed everything
in the island and then returned to their plane. People said maybe we’ve been really
harmed because the men were in such a hurry to leave. Although they said they would
look aroundfor about twenty minutes, they probably didn’t stay herefor more than ten
minutes. So in less than ten minutes after their,arrival on Rongelap, the two men had
already taken cff.
.. .On that day we looked at the water catchments, tubs and other places where there
was a great deal ofwater stored. The water had turned a strong yellow and those who
drank it said it tasted hitter.
On March 3, early in the morning, a ship and a seaplane withfour propellers appeared
on Rongelap. Out of the plane came Mr. Oscar [DeBrum] and Mr. Wiles, the governor
ofKwajelein Atoll. As their boat reached the shore, Mr. Oscar cried out to the people to get
on board andforget about their personal belongingsfor whoever thought ofstaying behind
would die. Such were the words by which he spoke to them. Therefore, none of the people
went back to their houses, but immediately got on the boats and sailed to board the ship
that would take them away. Those who were sick and old were evacuated by plane.
.. .At ten o’clock in the morning we left RongelapforAilinginae Atoll and arrived
there at three in the afternoon. We picked up nineteen people on this atoll and byfwe
o’clock we were on our way to Kwajalein.
On March 4, we arrived on Kwajalein and met the Admiral who then sent us to
where we were to stay. A day later. Dr. Conard and his medical team arrived. The doctors
I sm
were very thorough in checking and caringfor our injuries and showed much concern in
examining us. The Admiral was also very concerned about our situation and took us in as
ifwe were his own children. His name was Admiral Clark.
Ever since 1954 Dr. Conard has continued to examine thefallout victims on a yearly
basis. These visits are very importantfor all the people on Rongelap and others in the
Marshall Islands. These medical examinations are also ofgreat importancefor men
throughout the world.
.. . From 1959 to 1963 and 1964, after the Rongelapese had returned to Rongelap
from Majuro, many women gave birth prematurely to babies which looked somewhat
like animals. Women also had miscarriages. During these years many other strange things
happened with regard tofood, especially tojbh in which thefertilized eggs and liver
turned a blackish color. In all myforty years I had never seen this happen infish either
on Rongelap or in any of the other places I’ve been in the Marshall Islands. Also, when
people atefish or [arrowroot] starch produced on Rongelap, they developed a rash in their
mouths. This too I had never seen before.
… I, fohn, Anjain, was magistrate ofRongelap when all this occurred and I now
write this to explain what happened to the Rongelap people at that time.^
[In 1954] the people ofRongelap stayed on Kwajaleinfor three months and the DOE
[Atomic Energy Commission] people removed the Rongelap people to Majuro. The
people lived in Majurofor three years and in 1956 the DOE, Trust Territory government
and the UN came to Majuro and I went with them to attend a meeting with them at the
Mil school in Rita. And they told me that it is time that we go back home. And I asked
“are we really going home while Rongelap is contaminated?” And the answer that they
give me is that “it is true that Rongelap is contaminated but it is not dangerous. And if
you don’t believe us, well then stay here and take care ofyourself.”
… In 1957 the people returned to Rongelap and the DOE promised that there
wouldn’t be any problems to the Rongelap people. However in 1958 and 1959 most of
the women gave birth to something that was not resembling human beings. There was a
woman giving birth to a grape. Another woman gave birth to something that resembles a
‘ Excerpts from John Anjain, “The Fallout on Rongelap Atoll and Its Social, Medical and
Environmental Effects,” ed. and trans. Richard A. Sundt (unpublished manuscript, 1973), on file
at the Nuclear Claims Tribunal, Majuro, RMI. Between late 1968 and March 1969, John Anjain
wrote a series ofarticles on the people ofRongelap and their experiences with fallout, evacuation,
medical monitoring, and life on a contaminated atoll. His original intent was to publish the series
in a Marshallese-English newspaper, a project associated with an adult English-language class
being taught on Rongelap by Peace Corps volunteers John and Jean Ranahan. Only a single issue
of the paper was produced, and Anjain’s initial account was not in that issue. Richard Sundt, also
a Peace Corps worker on Rongelap, encouraged Anjain to continue writing his memoir. In 1973
Sundt translated Anjain’s writing, developed commentary, and submitted this work in a graduate
course on the anthropology ofOceania at the University ofWisconsin-Madison. As Sundt noted
in an e-mail to Barbara Rose Johnston on February 29, 2008, “When John wrote his account in
1968 and for long thereafter (so far as I can tell) this was the only written account by a Marshallese
voice.” An example of Anjain’s Marshallese text is included in the appendix.
monkey. And so on. There was a child born at that time and there was no shell covering
the top of that child’s head.^
The American doctors came every year to examine us. Every year they came, and they
told us that we were not sick, and then they would return the next year. But they didfind
something wrong. Theyfound one boy did not grow asfast as boys his age. They gave
him medicine. Then they beganfinding the thyroid sickness.
My son Lekoj was thirteen when theyfound his thyroid was sick. They took him
away to a hospital in America. They cut out his thyroid. They gave him some medicine
and told him to take it every dayfor the rest of his life. The same thing happened to other
people. The doctors kept returning and examining us. Several years ago, they took me to a
hospital in America, and they cut out my thyroid. They gave me medicine and told me to
take it every dayfor the rest of my life.
Afew years after the bomb. Senator Amata Kabua tried to get some compensation
for the people ofRongelap. He got a lawyer, and the lawyer made a case in court. The
court turned our case down. The court said it could not consider our case because we were
not part ofthe United States. Dwight Heine went to the United Nations to tell them
about us. Peoplefrom the United Nations came to see us, and we told them how wefelt.
Finally, in 1964, the U.S. Congress passed a bill. The bill gave us money as a payment
for our experience. Some ofthe people spent all their money; some of them still have
money in the bank. After we got the money, they beganfinding the thyroid sickness.
In 1972, they took Lekoj away again. They said they wanted to examine him. They
took him to America to a big hospital near Washington. Later, they took me to this
hospital near Washington because they said he was very sick. My son Lekoj died after [I]
arrived. He never saw his island again. He returned home in a box. He is buried on our
island. The doctors say he had a sickness called leukemia. They are quite sure it wasfrom
the bomb.
But I am positive.
I saw the ashfall on him. I know it was the bomb. I watched him die.^
Statement ofAlmira Matayoshi:
I was pregnant when they dropped the bomb [Bravo]. I wasfiown offofRongelap with
the other pregnant women and elderly people. The rest ofthe people left on the boat. I
gave birth to Robert on Ejit, and he was normal. The child I had after Robert, when we
had returned to Rongelap, I gave birth to something that was like grapes. Ifelt like I was
^ “Statement ofJohn Anjain,” October 28,2001, read by Senator Abacca Maddison-Anjain to the
Nuclear Claims Tribunal, October 31,2001.
^ John Anjain, testimony to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, 95th
Cong., June 16,1977.
Prologue 4* 15
going to diefrom the toss of blood. My vision was gone, and I wasfading in and out of
consciousness. They emergency evacuated me to Kwajalein, and I was sure I was going
to die. After the grapes, I had a third child. It wasn’t like a child at all. It had no bones
and was all skin. When I gave birth they said, ‘Ak ta men en?” [What is that thing?].
Mama said uror [a term denoting exacerbation]. It was thefirst strange child that
people had seen. I was thefirst. That time was the worst in my life. Ifeel both angry and
John Anjain is the man whose image appears on the cover of this book. This picture
was taken in 1999, as John was describing to the scientists, lawyers, and other
experts, assembled with him on his first visit to Rongelap since 1985, what it was
that he saw on March 1,1954, when the hydrogen bomb was detonated, and what
he had experienced since. He has his hands up in the air, sketching out the blast as
it appeared in the sky, su^esting with this gesture the immenseness of it all.
