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U.S. fails to compensate after nuclear tests leave high levels of radiation in Marshall Islands

A recent report on U.S. nuclear tests conducted decades ago in the Marshall Islands has triggered heated discussions in the international community, as they have been shown to be catastrophic for the island country.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the U.S. carried out massive nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958, and withheld key information about the resulting nuclear radiation.

As the climate changes, the concrete dome where nuclear waste was dumped has cracked, leading to increasing risk of radioactive material leakage. Officials in the Marshall Islands have lobbied the U.S. government for help, but American officials have declined to do so.

An American media outlet reported that the U.S. detonated 67 nuclear bombs on, in and above the Marshall Islands, which vaporized entire islands and exiled hundreds of people from their homes.

“By that time, some islanders were beginning to suffer from acute radiation poisoning — their hair fell out in clumps, their skin was burned, and they were vomiting,” said the Los Angeles Times.

After the tests, U.S. authorities buried plutonium and other waste in an unlined bomb crater on an island and encapsulated it with concrete.

According to Los Angeles Times, the U.S. had also transported 130 tons of soil from atomic testing grounds in Nevada to the Marshall Islands, which has never been reported before.

In July 2019, a team from Columbia University found increasing levels of radiation in parts of the Marshall Islands that exceed those found near Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Experts said that though the effects of such radiation may vary widely with most people, it is dangerous for local residents.

“The nuclear explosions released huge energy, and the hazards for local residents and creatures mainly come from instantaneous radiation of shock waves and particles, as well as the long-term radioactive pollution that follows,” said Wu Yican, director of the Institute of Nuclear Energy Safety Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Wu told People’s Daily Online that the explosion of the largest hydrogen bomb during the 67 nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. in the Marshall Islands was 15 million tons, over 1,000 times larger than the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

“Once the radioactive materials leak, they may diffuse to surrounding seawaters or lagoons, once again forcing local people to leave their homes. In addition, severe marine pollution caused by large-scale leakage will threaten bio-safety in nearby Pacific regions or an even wider range,” Wu noted.

For decades, the Marshallese have expressed their concerns over the waste site, but the U.S. kept saying the dome is on Marshallese land and therefore the responsibility of the Marshallese government.

A tribunal, established by the two countries in 1988, concluded the U.S. should pay $2.3 billion in claims, but the U.S. Congress and U.S courts have refused. Documents show the U.S. paid just $4 million.

Under normal circumstances, conducting nuclear tests in a region where a country is aware of the existence of humans is no different from dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, said Zhu Li, executive vice-director of the radiation protection office, Tsinghua University, during an interview with People’s Daily Online.

Zhu said the U.S. must be held accountable for the tests in the Marshall Islands, both economically and technically. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)

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