UTRIK ATOLL TAKES NUCLEAR EXPOSURE BATTLE TO WASHINGTON

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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (September 8, 2000 - Marianas Variety/PINA Nius Online)---Bikini, Enewetak and Rongelap atolls in the Marshall Islands -- all severely affected by American nuclear testing from 1946 to 1958 -- have won multi-million dollar trust funds and nuclear test cleanup support from the United States government. But Utrik atoll has not.

Its population has been almost forgotten despite its exposure to 1954 Bravo test fallout and subsequent high rates of thyroid disease and cancer.

But no more. Utrik atoll has made a major move to change its low profile in Washington, D.C.

Utrik officials announced they had hired a former high-ranking staff member of the U.S. House Committee on Resources. He will assist the Utrik people with their nuclear test recovery and economic development plans.

By bringing T.E. Manase Mansur into the picture, Utrik for the first time has its own representation in Washington, D.C. through a person who is well versed with the Congress and federal government bureaucracy. Utrik leaders expressed their delight with the move.

Bikini, which gained a $120 million resettlement trust fund in the early 1990s, and Rongelap, which recently received a $45 million trust fund, both have Washington-based lawyers representing them.

Utrik has had no full-time representation in Washington. Although its leaders have made increasingly vocal pleas for independent radiological studies, expanded health care and nuclear test cleanup work on the atoll, they have largely been ignored by Washington officials. Bikini, Enewetak and Rongelap got similar treatment until they focused efforts on lobbying officials in Washington.

Utrik senator Hiroshi Yamamura and Mayor Joe Saul met recently with Mansur in the United States to discuss objectives for Utrik's recovery and development.

Yamamura said: "I believe Manse Mansur will be instrumental in helping the Utrik community to realize their hopes for recovery from nuclear testing in the 1950s. Manase's experience with the workings of the federal government in Washington and his business background is exactly what Utrik needs to see real progress."

Utrik was exposed to nuclear fallout from the 1954 Bravo hydrogen bomb blast at Bikini and from other of the 67 nuclear tests conducted by the United States of America.

Like nearby Rongelap islanders, the Utrik people were evacuated after the Bravo test. But they were allowed to return home just three months after the 1954 test, the largest hydrogen bomb exploded by the United States. While Rongelap is now in the first phase of a U.S.-funded cleanup and rehabilitation program, no such cleanup work has been conducted at Utrik.

Mansur said recently: "I admire the determination of the Utrik community to make certain their islands are safe and at the same time press forward with economic development. I am convinced that the potential of Utrik can be realized by a serious effort to document the safety of the islands and their pristine lagoons, which are ideal for marine-related projects to produce jobs and income for the Utrik people."

Until taking on the post with Utrik, Mansur had been the adviser on insular and international affairs to the House Committee on Resources. This is primary committee in the United States House of Representatives overseeing the spending in the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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