Almira Matayoshi was a young mother-to-be when caught in the fallout from
the 1954 hydrogen bomb. Her experiences in years to come were sadly not unique.
Many Marshallese women gave birth to children with indescribable features and
characteristics; no Marshallese words existed to describe these children.
What words can possibly communicate what it is like to see and survive such
sights? To become increasingly fearful that the intense beauty of your world—the
water, the sand, the plants, the soil, the sea, and all the creatures within—has been
fundamentally transformed by invisible, untouchable, all-encompassing poison?
After years and years of living in a radioactive laboratory as the subject of scrutiny
and study, what does it mean to find your fears confirmed—that your favorite
foods are taboo, that your loved ones grow old before their time and your children
fail to thrive? What does it mean to “survive” downwind from the U.S. proving
grounds—^where nuclear war was practiced and perfected by Cold Warriors? This
book is an effort to answer some of these questions, to tease out the many and varied
consequences of the U.S. atmospheric weapons testing program in the Pacific, and
to do so in ways that amplify the voice of Marshallese experience.
The Rongelap Report is an expert witness report that was submitted to the Republic
of the Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal (NCT) in September 2001. It was
prepared by Barbara Rose Johnston and Holly M. Barker at the request of NCT
Public Advocate Bill Graham, with funding provided by the NCT. The report
served as evidence in the Nuclear Claims Tribunal hearing on hardship, pain,
suffering, and consequential damages experienced by the people of Rongelap,
^ Almira Matayoshi, interview by Holly M. Barker, Honolulu, June 13,2001.
16 *i> Prologue
Rongerik, and Ailinginae as a result of the actions and activities of the U.S. nuclear
weapons testing program. The hearing took place in the fall of 2001 in Majuro,
the capital city of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, with the involvement and
testimony of the Rongelap people, including Almira Matayoshi and John Anjain,
whose poignant memories reprinted above stand in sharp contrast to the public
version of events reported in the media. The report is reproduced here with minor
editing done for readability and context.
The Rongelap Report tells the story of the myriad of changes that occur to a com­
munity whose lives and lands are heavily contaminated with radioactive fallout.
In 1946, after evacuating the people of Bikini and nearby atoll communities in the
Marshall Islands, the United States detonated two atomic weapons: the same type
of bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. In 1947 the United Nations de­
signated the Marshall Islands a U.S. trust territory. Over the next eleven years, this
U.S. territory played host to another sixty-five atmospheric atomic and thermo­
nuclear tests. The largest ofthese tests, code named Bravo, was detonated on March
1,1954. This 15-megaton hydrogen bomb was purposefully exploded close to the
ground. It melted huge quantities of coral atoll, sucking it up and mixing it with
radiation released by the weapon before depositing it on the islands and inhabitants
in the form of ash, or radioactive fallout. The wind was blowing that morning in
the direction of inhabited atolls, including Rongelap and Utrik, some 100 and
300 miles from the test site at Bikini. The Marshallese communities on Rongelap,
Ailinginae, and Utrik atolls, U.S. servicemen on Rongerik Atoll (weathermen
who were monitoring winds and fallout),^ and the twenty-three-man crew of the
Japanese fishing vessel Fukuryu Mam (Lucky Dragon) received near-lethal doses
of radiation from the Bravo event.^
‘ -1
Republic of the
Marshall Islands
Map 1.
The Marshall Islands
^ Twenty-eight weathermen on Rongerik were exposed to Bravo fallout, and their conditions
were monitored as part of Project 4.1. After three months, they were released for duty. Attention
to the question of the long-term health effects of fallout on these servicemen did not occur
until the threat of lawsuits from the Marshallese and from atomic veterans (some 210,000
servicemen whose duty during atmospheric weapons tests resulted in exposure to radiation).
Public Law 97-72, passed in 1981, authorized free health care for veterans whose health
problems are a result of exposure during war to ionizing radiation or Agent Orange. In 1982
four air force veterans exposed during Operation Castle tests filed lawsuits challenging the
government’s explanation of how people came to be exposed. In 1983 the U.S. government
announced that Public Law 97-72 also covers atomic veterans whose exposure resulted from
service during atmospheric weapons tests (1945-1962). Access to health care requires proof
of exposure. In 1984 the navy distributed health questionnaires to atomic veterans and, some
thirty years after initial exposure, reassessed its records and issued estimated doses to Rongerik
service personnel. SeeJ. Goetz et si., Analysis ofRadiation Exposure—Service Personnel on Rongerik
Atoll, Operation Castle—Shot Bravo (McClean, VA: Science Applications International Corp.,
1987), http://www.dtra.mil/documents/rd/DNATR86120.pdf (accessed February 10, 2008).
* This Japanese exposure resulted in an international outcry that further fueled the growth of a
worldwide antinuclear movement. Fora Web-based overview of the Lucky Dragon experience, see
18 Prologue
International protests and calls for a ban on nuclear weapons testing prompted
the U.S. government to publicly acknowledge the incident and accept liability. The
Marshallese filed an April 20, 1954, complaint to the United Nations Trusteeship
We, the Marshallese peoplefeel that we mustfollow the dictates ofour consciences to bring
forth this urgent plea to the United Nations, which has pledged itself to safeguard the
life, liberty and the general well being of the people of the Trust Territory, ofwhich the
Marshallese people are a part.
… The Marshallese people are not onlyfearful of the danger to their personsfrom these
deadly weapons in case ofanother miscalculation, hut they are also very concernedfor the
increasing number ofpeople who are being removedfrom their land.
. .. Land means a great deal to the Marshallese. It means more thanjust a place where
you can plant yourfood crops and build your houses; or a place where you can bury your
dead. It is the very life ofthe people. Take away their land and their spirits go also.^
In response to this petition the United States assured the General Assembly of
the United Nations:
Thefact that anyone was injured by recent nuclear tests in the Pacific has caused the
American people genuine and deep regret.. . . The United States Government considers
the resulting petition of the Marshall Islanders to be both reasonable and helpful. . . . The
Trusteeship Agreement of1947 which covers the Marshall Islands was predicated upon
thefact that the United Nations clearly dpproved these islands as a strategic area in which
atomic tests had already been held. Hence, from the onset, it was clear that the right to
close areasfor security reasons anticipated closing themfor atomic tests, and the United
Nations was so notified; such tests were conducted in 1948, 1951, 1952 as well as in
1954.. .. The question is whether the United States authorities in charge have exercised
due precaution in looking after the safety and welfare of the Islanders involved. That is
the essence of their petition and it is entirelyjustified. In reply, it can be categorically stated
“Third Radiation Exposure—The Lucky Dragon No. 5 and Hiroshima,” Hiroshima Peace Museum,
2005, http://www.pcf.city.hiroshima.jp/frameA^irtual_e/exhibit_e/exhi04_2.html (accessed
February 11, 2008).
^ Petition from the Marshallese People Concerning the Pacific Islands: Complaint Regarding
Explosions ofLethal Weapons within Our Home Islands, to United Nations Trusteeship Council,
April 20,1954. In its response to this petition the United Nations Trusteeship Council stated, “The
Administering Authority adds that any Marshallese citizens who are removed as a result of test
activities will be reestablished in their original habitat in such a way that no financial loss would
be involved.” United Nations Trusteeship Council, Petitions Concerning the Trust Territory of
the Pacific Islands, July 14,1954, 5.
that no stone will be left unturned to safeguard the present andfuture well-being of the
The United States promised the Marshallese and the United Nations General
Assembly that “Guarantees are given the Marshallese for fair andjust compensation
for losses of all sorts.”^
These guarantees worked: the United States was able to continue its atmospheric
weapons testing program in the Marshall Islands through 1958 and at the Nevada
Test Site through 1963, when the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet
Union finally signed on to a limited test ban treaty.
