Amid Pacific Island countries dealing with the impacts of nuclear testing and Japan’s wastewater discharge, leaders came together to commemorate the International Day Against Nuclear Tests, voicing their ongoing concerns and renewing their commitment to international peace.

Speaking on behalf of the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) Government and its people at the Pacific Islands Forum in Suva on Tuesday, Ambassador of the Marshall Islands to Fiji, Junior Aini said RMI is committed to raising awareness and seek justice for the devastating impacts of nuclear testing.

“The issues surrounding the nuclear legacy in RMI are real.

“Our people have lived through the horrors of these nuclear testing activities. From the permanent relocation of resident populations to the serious and lasting impacts on the health, environment and human rights of our affected communities.

“To date, we continue to grapple with the generational effects of radiation, sicknesses, displacement, relocation, and environmental damages, as consequences from the nuclear tests,” he said.

The Pacific was once used as a nuclear testing ground with over 315 nuclear weapons being tested.

In the case of RMI, 67 nuclear and thermonuclear weapons were detonated in our northern atolls of Enewetak and Bikini from 1946 to 1958, spanning a period of 12 years.

While the nuclear tests were conducted at Bikini and Enewetak atolls, the fallout travelled to other atolls in the Marshall Islands, especially Rongelap and Utrik Atolls.

Not knowing what had happened, the people living on these atolls were then subject to a study known as Project 4.1 on the biological effects of radiation on human beings.

The Ambassador highlighted that while the people of RMI continue to pursue a fair and just resolution to the nuclear legacy, they continue to face other challenges due to the impact of climate change.

“All of these undermine our rights and development as a nation.

“As citizens and people of the Pacific, we must not stop from seeking what’s in the best interest of our children, people and nations.”

Rune Dome in Enewetak Atoll. Photo: The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images via Insider

Reflecting on a recent visit to the Rune Dome in Enewetak Atoll, a site that holds significant historical importance, he revealed his sober thoughts about the lives lost, the ongoing suffering, and the displacement of people.

The occasion marked by the theme “Honouring the Past, Empowering the Future: Stories of Resilience”, he said served as a reminder to commemorate the lives affected by the nuclear legacy and to draw a vision for a brighter future.

“The significance of our gathering today is in itself a tribute to the souls and lives of every nuclear victim who has passed and is still experiencing the impacts of the nuclear testing programmes.

“Not just in the Marshall Islands, but throughout our vast Blue Pacific Continent. We have paid the highest price for international peace and security.

“Although nuclear testing has ceased following the promulgation of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (‘Rarotonga Treaty’), we must not be complacent as more work is yet to be done.

“The Runit Dome in Enewetak Atoll is a constant reminder to continue our national efforts for nuclear justice,” he said.

Commemorating International Day Against Nuclear Tests and Anniversary of the Rarotonga Treaty at Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in Suva, Fiji Islands. Photo: Sanjeshni Kumar/Pasifika Environews

Ambassador Aini shared five key priority areas that the RMI is undertaking under the National Nuclear Commission Strategy for Coordinated Action FY 2020-2023 to help inform partners and friends on how they can be able to support the RMI.

1. Healthcare – Address healthcare needs not just for 4 atolls (section 177), but for the whole Marshall Islands. There are over 20 various types of cancers according to Nuclear Claims Tribunal data. Cancer care options are not available in RMI.

2. Education – Every generation needs to inherit the knowledge about the testing programme to make the best decisions for the communities. The Nuclear Legacy has been integrated into the Public School System (PSS) Social Studies and Science Curriculum.

3. Environment – Regular environmental monitoring missions in the 4 atolls have not done much to change or improve the current situation, and a recent study has found that there is only less than 1 percent of plutonium inside the Runit Dome, meaning 99 percent of the contamination is in the surrounding environment; There is need for our Pacific region to have its owncapacity and capability to look after this.

4. Displacement – The legacy of this testing and colonial control has made the Marshall Islands more vulnerable to climate change and further emphasises responsibility for the safe resettlement of displaced Marshallese and the restoration of economic productivity in the affected areas. People of Bikini and Rongelap remain displaced until today, living in small islands vulnerable to Climate Change and rising sea levels.

5. Compensation – the responsible government is obligated to provide compensation for damages and harm inflicted upon the Marshallese and their lands through the Nuclear Claims Tribunal established under the Compact of Free Association.

He said at the international level, the core group comprising of the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) who have Permanent Missions based in Geneva were able to pass a resolution by consensus through the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to provide technical assistance and capacity building to address the human rights implications of the nuclear legacy in the Marshall Islands.

He called for continued global support to complement the RMI’s national efforts, echoing the concerns and commitments of Pacific leaders.

Commemorating International Day Against Nuclear Tests and Anniversary of the Rarotonga Treaty at Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in Suva, Fiji Islands. Photo: Sanjeshni Kumar/Pasifika Environews

Meanwhile, Ambassador said the Marshall Islands is also concerned with the Japan’s intention of wastewater discharge.

“We don’t want the history to repeat itself. For my children, I don’t think so that will be the things I want them to face throughout the generations.

“This is something very sensitive for us as RMI has experience with nuclear and we appreciate Japan for opening to dialogue with our leaders, assuring us of their commitment to make sure that their intention is safe.

“I hope to look forward to our leaders meeting in September to discuss these issues,” he said.