In 1954 the United States exploded the B ravo hydrogen bomb on Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific. It was the largest nuclear weapons device ever detonated by the United States, 1,300 times the destructive force of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. On the morning of the bombing, winds blew towards the Marshall Island's Rongelap Atoll over 100 miles away, exposing islanders to extremely high levels of radioactive fallout. White-powdered fallout covered the islands and the children played in it, thinking that it was snow. By night the islanders had become acutely ill. It was not until two days later that the U.S. evacuated everyone to another island. Though the soil, water and food remained contaminated, these people were returned to Rongelap in 1957. U.S. officials assured the islanders that no radiation danger remained. However, serious medical problems soon developed, including thyroid cancer, leukemia, and the birth of unformed fetuses.
Later a study released by the U.S. Department of Energy indicated that the levels of contamination on Rongelap exceeded those on Bikini, which had already been evacuated. At that time, Jeton Anjain (d. 1993), trained as a dentist and serving as health minister, began to seek justice. He resigned from his ministerial position in order to better represent the people of Rongelap as a senator to the Marshall Islands Parliament. He sought evacuation assistance in vain from the Marshall Islands and U.S. governments. Finally, in 1985, Anjain organized the evacuation of Rongelap with the aid of a Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior. Like a modern day Moses, he led his people to a new home. The community was relocated to the island of Mejato, but the battles continued.
Despite deteriorating health, Anjain continued to work tirelessly for justice for the Rongelap community. In 1993 Anjain died of cancer. If he had only lived a few months longer, he would have seen U.S. officials reveal to the public what he had contended for decades - that the people of Rongelap and other victims were not told the truth regarding the nuclear testing program.
Goldman Environmental Foundation
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