The United States has not, however, fully lived up to its promises to the
United Nations or the Marshallese people to safeguard their well-being. As
documented in the previously classified studies cited in our expert witness report,
atmospheric weapons testing in the Pacific resulted in considerable human and
environmental harm.
Global atmospheric nuclear weapons tests released numerous radioisotopes
and dangerous heavy metals. An estimated 2 percent of the radioactive fallout
was iodine-131, a highly radioactive isotope with an 8-day half-life. The nuclear
war games conducted by the United States in the Marshall Islands released some 8
billion curies of iodine-131.To place this figure in broader context, over the entire
history ofnuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Proving Grounds, some 150 million
curies of iodine-131 were released, and varying analyses of the Chernobyl nuclear
power plant disaster estimate an iodine-131 release of 40 to 54 million curies.*’
Much of the iodine-131 released in the Marshall Islands was the by-product of the
March 1,1954, Bravo test detonation of the hydrogen bomb. Designed to produce
® Mason Sears, U.S. representative to the Trusteeship Council, statement to the United States
Mission to the United Nations. Press release 1932, July 7, 1954, httpyAvorfeh.doe.gov/data/
ihpld/400107e.pdf (accessed February 5, 2008).
’ Frank E. Midkiff high commissioner of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, statement to
the United States Mission to the United Nations. Press release 1932, July 7, 1954, httpy/worf
eh.doe.gov/data/ihpld/400107e.pdf (accessed February 5, 2008).
“ In 1998 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated some 6.3 billion curies of iodine131 had been released in the Marshall Islands a result of nuclear weapons tests. The record of
radioactive release from atmospheric weapons tests in the Marshall Islands was later reassessed,
with the finding that the CDC value “appears too low by at least 32% and possibly by as much
as 42%” (Steve Simon, personal communication with RMI Nuclear Claims Tfibunal chairman
Oscar DeBrum, August 23, 1999, cited in Judge James H. Plasman, testimony to the House
Committee on Resources and the Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on Asia
and the Pacific, July 25, 2007, http://www.yokwe.ne(/ydownloads/052505plasman.pdf (accessed
February 5,2008).
“ See Steven L. Simon, Andre Bouville, and Charles E. Land, “Fallout from Nuclear Weapons
Tests and Cancer Risks: Exposures 50 Years Ago Still Have Health Implications Today That Will
Continue into the Future,” American Scientist 94 (January-February 2006): 48-57.
and contain as much radioactive fallout in the immediate area as possible, in order
to create laboratory-like conditions, Bravo unleashed as much explosive yield as
one thousand Hiroshima-sized bombs. Communities living downwind from the
blast, especially the Rongelap community, were acutely exposed to its fallout.
Evacuated three days after the blast, the people of Rongelap spent three months
under intense medical scrutiny as human subjects in Project 4.1. They spent three
years as refugees and were returned to their still-contaminated atoll in 1957 with
assurances that their islands were now safe. They lived on Rongelap for another
twenty-eight years and as the closest populated atoll to the Pacific Proving Grounds,
they were exposed to additional fallout from another series of nuclear tests in
1958. While living on Rongelap, the community was visited annually, and later
biannually, by U.S. government scientists and medical doctors conducting follow­
up studies begun under Project 4.1. Researchers collected fish, plants, soil, and
human body samples to document the presence of radioisotopes deposited froth
sixty-seven tests,’ the movement of these isotopes through the food chain and the
human body, and the adverse health impact of this radiation on the human body.
The community left Rongelap in 1985 after receiving information from some
U.S. scientists that confirmed their long-held fears that their ancestral homeland
was contaminated with radiation at levels that posed a serious risk to their health.
Today, the Rongelap community lives in exile, largely on borrowed or rented lands
m Kwajalein and Majuro atolls. Recent efforts to remediate fallout hazards on
areas of some islands and to rebuild homes and community structure on the island
of Rongelap suggest that the community may, someday soon, have the choice of
returning home. Whether or not remediation is successful and people decide to
return remains to be seen.
The Rongelap Report examines the nuclear weapons testing program and its
effect on host communities from the point of view of the people of Rongelap.
Their recent history is sharply defined by the disastrous events of fallout, acute
and chronic exposure to radiation, evacuation in 1954, exile, resettlement in 1957,
evacuation in 1985 and again for the past two decades, and struggles to address the
many problems of life in exile. The people of Rongelap are not the only nuclear
nomads created by the actions of military and nuclear powers over the past six
decades. They are, however, one of the most studied communities, and there is
rnuch that the world can learn from their experience.
Following their acute exposure in 1954, the people of Rongelap, with residents
from a number of other communities, were enrolled in a medical research pro­
gram sponsored by the Atomic Energy Commission. The program was designed
to document the movement of radiation through the atmosphere, food chain,
and human body, with the goal of understanding the long-term effects of human
exposure to ionizing radiation. This biomedical research was conducted by
Brookhaven National Laboratory with monies appropriated by the U.S. Congress
M ap 2. M arshall Islands and fallout from Bravo
22 *i* Prologue
for the health of the Rongelap people. However, rather than investments in local
health infrastructure, funds were used to periodically transport medical staff and
supplies from the United States tb the Marshall Islands for brief examinations of
the exposed and “control” populations; to analyze the samples that were col­
lected, to occasionally treat conditions that were defined as radiogenic in nature;
and, in later years, to acquire and supply a ship with the necessary technology to
conduct whole-body counting, x-ray, and other laboratory procedures. Some of
the residents who developed thyroid tumors and other radiogenic conditions were
brought to the United States for study and surgical removal of the thyroid gland.
When the U.S. government states that it has provided millions of dollars to the
Marshall Islands for issues related to the weapons testing, it does not mention that
enormous portions of this money went into advancing U.S. scientific interests,
not into services for the people.
Over the years, U.S. scientists added to the research program “control” subjects,
including people on Rongelap who were not present during the Bravo test, people
on the nearby atoll of Utrik, people on Likiep (another populated atoll in the
northern Marshall Islands), and people on Majuro. Control subjects were typically
selected to match the acutely exposed by age and sex, and scientists studied these
people in many instances for four decades. Comparative studies documented
increases in thyroid disorders, stunted growth in children, and increases in many
forms of cancer and leukemia, cataracts, and other radiation-related illnesses.
For four decades, U.S. government scientists returned to the Marshall Islands to
conduct exams and collect blood, tissue, bone marrow, teeth, and other samples.
These studies generated a broad array of scientific findings, including the rec­
ognition that not only can acute exposures to radiation stimulate short-term
effects but that late effects can emerge years and decades following the initial
exposure. For example, by studying the Marshallese population, scientists found
that radioiodine (1-131) adheres to and accumulates in the thyroid, stimulating the
production of benign and cancerous nodules and interfering with the production
of hormones, leaving pregnant women and children especially vulnerable. They
also discovered that people who were not exposed to an acute level of ionizing
radiation but were exposed to low-levels on a daily basis because they lived in an
area contaminated by fallout also developed thyroid and other radiogenic problems.
