Territories of the Republic of the Marshall Islands were variously contaminated by radioactive fallout from the U.S. nuclear weapons testing program on Bikini and Enewetak Atolls (1946-1958). All parties agree that the accidental exposure of unsuspecting Marshallese populations, continued displacement of atoll population groups, wide-spread societal fear of radiation, and long-term physical and ecological damages to the environment are clear and tragic consequences of the nuclear testing program.., these conditions and concerns have now prevailed for over six decades.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) continues to provide and expand on environmental and individual radiological protection monitoring programs in the Marshall Islands. These monitoring programs are designed to address the long-term radiological monitoring needs of the Marshall Islands, and allow individuals and their families to make more informed decisions about their radiation safety and health. The science program is implemented through a number of specific measures and tasks revolving around individual monitoring of atoll population groups based on whole body counting and bioassay, conducting radiological assessments in support of settled and resettling populations, and improving food safety and security.
To be clear, our scientists do not seek to discredit efforts by the national and local authorizes to obtain fair and equable compensation for cancer and related health injuries nor on attempting to expand entitlements in other areas of public health or obtaining additional compensation for personal hardship, loss of land, remediation and community rebuilding. Continuing claims for compensation stemming from past events should not be confused with the objectives of the current science program and our continuing efforts to develop an effective radiological protection monitoring program. This distinction appears to have been lost in the continuing debate over claims for compensation and arguments against resettlement. It could be said that lack of progress on structured resettlement and providing opportunity for displaced communities to regain a true sense of identity my living on their ancestral land may be causing more harm to the very people that we are all trying to help and protect compared with the possible detriment from low level exposure to residual fallout contamination in the environment.
High-quality defensible science is still needed to provide continuous surveillance monitoring of existing radiological conditions in the Marshall Islands from which assurances can be offered that nuclear impacted islands and atolls remain safe from any protracted exposures to residual fallout contamination in the environment. These data and information also provide a scientific basis for tracking future change in radiological conditions, and developing practical and effective remedial measures in support of sustainable resettlement programs.
At the same time, we recognize the need to improve communications and conduct more effective public outreach, education and training. The language of radiation science is highly specialized and difficult to understand, especially for the general public. Over the past decade we have trained and hired a number of Marshallese technicians to manage the day-to-day operations of our radiological monitoring facilities (https://marshallislands.llnl.gov). These partnerships have helped build public trust but there is a continuing need to educate the public about radiological conditions in the Marshall Islands. To accomplish this goal, the DOE is embarking on a new education initiative by establishing the DOE Marshall Islands Science Foundation Program (MISFP). The MISFP will make available a number of scholarship awards for young Marshallese students to obtain undergraduate and possibly post-graduate degrees at a U.S. accredited college or university. The expectation is that these students will return to the Marshall Islands and make an independent and informed contribution to public outreach programs and the nuclear debate. The DOE will also seek out the services of those students successfully completing post-graduate degrees to provide expert opinion at meetings with national and local government officials, and possibly contribute to periodic program reviews and help identify areas for improvement of the DOE Marshall Islands science program.