admin's picture


Senator Henchi Balos Bikini Atoll Representative Marshall Islands Nitijela


May 10, 1999

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. With me are Mayor Tomaki Juda, Speaker Kessai Note, Councilman Lucky Juda, Council advisor Johnny Johnson, Trust Liaison Jack Niedenthal and legal counsel Jonathan Weisgall.

As you know, the U.S. Government moved us off our atoll in 1946 and conducted 23 atomic and hydrogen bomb tests there over the next 12 years, including the largest bomb tests in U.S. history. Meanwhile, our people were moved first to Rongerik Atoll, where we nearly starved to death, then briefly to Kwajalein, and then finally to Kili in 1948.

Sadly, Kili remains home to most Bikinians more than 53 years after the testing began, and life there remains difficult. Kili is a single island. It has no lagoon. Bikini, with its 23 islands and 243-square mile lagoon, is thousands of times bigger. Kili has no sheltered fishing grounds, so the skills we developed for lagoon and ocean life are useless on Kili. This drastic change from life centered around fishing and canoeing to life on an isolated island with no fishing area continues to take a severe toll on our people.

Let me briefly review the issues facing our people today:

Radiological cleanup: We are using a Nuclear Claims Tribunal proceeding to get an accurate cost estimate for the radiological cleanup and resettlement of Bikini. We do not yet know the exact price tag, but it will greatly exceed the money in the Bikinians’ Resettlement Trust Fund.

You will be hearing today from the other atolls about the huge costs of the legacy of the U.S. nuclear testing program in the Marshall Islands, ranging from health care costs to property damages. These costs add up. In considering whether - and how - to pay for them, I would like to make three points. First, the money appropriated by Congress for Bikini cleanup took into account only the cleanup of Bikini and Eneu, just two of Bikini Atoll’s 23 islands. Second, permit me to quote Representative John Seiberling of Ohio, a former member of this Committee, who in 1984 said that "there will be a question as to whether we should go as far as some of us think we need to go, including the restoration of Bikini." His answer: "I would only say that the costs of this program are a tiny fraction of the costs of that nuclear testing program."

Third, I believe that the additional funding needed to complete the cleanup of Bikini should come not from the Interior Department budget, but rather from the budget of the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management, which is earmarked for cleanups in 23 states that were involved in the U.S. nuclear weapons testing program. That program is estimated to cost $147 billion, and for the last three years Congress has appropriated an average of $5.75 billion for the program. This is where the cleanup costs for Bikini should come from. And while the $90 million already appropriated sounds like a lot of money, more than double that will be needed to complete the job. But let me remind you that the U.S. government has spent more than $10 billion - billion – at just one U.S. nuclear weapons site - Hanford - without removing any contaminated soil.

Worker safety: As the cleanup of Bikini occurs, we have asked our experts to design a radiation protection plan that is at least as protective as U.S. standards for radiation workers. The cost estimates for Bikini cleanup will include a separate number for worker radiation safety.

Guarantee of Bikini Atoll’s safety: In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson, relying on a report from the Atomic Energy Commission, announced that Bikini Atoll was safe and that our people could return home. That report proved to be wrong. Thirty years later, scientists from around the world, including the United States, are telling our people once again that it is safe to go back home under certain circumstances. The Bikini people, for reasons I am sure you can understand, do not trust U.S. Government scientists, and there is no one in our community with the expertise to tell us whether or not Bikini can be safely resettled. If we return home we want the U.S. Government to guarantee Bikini’s safety.

When our leaders raised this issue last year with Secretary Babbitt, he said the decision was up to us, not the United States, and he urged them to turn to our own experts for advice. He also said that a written guarantee went against the spirit of trust that is assumed by the Compact. Our response is the same as President Reagan’s to the Russians in the 1980s: Trust, but verify. We still want a guarantee of Bikini’s safety if we return home.

Health care: The 177 health care program, which is supported by a $2 million annual grant under the Section 177 agreement has proven to be inadequate, due in large part to the huge and unexpected enrollment of individuals in the four-atoll health care program. For example, in just 13 years, from 1983 to 1996, the number of people in the program rose from 2,300 to nearly 11,500. Moreover, this funding has not been adjusted for inflation, so the value of the $2 million annual payment, which began in 1988, is now less than half that.

As a result of the failure of this program, the Bikini community has been forced to spend more and more of its resources on health care. Health care costs have risen from $350,000 in 1994 to $850,000 for this fiscal year. After Bikini cleanup, it’s the largest expenditure in the Resettlement Trust Fund.

U.S.D.A. food: We thank the Congress for extending the U.S.D.A. food program for another five years. This program will be needed for Bikini people until we are living safely at Bikini Atoll, its soil has been restored and the people are able to eat safely from a local diet. We urge that this be included in the extension of the Compact, but without a five-year limitation and with directions to reflect the changes in the population.

Continuation of the Compact of Free Association: Although this is a government-to-government question, I want to remind you that the radiation at Bikini will last well after 2001. The United States has a legal responsibility and moral obligation to assist the people of Bikini until they are living safely back on all their islands. That responsibility should not be shifted to the Government of the Marshall Islands. It did not create the nuclear problem and it lacks the resources and expertise to care for our needs. We hope this Committee will echo the words of Interior Secretary Babbitt, who told us just one year ago that "the United States won’t walk away from you or from this obligation. I feel very deeply that we have a moral commitment to you."

Changed circumstances: This hearing may not be the place to debate this issue, but let me leave you with one black and white example. For years we thought the only islands at Bikini that were vaporized were the ones near the 1954 Bravo shot. We now know from a 1968 AEC document that the area of one island in the Aerokoj-Eneman group was reduced from 67.1 acres to 25 acres. Forty-two acres were vaporized, nearly two-thirds of the entire island. The destruction to this island was more than twice as much as the destruction caused by the Bravo shot, but this document was not made public until last year. If it been made public during the original Compact negotiations, it would have had an impact on those negotiations.

3% Distribution From Resettlement Trust Fund: Lastly, we seek your support for a 3% distribution from the Resettlement Trust Fund. Congress appropriated funds in 1982 and then again in 1988 to establish this trust fund, which is used both for the cleanup of Bikini and for the ongoing needs of the Bikini people. Thanks to our excellent money managers and our voluntary restraint on the use of these funds, the corpus is still there and the fund has grown by almost 14% annually. While the income is not enough for our needs, I am proud to report that for 17 years, every dollar has been accounted for, annual audits are prepared, and monthly financial statements are sent to the Interior Department.

We now know that the cost of cleaning up Bikini will greatly exceed the amount of money in the trust. As a result, it is certain that many Bikini elders, who have not been back on their home islands for more than 53 years, will probably die on Kili without returning home. In light of the strength of the trust and regular audits, the lengthy time a cleanup and restoration will take, and the special circumstances of the elders, we urge you to support a one-time 3% distribution from this trust fund. It will not require an appropriation of funds by Congress and it will not diminish the original corpus of the trust.

Thank you. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.

For additional information: Bikini Atoll:

Rate this article: 
Average: 2.5 (2 votes)

Add new comment