The foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, Jack Ading, has urged the United States to increase compensation payments to his nation due to the health and environmental impact caused by the US nuclear testing program. Ading made this plea during a US congressional hearing in Washington on Thursday. He argued that the Compact of Free Association (COFA) agreement between the Marshall Islands and the US, which was hastily passed in January, did not adequately address the issue of funding for the nuclear-affected populations.
Under the COFA arrangement, the United States provides defense assets and economic assistance to the Marshall Islands in exchange for strategic access to the Pacific. The agreement also includes Micronesia and Palau. The US has committed to providing around $7.1 billion in financial assistance to these three nations over the next two decades.
The Marshall Islands suffered greatly from the US nuclear testing program, with 67 nuclear bomb tests conducted on the islands between 1946 and 1958. The most devastating of these tests was the Castle Bravo thermonuclear detonation at Bikini Atoll in 1954. This test created a fireball with a diameter of 4.5 miles and could be seen from over 250 miles away. The US National Cancer Institute has estimated that up to 55% of all cancers in the northern atolls of the Marshall Islands can be attributed to nuclear fallout from these tests.
Last year, over 100 activist groups, including environmental and arms-control campaigners, called on the Biden administration to formally apologize to the Marshall Islands for the nuclear testing program. However, Joe Yun, the chief US negotiator with the Pacific nations, expressed puzzlement at the request during the recent congressional hearing. He argued that the issue of nuclear liability had already been settled in the 1980s and that the current agreement included provisions for a $700 million trust fund to address the consequences of the tests.
Yun further stated that he had informed his Marshallese colleagues that there was no additional funding available. He suggested that the timing of the Marshall Islands’ request might be influenced by the upcoming November election and rumors of a no-confidence vote against their President David Kabua. In response, Ading denied these claims, expressing disappointment and sadness at Yun’s comments.
The call for increased compensation to address the ongoing health and environmental impact of the US nuclear testing program in the Marshall Islands highlights the lasting consequences of such actions. The plea for additional funding is seen as essential to support the affected populations and address their needs effectively.