The lessons learned by scientists included an awareness of the many complicated
ways that radiation adversely affects the human body.’^ In today’s world—where
In the 1980 review ofmedical findings from twenty-six years ofAEC-sponsored research, some
260 reports and publications resulting from the Marshallese studies are cited. See R A. Conard
Review of Medical Findings in a Marshallese Population Twenty-Six Years After Accidental Exposure to
Radioactive Fallout (Upton, NY: Associated Universities, 1980). More has been published in the
years since. See. for example. E. T. Lessard, R. R Miltenburger, S. H. Cohn, S. V Musolino, and
Prologue *> 23
uranium mining occurs at historic levels, where depleted uranium is widely used
in military training and war, and where nuclear power and weapons production
are again on the agendas of the world’s nations—these lessons have currency. The
experiences of the people of Rongelap, whose lives were transformed not only by
acute exposure but also by chronic exposure to low-level radiation, should be read
as a timely, cautionary tale.
The Rongelap Report details how much of the scientific study in the Marshall
Islands, especially the research conducted over the first three decades of the pro­
gram, occurred with top-secret classification, and how this biomedical research
was often conducted without meaningful informed consent. The classified nature
of this research had profound effects within the Marshal Islands and within the
broader scientific research community. Research protocols, data, and findings
were restricted to those with security clearance. Patients, and later the Marshall
Islands government, were denied access to medical records generated by this
research. The research agenda itself was shaped to meet U.S. military and scien­
tific research objectives rather than the personal health needs of the affected
population. The pressing question for the U.S. government was how to docu­
ment and interpret the Marshallese experience in ways that might predict the
consequences for U.S. troops or U.S. citizens exposed to radiation in the event of
nuclear war. Marshallese health concerns, especially worries that radiation from
fallout remained in their environment, poisoning their food and their bodies, were
often ignored.
The culture of secrecy that characterized biomedical research in the Marshall
Islands facilitated efforts to shape public opinion on the safety of the nuclear
weapons testing program. Scientific findings were cherry-picked: those studies
released to the public were carefully selected; conclusions were carefully worded
to support the contention that exposed communities suffered no lasting effects
from their exposure and that their exposure presented no threat to the health of
subsequent generations. As mentioned above, such actions were taken to counter
calls within the United Nations to establish a ban on nuclear weapons testing;
to calm local and regional complaints that exposure to radiation was producing
a wide array of untreated health effects, especially reproductive effects; and to
R. A Conrad, “Protracted Exposure to Fallout: The Rongelap and UtinkExperience,”HealthPhys
46 (1984): 511-27, and, T. Takahashi, M. J. Schoemaker K. R. Trott, S. L. Simon, K. Fujimori,
N. Nakashima, A Fukao, and H. Saito, “The Relationship of Thyroid Cancer with Radiation
Exposure from Nuclear Weapon Testing in the Marshall Islands,”7oMma/ ofEpidemiology 13, no.
2 (March 2003): 99-107. ^
Prologue *> 25
reduce the economic liability of the U.S. government in meeting its obligations
to its former territory.’^
The Rongelap Report differs from other efforts that document for a public audience
the nuclear weapons testing history and related experiences of the Marshallese
people. Other published accounts typically rely upon government-controlled inter­
pretations or upon survivor memories and understandings. Because so much of
the data on nuclear fallout and the movement of radionuclides through the food
chain and the human body were classified, and because the funding and priorities
of human environmental research was controlled by the United States, it has been
extremely difficult to produce evidence that corroborates personal testimony.
Thus, over the years, Marshallese complaints have been easily dismissed as anecdotal
accounts that fly in the face of scientific findings.
On a number ofoccasions since 1954, Rongelap residents have sent formal letters
protesting conditions and health problems to the Atomic Energy Commission
(AEC), Marshallese politicians, and members of the Congress of Micronesia.
Some of these complaints involved health problems occurring outside of the rec­
ognized exposed” atoll populations of Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrik.
Many complaints involved the sudden experience ofpreviously unknown illnesses
and conditions, especially reproductive health problems such as infertility and the
birthing of grossly deformed babies. These complaints are presented again in The
Rongelap Report, as are the carefully constructed replies thatwere sent back, assuring
people that the problems they were experiencing were normal, were to be expected
in a small island population, and had nothing to do with the nuclear weapons
testing program. Close examination of the record of debate within the AEC after
receipt of these complaints reveals a public and a private recounting of events in
the RMI. In sharp contrast to the carefully constructed, placating assurances the
AEC sent to the Marshallese people, the AEC noted in its internal communications
extensive radioactive contamination of the terrestrial and marine food chain, and
recontamination of Rongelap following tests in 1958. Reports and transcripts pre­
dicting the human effects of radiation exposure in the Marshall Islands include
^ See, for example, Dr. Robert Conard, Brookhaven National Laboratory, letter to Dr Tames
L. Liverman, Dms.on of Biological and Medical Research, Energy Research and Development
Administration, March 1 1977, vnth suggested statements to use in response to letters from the
^ V«;*:.^«P^/’^°^f:‘=h.doe.gov/datVihpW1584 .pdf (accessed February
lU 4008). For more detailed discussion and case-specific essays on U.S. and Soviet Cold War
militarism and secre^, and the related caustic impacts on public health and the construction of
science, see Barbara Rose Johnston, ed.. Half-lives and Half-truths: Confronting the Radioactive Legacies
of the Cold War (Santa Fe NM: SAR Press, 2007). For a brief look at the Rongelap experifnce
see oily
Bravofor^e Marshallese: Regaining Control in a Post-Nuclear, Post-Colonial World
(Belmont, CA: Thomson, Wadsworth Publishers 2004).
candid discussions of adverse impacts on human fertility and reproduction. The
annual and biannual medical surveys of the Rongelap population carefully record
rates of miscarriage and congenital defects (although no research program was de­
veloped to systematically study or treat these concerns).On a few occasions when
deformed children were born to women on Rongelap, scientists flew in to examine
and photograph them. And public health officers throughout the Trust Territory
were asked to pay careful attention and to document reproductive abnormalities.
For example. Pacific Trust Territory records include an account by a public health
officer of his visit to Wotho in 1957:
Oct. 5, 1957—I went to the shore at 07:30 this morning to perform a biopsy on
[a female patient’s] back. I also visited the patient who has cancer ofthe breast. This case
is hopeless so I told [the health aide] to treat her symptomatically. . .. There is another
case on the island of Wotho. A. girl who is about ten (10) months old and has no vagina.
I wanted to bring the child to Majuro but the parents were not ready to come on this trip.
I told them to be coming on nextfield trip.
Testimony from Rongelap survivors indicates that, following their evacuation in
1954, they were told to expect unusual births and higher incidences of miscarriage
in the months and years folloAving their exposure. Most Marshallese, however, were
not given such advice and were absolutely unprepared to understand and deal with
the varied and extreme defects in their children, previously unknown conditions
that occurred in the months and years following the nuclear weapons tests.
As the decades passed, people experienced a growing incidence of adverse health
effects, most notably the late onset of thyroid cancer and stunted growth and
retardation in children in “exposed” as well as “control” populations. These health
problems fed concerns that Rongelap Atoll was still dangerously contaminated and
’“’A reassessment of 1-131 exposure and its health effects in the Marshall Islands, including
adverse effects of hypothyroidism from 1-131 exposure during pregnancy, was conducted by
Hans Behling in 2006. Behling summarizes the ample evidence of adverse pregnancy outcome
in the Brookhaven National Laboratory records and notes that despite “all the data that had
been collected by BNL scientists that included thyroid dose estimates in hundreds to more than
1,000 rads, clinical evidence of thyroid pathologies/ hypothyroidism, and dietary deficiencies
In iodine (that was likely further exacerbated by deficiencies in iron, selenium, and vitamin A),
the role of impaired thyroid function among pregnant females was never considered by BNL
scientists as a risk factor that might explain the observed adverse pregnancy outcomes among the
exposed population groups.” U. Hans Behling, An Assessment of Thyroid Dose Models Usedfor Dose
Reconstruction, vol. 2, A Critical Assessment ofHistorical Thyroid Dose Estimatesfor Marshallese Exposed
to Test Bravo Fallout (Vienna, VA: S. Cohen and Associates, May 2007).
