ENEWETAK ISLANDERS ARGUE FOR NUCLEAR CLEANUP, HARDSHIP COMPENSATION

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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (April 16, 1999 - Marshall Islands Journal)---A major battle over multi-million dollar compensation for Enewetak Islanders kicked off Wednesday before the Nuclear Claims Tribunal in Majuro.

Enewetak Islanders -- whose atoll was the ground zero for 43 U.S. nuclear tests -- are seeking compensation from the U.S.-funded Nuclear Claims Tribunal for the cost of restoring contaminated islands to useable condition and for hardship damages for their many years in exile. But while the Tribunal’s Defender of the Fund agrees with Enewetak on the need for a cleanup, there is little agreement on the methods that should be used.

Moreover, the Defender Philip Okney said he opposes any compensation for hardship, saying it doesn’t legally fall within the framework of "property"

claims.

For the hardships they suffered during their years of exile, each Enewetak Islander is entitled to $10,000 per year for each year that they lived on Ujelang Atoll between 1947 and 1980, said Enewetak attorney Davor Pevec. Just before nuclear testing began at Enewetak in 1948, the small population was moved to tiny Ujelang Atoll, where they lived until 1980, when parts of Enewetak were declared safe following a partial cleanup of Enewetak conducted by the U.S. Army. The islanders experienced numerous food shortages and other privations during their long exile on Ujelang.

Pevec listed examples of compensation awarded by the U.S. Congress and U.N. agencies to people who were forcibly relocated during the past 60 years, which ranged from a low of about $3,400 to as much as $20,000 per person.

But Okney said that claims for obvious personal injuries -- hunger, deprivation, mental suffering, physical distress -- are improperly included in the claim for land damages. The problems the people of Enewetak complain about have already been addressed within the "fair market value" of the land that was decided last year by appraisers for the Defender and the Enewetak people, Okney said.

Enewetak is pursuing a three-part compensation claim. The first -- loss of use of Enewetak from the start of nuclear testing until 1980 -- was valued at about $235 million by a land appraisal jointly commissioned by Enewetak and Okney's office last year.

But this week’s hearing on cleanup costs and hardship damages is proving to be more contentious than the land appraisal. Tribunal officials indicated that the hearings are expected to continue into next week, as the Tribunal hears testimony from numerous scientists, anthropologists, agriculturalists and Enewetak people.

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