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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (March 14, 2001 - Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat)---Marshall Islands officials have dismissed claims that radiation levels on deserted Rongelap Island have dropped to levels safe for human habitation.

An unidentified researcher from Hiroshima University said his field tests in 1999 show radiation levels on the island are lower than those registered in Tokyo and Hiroshima.

Rongelap is located near the former U.S. nuclear test site of Bikini atoll.

The people of Rongelap were evacuated to neighboring islands during nuclear testing by the U.S. military in 1954. They returned three years later, but they left again in 1985 after high levels of radiation were reported on the island.

Bill Graham, a public advocate for the Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal, said claims that Rongelap is safe cannot be substantiated.

"We’re totally in the dark as to who this individual is," he said. "The senator of Rongelap has not been able to give me enough information, other than to say that the local Rongelap government did not support the research."

[See: Rongelap, Marshall Islands Said To Be Clear Of Radiation]

Graham said it’s not known what kinds of samples were taken for the study. It is also not known what method was used to make the determination that Rongelap is safe.

"This may give (the people of Rongelap) hope that their return could be sooner, with less cleanup than initially anticipated," he said.

The tribunal has assisted the people of Rongelap in pressing the U.S. government for compensation and to clean up the contamination left on the island.

For additional reports from Radio Australia/Pacific Beat, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia/Pacific Beat.

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