Public Health Department, WETReport (Trust Territory ofthe Pacific Islands, October 15,1957);
medical field trip officer Isaac K. Lanwi to the TTPI district administrator. TTA microfilm roll
994, Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands Archives, University of Hawaii-Manoa. In this quote,
names have been removed to protect the privacy of individuals.
26 *t* Prologue
posed a significant hazard to occupants, a fact that became evident in the restudy of
radiological conditions in the northern Marshall Islands in 1978. The results of thissurvey and the input of a few independent foreign experts led the Rongelapese to
evacuate their homes in 1985, with the assistance of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow
Warrior on what proved to be its final voyage in the Pacific.*^ The evacuation of
Rongelap occurred without the assistance or approval of the U.S. government.
The restudy confirmed that much of the northern Marshall Islands was indeed
still contaminated and that some areas would not be habitable without extensive
remediation for at least twenty-five thousand years.
Nuclear Claims Tribunal Proceedings
Claims Tribunal. Claims are developed and presented by the Public Advocate,
‘ -#ho with his office staff assists individuals and communities in the preparation of
claims. Claims are reviewed by the Defender of the Fund, who may present a case
in defense of the fund against personal-injury claims but may also admit claims for
clearly compensable medical conditions. The personal-injury program ofthe RMI
; Nuclear Claims Tribunal is modeled after the 1990 U.S. congressional program for
â–  Downwinders exposed to the Nevada tests. Because it is impossible to determine
if a cancer or illness linked to radiation exposure is a direct result of exposure to
radionuclides, the tribunal program, like U.S. programs, presumes that ifa claimant
either alive or in utero during the testing program, and if he or she contracts an
1= illness highly associated with radiation exposure, then the condition is a result ofthat

In 1986, after years of negotiations and the threat of some $7.1 billion in damage
claims making their way through the U.S. court system, the United States and the
Republic of the Marshall Islands signed a Compact of Free Association, releasing
the U.S. government from pending legal claims through the establishment of a
compensation trust fund. The Compact of Free Association requires the United
States to continue efforts to adequately address the full range of damages and in­
juries resulting from the testing program. Section 177 of the compact outlines
responsibilities for monitoring the environment and human health effects of radi­
ation from the nuclear weapons tests in the northern Marshall Islands (Bikini and
Enewetak, the two ground-zero locations and Rongelap and Utrik atolls, the two
communities enrolled in the Project 4.1 biomedical study). An additional provision
of section 177 enables the Republic of the Marshall Islands to petition the U.S.
Congress for additional compensatory funds should conditions change or new
information come to light. Congress set aside $150 million to fund the provisions
of the initial compact, which established a compensation trust fund with funds
administered through a Nuclear Claims Tribunal that receives claims and issues
awards for personal injury and property damage.
The Rongelap Report is one ofmany expert witness reports prepared over the years
in support of NCT deliberations. The NCT is an administrative court governed by
Marshallese and U.S. law. It is set up to receive personal-injury and property-damage
claims, produce full and final judgments in all claims, and issue payments from
the trust fund established by the U.S. Congress. Three judges sit on the Nuclear
On July 10,1985, Greenpeace’s ship Rainbow H&m’orwassunkwhileat dock in Auckland, New
Zealand, by two explosive devices placed on its hull by French commandos working under the
authorization of French president Frangois Mitterrand. The detonation killed the photographer
Fernando Pereira. The French sabotage was an attempt to disrupt Nuclear Free Pacific protests
against French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago ofFrench Polynesia.
See David Robie, Eyes ofFire: The Last Voyage ofthe Rainbow Warrior, revised ed. (Auckland: South
Pacific Books, 2005).
exposure. The property-damage program considers damage from nuclear weapons
testing, including loss of access or use, cost to restore, and the pain, suffering, and
hardships that are the “consequential damages” of these losses.’^
The Rongelap Report is a component of the third major property-damage claim
presented to the NCT. Earlier claims presenting the case of property damage
on Bikini and Enewetak atolls were developed within a Western property-rights
framework. In these cases, property damage as a result of nuclear weapons testing
largely defined in terms of values associated with the loss of use of dry land,
with the assumption that the economic value of using dry land (established through
the record of rental agreements set up by the U.S. military) is the sum total of
value. For many reasons, this approach did not dojustice to the particular problems
of the Rongelap experience. Personal injuries were compensated by the NCT in
the event that radiogenic cancers occurred and were documented, but people did
not lose” their land. Rather, they lost the safe use of their lands. The methods
used to develop prior property-damage claims did not allow consideration of the
broader injuries resulting from the classified medical research program, the pain
and problems of living as a stigmatized member of the “bombed” community, the
many varied instances of pain, illness, and suffering resulting from years of living
m a heavily contaminated setting, or the hardships and losses of having to again
evacuate their homelands when the U.S. government failed to acknowledge to the
Rongelapese the lingering and dangerous contamination they were living with.
Thus, in The Rongelap Report, we ask the Nuclear Claims Tribunal to first consider
the value of what was a preexisting, self-sufficient way of life, before moving to
Additional detail on the history of the tribunal and a thorough review of tribunal proceedings
and judgments issued through 2002 is contained in an independent audit conducted by former
U.S. attorney general Dick Thornburgh. See Dick Thornburgh, Glenn Reichardt, and Jon
Stanley, The Nuclear Claims Tribunal ofthe Republic ofthe Marshall Islands: An Independent Examination
and Assessment ofIts Decision-Making Process (Washington, DC: Kirkpatrick and Lockhart, 2003),
; httpy/www.bikiniatoll.com/ThornburgReport.pdf (accessed February 5,2008).
the questions of how best to identify and assess damage and repair injury. We ask
the NCT to consider a chain of nuclear weapons testing events that resulted in
multiple abuses of person, property, and fundamental dignities. And draAving upon
Marshallese values and norms, we argue for a redefinition of the compensation
principle employed in prior cases—from a model of compensation for damage and
a loss of individual property rights to a broader model that considers and addresses
the community damages associated with the loss of a way of life.
Classified Science and Government Transparency
The Rongelap Report and its holistic approach to the chain of events, record ofinjury,
and assessment of consequential damage offers a tiny sense ofwhat it must be like
for an island population to survive downwind of a nuclear war. This report takes
on added relevance when considering that what was kno-wn by the general public
and Marshallese officials when the Compact ofFree Association was negotiated and
the Nuclear Claims Tribunal was established. At that time, much of the scientific
record was classified. The Marshallese were never fully briefed on the nature
of the nuclear weapons testing program and the full extent of its damages. This
inequitable access to fundamental information has severely hampered Marshallese
efforts to achieve a meaningful and comprehensive remedy. For example, to this
day, the United States acknowledges in its compensatory programs the obligation
to address nuclear-weapons-related damage to property and people in only four
atolls. Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrik. The U.S. documentary record tells
another story: a 1955 survey, declassified in 1994 and released to the RMI in 1995,
reports fallout from the 1954 Bravo test occurring at hazardous levels on twentyeight atolls throughout the Marshall Islands. The entire nation, not simply the
four atolls, is downwind, and the whole country has been adversely affected by
nuclear weapons.*®
See Alfred Breslin and Melvin E. Cassidy, Radioactive Debrisfrom Operation Castle, Islands of the
Mid-Pacific (New York: NewYork Operations Office, United States Atomic Energy Commission,
January 18, 1955), http-y/www.yokwe.nel/ydownloads/RadioactiveDebrisCastle.pdf (accessed
February 5, 2008). This document was declassified by the U.S. Department of Energy in 1994
as part of ACHRE review. A copy was provided to the Republic of the Marshall Islands in 1995.
