As the trustee of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, the United States had an obligation to protect the health and welfare of the Marshall Islanders. Instead, the U.S. conducted 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958. These 67 nuclear tests had an explosive power equivalent to 1.6 Hiroshima bombs daily for 12 years. In short, the U.S. used these islands shamefully, and the Marshallese people continue to suffer today as a result.
March 1, 2014 marks the 60th anniversary of the Castle Bravo nuclear test, the largest and most devastating nuclear test ever conducted by the U.S. At 15-megatons, this single blast at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands was 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Because the Castle Bravo test was done near ground level, the radiation fallout was far greater than that at either Hiroshima or Nagasaki, where the bombs were exploded well above ground level.
According to a report presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in September 2012 by Special Rapporteur Calin Georgescu, “Radiation from the testing resulted in fatalities and in acute and long-term health complications. The effects of radiation have been exacerbated by near irreversible environmental contamination, leading to loss of livelihoods and lands. Moreover, many people continue to experience indefinite displacement.”
The Castle Bravo nuclear test rained down radiation like soft snow on the people of the Marshalls, who were located on islands outside the designated danger zone. It was several days before the U.S. evacuated these people away from the radioactive danger, resulting in 60 years of pain, suffering and stillbirths.
Radiation from the blast traveled over 100 miles to irradiate the Japanese fishing boat, Lucky Dragon. The boat’s chief radio operator, Aikichi Kuboyama, died less than six months later of radiation poisoning. He is thought to be the first Japanese victim of a hydrogen bomb. Kuboyama’s last words were, “I pray that I am the last victim of an atomic or hydrogen bomb.” This was not to be.
March 1st will be solemnly remembered this 60th anniversary year in Asia and the Pacific. In the Marshall Islands, flags will be flown at half-mast during the Nuclear Memorial and Survivors Remembrance Day.
In the U.S., flags will not fly at half-mast. Most people will go about their business with little awareness of the tragedy we left in the wake of our nuclear testing, either in the Pacific or on the lands of indigenous peoples in Nevada. Again, on this 60th anniversary, there will be no apology. Nor will there be adequate compensation provided to the people of the Marshall Islands for the pain and injury they have suffered from U.S. nuclear testing.
The anniversary of Castle Bravo is an acute reminder that nuclear weapons leave a legacy of horror. We must wage all-out peace until we reach Nuclear Zero. For the sake of the seven billion of us who share this Earth and for the people of the future, we must strive to achieve Nuclear Zero, the only number that makes sense. Nukes are nuts.
David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org). He is the author and editor of many books on peace and nuclear weapons abolition, including “Speaking of Peace: Quotations to Inspire Action.”