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Rongelap seen from space.
Fallout plume of 1954 nuclear test extending over Rongelap Atoll (centre).

Rongelap Atoll is an island-atoll located in Micronesia. It is a municipality of the Marshall Islands. The Atoll consists of 61 islets with a combined area of approximately 3 square miles (8 km²). Its lagoon covers 388 square miles (1,000 km²). It is historically notable for its close proximity to American hydrogen bomb tests in 1954.

Contents

History

The United States military conducted atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, including hydrogen bomb tests in the Pacific from 1946 through 1958. These tests were primarily in the Bikini Atoll, about 150 miles from Rongelap Atoll.

On March 1, 1954, the test of the Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb generated radioactive fallout which killed a crew member of a Japanese fishing boat, the Daigo Fukuryū Maru, and contaminated Rongelap, with snow-like irridated debris falling up to 2cm high over the highland. A US team visited the island with geiger counters the day after the fallout fell, but left without telling the islanders of the danger they had been exposed to.[1] The inhabitants were forced to abandon the islands, leaving all their belongings, three days after the test. They were relocated to Kwajalein for medical treatment.[2] The US was subsequently accused of having used the inhabitants in medical research (without receiving consent) to study the effects of nuclear exposure.[1]

In 1957, three years later, the USA declared the area 'clean and safe' and allowed the islanders to return,[3] though they were told to stick to canned foods and avoid the northern islands of the atoll.[1] Evidence of continued contamination mounted, however, as many residents developed thyroid-tumors,[1] and many children died of leukemia. The magistrate of Rongelap, John Anjain, whose own son died of leukemia, appealed for international help, without significant response.

In 1985, Greenpeace, on request of the locals, helped evacuate the people from Rongelap and aided their resettlement on the islets of Mejato and Ebeye on Kwajalein-atoll, approximately 180km away, in 'Operation Exodus'. In four trips, the Rainbow Warrior moved approximately 300 people and 100 tons of building material.[1] Ebeye is significantly smaller than the islands of Rongelap, and joblessness, suicide, and overcrowding have proven to be problems following the resettlement.

In September 1996, the United States Department of the Interior signed a 45 million dollar resettlement agreement with the islanders, stipulating that the islanders themselves will scrape off a few inches of Rongelap's still contaminated surface. However, this is an operation deemed impossible by some critics. In recent years, James Matayoshi, the mayor of Rongelap claimed that the cleanup was successful and envisioned a new promising future for the inhabitants and for tourists.[4]

In popular culture

  • Mike Harding's 1989 folk protest song Shaky Isles mentions the fate of the atoll in the lines "Black mist on Maralinga, grey snow on Rongelap, white sun under Mururoa. Whitewash to cover the cracks.".

References

  1. ^ a b c d e The evacuation of Rongelap (from the Greenpeace website. Accessed 2009-11-07.)
  2. ^ Gerald H. Clarfield and William M. Wiecek (1984). Nuclear America: Military and Civilian Nuclear Power in the United States 1940-1980, Harper & Row, New York, p. 207.
  3. ^ McCool, Woodford C. (1957-02-06) ( – Scholar search), Return of Rongelapese to their Home Island - Note by the Secretary, United States Atomic Energy Commission, http://worf.eh.doe.gov/ihp/chron/A43.PDF, retrieved 2007-11-07  
  4. ^ Rongelap Atoll Local Government - Marshall Islands

External links

  • Rongelap Atoll official site
  • Radio Bikini : Oscar-nominated 1987 documentary on the 1946 atomic bomb tests on Bikini Atoll and the effects on the Bikinians as well as the US sailors who witnessed the tests.
  • Het Einde van de Wereld The End of the World (1995/VPRO-tv/Theo Uittenbogaard) a Dutch documentary on the history of the people of the island Rongelap, who were evacuated due to fallout from the Bikini nuclear tests and their (inc. John Anjain) hearing by a Senate Committee in Washington DC

Coordinates: 11°19′N 166°47′E / 11.317°N 166.783°E / 11.317; 166.783

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