The report shows that radiation fallout doses were measured at sites throughout the Marshall
Islands atolls following each of the she tests conducted in 1954. The document reports significant
fallout on twenty-eight atolls, of which twenty-two were populated during Operation Castle
(March 1 through May 14,1954). No monitoring was reported for the islands ofMejit, Lib, and
Jabat. The fact that, regardless of location in the Marshall Islands, all residents were e^osed to
substantial levels of radioactive fallout as result of the atmospheric weapons tests was confirmed
in Hans Behling, John Mauro, and Kathy Behling, Final Report: Radiation Exposures Associated with
the U.S. Nuclear Testing Program for Twenty-one Atolls/Islands in the Republic of the Marshall Islands
(McLean, VA: S. Cohen and Associates, 2002).
While elements of the Rongelap story have appeared in various newspaper
accounts, articles, documentaries, and books, the telling of the human dimensions
ofthis story has largely relied upon anecdotal accounts ofthe key actors: Marshallese
survivors, U.S. military veterans, and U.S. scientists.*’ Only recently have we
’ For a survivor point of view, see the many instances in which Marshallese citizens testified in
U.S. Senate and congressional hearings. See, for example, Jeton Anjain, testimony to the House
Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs regarding the safety of Rongelap Atoll, 1989. Jeton Anjain
30 *t* Prologue
Prologue *t* 31
seen the material evidence that substantiates anecdotal accounts come to light
via the declassification of materials documenting the military research agenda,
protocols, experiments, and findings concerning the nature of radioactive fallout.
Its movement through the food chain and human body, and its long-term effects.
In 1993, in response to series of newspaper articles describing Cold War-era radia­
tion experimentation involving U.S. subjects. President William Jefferson Clinton
ordered a review of files and a declassification of documents pertaining to human
radiation experiments in all government agencies. As a result, a trickle and then a
flood of documents began to appear on the doorstep on the Marshall Islands
Embassy in Washington D.C. In 1994 the Advisory Commission on Radiation
Experimentation (ACHRE) assessed the available record and concluded that the
Marshallese had indeed served as research subjects in several experiments involving
radioisotopes but found no conclusive evidence that the long-term research program
was an example of human radiation experimentation.^o By this time, a truckload of
declassified documents had been located by U.S. government agencies and dumped
on the RMI Embassy doorstep. Holly Barker reviewed some of these as part of
her effort to determine what the U.S. government knew but had not told the RMI
government and to develop an ethnographic record for the Marshallese government.
FollowingACHRE’s publication of its findings, the historical documents reviewed
by ACHRE were scanned and placed on the word-searchable Human Radiation
Experiments (HREJg website and were made accessible to the public in November
1996. As documents continued to be located and released, they were added to a
database managed by the DOE. By late 1998, when Public Advocate Bill Graham
asked us to advise the Nuclear Claims Tribunal on culturally appropriate ways to
initially trained as a dentist, assisted the Brookhaven medical survey, and became health minister
and then senator in the Marshall Islands. He died of cancer in 1993. It was through his efforts
‘ 1 oQc
of Rongelap were evacuated with the assistance of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior
in 1985. His te^imony and advocacy on behalfof the Marshallese led the Golman Foundation to
award him the Goldman Environmental Prize in 1992. See httpy’/www.goldmanprize.org/nodeiT2
For a visual account ofthe Rongelap story contrasting the lived experience with the formal military
framing of that e^erience, see Dennis O’Rourke’s film HalfLife: A Rrrablefor the NuclearAge (Los
^geles. Direct Cinema, 1986). Daily life in the midst of nuclear war games is captured in Michael
Harris s book The Atomic Times: My H-bomb Year dt the Pacific Proving Ground, a Memoir (New York:
allantine Books, 2005). The perspectives and sentiments of a government scientist in charge
of the bmmedical research program can be found in Robert Conard, Fallout: The Experiences ofa
Medical Team in Care ofa Marshallese Population Accidentally Exposed to Fallout Radiation (Upton NY;
Brookhaven National Laboratory, 1992). For a critical assessment of how public perception of
the atomic age was shaped and manipulated via U.S. government control of information and a
publishing relationship with the New York Times, see Beverly Ann Deepe Keever News Zero- The
New York Times and The Bomb (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2004). ’
* Adwsory Committee on Human Radiation Experimentation, The Human Radiation Experiments:
Fi^l^ortofthePresidmtsAduiso^C^^^ (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office,
995), chapter 12. ’The Marshallese, httpv7www.hss.energy.gov/healthsafety/ohre/roadmap/
achre/chap 12_3.html (accessed February 5,2008).
c the damages and losses experienced by the people ofRongelap as a result ofthe
_pons testing program, another ten boxes of documents had been declassified
pld turned over to the Marshall Islands government. By the end of1999, DOE had
aed over some seventy-seven boxes of declassified information on the nuclear
^SSeapons testing program that had been previously withheld from the Marshallese.
vas this expanded set of declassified records that was used to build the chain of
5 iiirents and support consequential damage findings in The Rongelap Report.
The Rongelap Report was prepared under the very best of research conditions.
/‘We had complete access to and the collaborative assistance of the affected comj munity. Our methods were developed and findings critically evaluated by a scientific
f peer-review committee consisting of environmental and medical anthropologists,
ecologists, health physicists, physicians, psychologists, resource economists, apI, praisers, historians, and lawyers. We had the transcripts of oral histories conducted
by Holly Barker with hundreds of radiation survivors over a five-year period. And
;-,v we had access to the historical documents and scientific reports housed at the
Republic of the Marshall Islands Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Nuclear
Claims Tribunal in Majuro, RMI.
Perhaps most importantly, we had the use of a word-searchable research engine
to easily locate in the many tens of thousands of declassified documents pertain­
ing to the history of nuclear weapons testing and human radiation experimentation
those particular memos, letters, transcripts, trip reports, and scientific studies that
might address specific questions, issues, or actions. We could find the needle in
the haystack. We could demonstrate, for example, that not only were people com­
plaining about poisoning after consuming locally grown food and locally caught
fish, but that the Atomic Energy Commission knew of these complaints and that
their scientists had taken samples, found high levels of radioiron (Fe-59) and other
isotopes, and had then replied to the Marshallese with placating statements blaming
ill health effects on food preparation rather than acknowledging the radioactivity
in the food itself We could search for each and every document that included the
term medical matters or blood samples or bone marrow or radioisotope and in so doing we
could patch together a record of invasive medical sampling that spanned decades,
with “exposed” and “control” subjects providing information used in a host of
studies. This access to previously classified data and search-engine tools allowed
us to craft a holistic look at the Rongelap experience and for the first time present
the anecdotal record as a substantiated body of evidence.
