Pacific nuclear tests still costing lives

July 4, 2015

From the July-August issue of News & Letters

New York City—Sixty years, to the day, after the Castle Bravo explosion over the Marshall Islands, Holly Barker, anthropologist at the University of Washington, spoke to us at the “Dynamics of Possible Nuclear Extinction” conference in New York City. Her subject was U.S. policy towards the people most affected by 67 atmospheric nuclear explosions. Those people were the Marshall Islanders.

Now, after six decades, women and their babies experience deep suffering because their island still radiates from the soil, the trees, and the beaches, and, in fact, from the very air. Nuclear radiation prevents normal development of fetuses, producing teratogenic (monstrous) effects.

“As soon as the bomb exploded, the test team knew something was wrong. Instead of five megatons, the blast turned out to be 15 megatons. The explosion vaporized three entire coral islands, sending the ash 100,000 feet into the air. It drifted eastward and rained upon hundreds of people living on islands to the north – a poison footprint of 7,000 square miles.” Photo  and caption credit, PBS.


These women and their families tell it best. Speaking at a UN Human Rights meeting on Sept. 13, 2012, Mrs. Lemeyo Abon said:

“To this day women in the Marshall Islands give birth to jellyfish babies, or babies born with no bones in their bodies and translucent skin. Sometimes they are born alive and live for a few minutes or hours, and you can see the blood moving through their bodies before they die.

“We give birth to babies with missing limbs, or their organs and spinal cords on the outside of their bodies. We never experienced these types of births before the U.S. testing program.

“We have complained about these births for decades, and we are always told by the U.S. Government that they are not the result of radiation exposure. Yet our language, our history, our stories have no record of these births before the testing program. After the testing program, we’ve had to create new words to describe the creatures we give birth to.”


In 1986, 31 years after the Castle Bravo thermonuclear explosion—between five and 12 times more powerful than scientists had predicted—researchers found that residents of Rongelap, especially women and children, were getting sick living on the highly contaminated atoll.

The longer the women lived on Rongelap, the more health complications they developed, such as breast, thyroid, uterine and stomach cancers, and giving birth to mentally retarded children.

Marshall Islander Lijon Eknilang appeared before the International Court of Justice in The Hague and gave this chilling first-hand account of the effects of nuclear testing in the Pacific: “Women have experienced many reproductive cancers and abnormal births,” Lijon said. “… In privacy, they give birth, not to children as we like to think of them, but to things we could only describe as ‘octopuses,’ ‘apples,’ ‘turtles.’” Lijon has had seven miscarriages, and no live births.


0 thoughts on “Pacific nuclear tests still costing lives

  1. The U.S. Government needs to make full and true reparations to the people of the Marshall Islands. This includes quality healthcare and relocation. But, it doesn’t look like the U.S. Is anywhere near doing this. As usual, my government is mired in its continuing quest for increasing its power as it simultaneously causes its own people to suffer.

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