At the time The Rongelap Report was accepted by the Nuclear Claims Tribunal in
September 2001, the chain of events and supporting documentary evidence were
easily verified by accessing the URLs included with each declassified document
citation. Access to the declassified documents that support this historical account
is a much more difficult matter today, and it is this fact that drove our efforts to
publish The Rongelap Report. In January 2003, while conducting follow-up research
32 4* Prologue
for the Nuclear Claims Tribunal, online access was denied for specific documents
the HREX website cited in TTte Rongelap Report. One such denial read, “Your client
does not have permission to get URL/tifFs/doe/d714594/d714594a/14601012.tif
from this server. Over the next few months, more and more documents became
inaccessible. By October 2003, the HREX site was completely shut down, with a
simple statement claiming that the Department of Energy lacked the funds to
maintain the site. Several months later, the statement was changed to its current
(January 2008) wording:
The HREX website is currently closed downfor two reasons: (1) After the events of
September 11, 2001, the Federal Government undertook a review ofall information
on its websites to determine the appropriateness ofthe information on the websites. The
databasefor the HREX website is currently undergoing a review in light of the events of
9/11 to determine whether all of the information in the database is appropriate. (2) The
HREX website was hosted by antiquated technology. After the review ofthe information
in the database is complete, it will be moved to the OpenNet website which is a platform
composed ofcurrent technologies. The timing ofwhen the HREX information will be
available on OpenNet is unknown, thertforeyou may wish to periodically visit the
OpenNet website at http://www.osti.gov/opennet. Thank youfor your patience.
At this writing, it is unclear how much of the supporting documentation for The
Rongelap Report has been removed from public access or reclassified. In July 2005,
with support from a John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur research and writing
grant, Barbara Rose Johnston traveled to Washington, D.C., and confirmed
that hard copies of HREX files were available at the National Security Archive,
a nonprofit institute at George ^^ashington University. This archive includes
only those document^ that were available during the time ACHRE operated and
not the many documents located and declassified in the years since. A number
of key documents cited in this report are still accessible on the DOE Marshall
Islands document collection archive (http://worfeh.doe.gov/). Researchers can
also access select nuclear testing and radiation experimentation documents by
searching the DOE’s Office of Science and Technology Information (OSTI)
archive and requesting copies through its Bechtel subcontractor (although requests
for documents in 2006 and 2007 have gone unanswered). The archive, and status
of human radiation experiment records declassified by other agencies, such as the
Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency, after ACHRE ceased
operating, is unknown. A number of key HREX documents are no longer access­
ible through the DOE websites, search engines, or OSTI archive. While copies of
all documents cited in The Rongelap Report are retained by the authors, the Republic
of the Marshall Islands, and the RMI Nuclear Claims Tribunal, public access has
been significantly reduced.
Prologue *t* 33
;This loss of public access to declassified documents occurs at a time when
je U.S. government is classifying at historic levels a broad array of information
‘pertaining to the perceived security of the state. Effective governance requires the
ii^bility to anticipate and meet the basic needs of the public, and to do so in ways
dtat generate and sustain the trust of the public. Transparency is a key element in
lecuring and maintaining trust, especially when earlier actions have broken that
trust. The experience of researching and writing The Rongelap Report and partici­
pating in the RMI Nuclear Claims Tribunal taught us a great deal about the im­
portance of truth, of forums where truth can be told and responsible parties or
their representatives can listen, acknowledge, and concur that grave injustices have
occurred. Access to the declassified data, and access in searchable form, allowed
us not only to record the varied accounts of the difficulties of life and death in
a radioactive nation but also to give power to those accounts by identifying the
many documents in the declassified record that substantiated the human history,
experiences, pain, and suffering.
Finally, the publication ofthis report at this time reflects a growing awareness that
our understanding of history is easily manipulated and even fabricated, especially
when the public loses access to the primary documents that underlie historical
accounts. The declassification of the 1990s opened a window of transparency,
allowing public access to those documents that confirmed the worst fears about
how a government took evil action to ensure a political good—securing the military
and economic status of the nation to fight the Cold War in ways that involved
horrific abuses of fundamental human rights. Declassification and public scrutiny
of historical injustices also represent an opportunity to come to terms with the
past, and in doing so to take honest and significant effort toward making amends.
Shutting dovra the HREX website effectively reduces public access to the primary
documents that tell a story at odds with current administration policy.
Seeking Meaningful Remedy
The story of Rongelap is one of systemic injury, and inadequate and at times
abusive response on the part of the U.S. government. U.S. government activities
in the Marshall Islands resulted in profound consequences for the entire nation,
unmet U.S. obligations, and an intergenerational responsibility. At this writing, the
U.S. government views its responsibility to its former territorial possession, and
those people adversely affected by the nuclear weapons testing program, as a set
of limited obligations that have in large part been addressed. The Rongelap Report,
and the broader body of reports emerging from the deliberations of the Nuclear
Claims Tribunal, identifies experiences, conditions, and continued problems ofthe
Marshallese that contrast sharply with the U.S. government’s contention that it
has responded adequately to its obligations.
34 ♦J* Prologue
Prologue ❖ 35
The U.S. government dehumanized the Marshallese by turning their experiences
with nuclear weapons into numbers and statistics, by classifying and restricting
public access to the documentation of the human environmental impacts of nu­
clear militarism, and by trivializing the extent of human environmental damage
for political gain. This report returns the voice of the Rongelapese to the forefront
and provides the community with the opportunity to explain the effects of the
testing program from its point of view.
This report also offers a model for documenting human rights abuse and related
environmental crises in ways that suggest or lead to meaningful remedy. Working
with affected peoples to document preexisting ways of life, the chain of events,
injuries, and consequential damages from injuries in ways that respect community
experience, understandings, and priorities provides opportunities to identify and
prioritize remedial needs. Collaborative and participatory approaches give broad
ownership to both the process and the product, and such efforts are transformative:
victims take proactive roles in setting, and ideally achieving, the remedial agenda.
Combining such process with a holistic consequential damage assessment produces
both a powerful experience and a powerful outcome. Assessing the consequential
damages ofabuse in holistic, human, environmental fashion allows a more thorough
understanding of what was, what occurred, to what effect, and, most importantly,
what the affected population defines as its remedial needs: what is needed to heal,
survive, and thrive. The radioactive contamination of land results in much more
than the simple loss of land. Indeed, such contamination undermines a cultural
way of life and results in the loss of a healthy way of life. Thus meaningful com­
pensation must necessarily address both the loss and the remedial means to restore
a sustainable way of life.
What is meaningful remedy? For the Rongelap people, the notion of remedy
involves much more than simple monetary compensation. Remedy involves, first
and foremost, honest reconciliation with the past in ways that allow understanding
of the ramifications of this past on the present and the future. In sharing their
experience with the world, the people of Rongelap share with you, the reader, a
sense of what it means to survive nuclear war and their sincere plea: never again.
This work is the end result of five decades of Marshallese commitment to
understanding the extent oftheir injuries, documenting and filing complaints, and
securing meaningful help. Evidence of this effort to ensure that the world knows
the Rongelap story, that true lessons are learned, and that the indignities and abuses
are not repeated appear again and again in the documentary record. These words
and efforts inspire, and they will not be dismissed. Kommol tata.
j Initial research and Rongelap Report production was supported by funds provided
the Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal, Office ofthe Public Advocate, and
aff release time for Holly Barker from her advisory duties at the RMI Embassy,
be resulting expert witness report is a public document accepted by the tribunal
|gid filed in its office in Majuro. It is reprinted here with the knowledge and
•permission of the tribunal. Sadly, its publication appears after the July 23, 2002,
;’^th of the honorable Oscar DeBrum, a man whose life as a public servant in the
administration of the Pacific Trust Territory and the new Marshallese government,
and later as chairman of the Nuclear Claims Tribunal, was devoted to the struggle
to alleviate the suffering caused by the nuclear testing program. Publication of the
report was delayed until the NCT rendered a final judgment in the Rongelap claim.
As discussed in the epilogue, decisions in the Rongelap claim were announced as
part of an NCT judgment issued on April 17,2007.
Research and writing ofthe framing chapters occurred with the financial support
of the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation through a research and
writing grant to the Center for Political Ecology (2004—05) entitled “Considering
the Consequential Damages of Nuclear War Legacies,” a Weatherhead Resident
Scholar Fellowship at the School for Advanced Research for Barbara Rose Johnston
(2006-07), and a grant by the Christensen Fund to the Center for Political Ecology.
Again, the Embassy of the Marshall Islands played a helpful role in providing staff
release time for Holly Barker.
Since submitting this report to the NCT in September 2001, we have reformatted
the text, corrected errors in the text and notes, and updated the Web citations.
Complete citations for supporting references are contained in footnotes. A number
of the supporting documents submitted with this report remain accessible on the
Web, while others do not. We include a list ofthe supporting documents submitted
to the tribunal at the end of this book, and we reprint those supporting documents
that are not Web-accessible.
The Rongelap Report uses Marshallese expressions, military references, health
physics data, and terms—a great deal of language that may not be familiar to the
reader. For this reason, we have compiled terms and their meanings in a glossary
that appears at the end of this book.
This work is illustrated with images and maps submitted as supporting evidence
in the NCT proceedings, as well as images located in personal and public archives
in the years since. We thank Nick Captain for his permission to reprint the John
Anjain cover photo. We thank Glenn Alcalay for permission to use his images of the
Rongelap evacuation which he took in 1985 while documenting the Greenpeaceassisted resettlement. We thank GiffJohnson for the use of his photos. And we
gratefully acknowledge the assistance provided by Bill Graham, Glenn Alcalay,
Giffjohnson, and others who helped locate and provide information about photos
taken many decades ago.
As mentioned in The Rongelap Report, the Marshallese were intensively
photographed on each of the sixty-seven medical survey trips and throughout the
initial three-month Project 4.1 documentation of radiogenic health effects from
acute exposure to fallout. Over the years, exam notes, sampling results, x-ray film,
whole-body counter data, and photo records resulted in very large medical files
for each human subject in the AEC-funded research conducted by Brookhaven
scientists. Several copies these records existed—at Brookhaven Laboratory and at the
Trust Territory public health offices; in the 1970s, a portion ofthe Rongelap medical
record Avas placed in an embassy safe in Japan. As recounted in The Rongelap Report
and further detailed in the tribunal hearing, around the time that lawsuits were
working their way through U.S. courts and the United States began to negotiate
terms for independence, a series of fires occurred, reportedly beginning in locked
safes or file cabinets and resulting in the loss of medical records and photographs
in the Marshall Islands and Japan. Requests from the Marshall Islands government
for complete access to medical records and photographs compiled by the ABC and
Brookhaven remain unfulfilled. Copies ofthe images taken by Brookhaven scientists
and Trust Territory public health officers of the grossly deformed children born to
the people of Rongelap, Utrik, and other Marshall Island populations have been
especially difficult to find
This report makes liberal use of direct quotes from interviews and key witness
testimony. Actual names are used where they are a matter of public record. Inter­
views were conducted with the understanding that testimony was being recorded,
would be transcribed, and would be incorporated into the formal report. Thus
attributions for direct quotes appear with the informed consent of the Marshallese.
In the epilogue, quotes derived from post-hearing interviews are attributed by
initials rather than names, to protect the privacy of individuals. Throughout the
report, there is some variation in the spelling of the names of people and places:
Marshallese names often change over time, and the spelling of names can vary
greatly from one source to another.
Suggestions for documenting the traditional way of life and comments on draft
findings were provided by a Marshallese advisory committee including Iroij Mike
Kabua, Senator Wilfred Kendall, Councilwoman Lijon Eknilang, Councilman
Photojoumalists from Japan have compiled a record of images capturing some of the health
problems expenenced in the Marshallese population, arguably as a result offirst-, second- or thirdgeneration exposure to radiation. See, for example, Hiromitsu Toyosaki, Good-bye Rongelap! trans.
Masayuta Ikeda and Heather Ikeda (Tokyo: Tsukiji. Shokan. 1986) and the photo-documentary
Btkmt: The Testimony of Bomb Victims in the Marshall Islands
QPU Shuppan, 1977 . For a narrative description, see James N. Yamazaki, Children ofthe Atomic
Bomb: An American PhysKians Memoir of Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and Marshall Islands, with Louis B.
rleming (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995)
Prologue *> 37
orge Anjain, and handicraft businesswoman Mary Lanwi. The research ques­
ts, strategies, and data-collection efforts were supported by the collaborative
js^olvement of Nuclear Claims Tribunal Public Advocate Bill Graham, associate
blic Advocate Tieta Thomas, and Marshallese anthropologist Tina Stege. In
early phase of this work, in 1999, Stuart Kirsch provided background inforation on land-claim cases elsewhere in the Pacific and participated in a week of
isory committee discussion on the Marshallese value of land. In 1999 and 2001,
helpful suggestions on methodologies, supporting research, and peer-review
mments were provided by Marie Boutte, Michael Cernea, Norman Chance,
Uriel Crespi, Susan Dawson, Ted Downing, Shirley Fiske, Judith Fitzpatrick,
Hill, Bill Johnston, Matthew Johnston, Terry Johnston, Robert Hitchcock,
sb Kiste, Ed Liebow, Gary Madsen, Bonnie McCay, Laura Nader, Theresa SatterJd, Ted Scudder, Anthony Oliver Smith, Amy Wolfe, and John Young. Our
pproach to working with Marshallese experts within the tribunal proceedings
id the development of a November 2001 post-hearing brief on anthropologists
as expert witness in land-claim proceedings occurred with substantive input from
Paul Magnarella and with suggestions from Carmen Burch, Ted Downing, Kreg
â– Fttenger, Richard Ford, Bill Johnston, Jane Hill, Bonnie McCay, Jerry Moles,
Tfiloky Pandey, Wayne Suttles, and John Young. The approach to reparations
â– was drawn in large part from the Reparations and Right to Remedy brief prepared by
Johnston in 2000 for the World Commission on Dams and reflects the critical
Teview comments of Ted Scudder, Robert Hitchcock, Dana Clark, Aviva Imhof,
“nd Monti Aguirre. Our understanding ofthe relationship between the Marshallese
research and the human radiation experimentation sponsored by the Atomic Energy
Commission elsewhere (Japan, the Amazon, and the Arctic) was influenced by re­
search su^estions and critical feedback from Terrence Turner, Norman Chance,
and Louise Lamphere.^^
Expert witness report production occurred with the assistance of Ted Edwards,
Benjamin Edwards, and Christopher Edwards. In this latest effort to present The
Rongelap Report, we gratefully acknowledge the production assistance ofKay Hagan
and Hannah Shoenthal-Muse and the expert copyediting attention provided by
Peg Goldstein. We thank Martin Sherwin for his review of an earlier draft and his
enthusiastic support for the idea of publishing this expert witness report. And we
thank Jennifer Collier, our Left Coast Press editor, whose suggestions markedly
improved our efforts to frame the report.
The broader history ofAtomic Energy Commission-sponsored research involving indigenous
populations in the Arctic, Amazon, Andes, Pacific, and American Southwest is discussed by
Barbara Rose Johnston in the chapter “‘More Like Us Than Mice*: Radiation Experiments with
udigenous Populations,” in Half-lives and Half-truths: Corfroniing the Radioactive Legacies ofthe Cold
R&r, ed. Barbara Rose Johnston (Santa Fe, NM: SAR Press, 2007), 25-54.
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