The president of the Marshall Islands has asked Japan to share what it learned from the wartime atomic bombings and the 2011 nuclear disaster with her country, a Cold War-era U.S nuclear testing site.

“We both live with the emotional and physical damage that has been brought (by nuclear weapons) and share similarities and concerns,” Hilda Heine said in an interview ahead of her five-day visit to Japan from 10 March.

“There must be ways that we can cooperate (by sharing) what you learn from your experience with our people.”

Heine, 72, who spoke with reporters from The Asahi Shimbun and the Hiroshima-based Chugoku Shimbun, said the Marshall Islands, like Japan, is opposed to nuclear armament.

“Maybe we can help each other strengthen our position by continuing to advocate against nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation,” she said.

The United States conducted 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958.

In a hydrogen bomb testing at Bikini Atoll on 01 March 1954, islanders were exposed to the radioactive fallout, as well as the 23 crew members of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru, a Japanese tuna fishing boat known as the Lucky Dragon No. 5.

Heine said the United States should be held responsible for cleaning up radioactive contamination and protecting the health of islanders affected by such nuclear testing.

She said her country cannot afford the massive cleanup costs, and its medical system falls short of being able to take care of the many cancer patients apparently linked to the nuclear testing.

Heine had some harsh words regarding treated radioactive water being discharged into the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which experienced a triple meltdown following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on 11 March, 2011.

The Marshall Islands’ parliament adopted a resolution expressing “grave concerns” over the discharge programme in March last year, months before the first batch of filtered and diluted wastewater was released in August.

It said the Pacific Ocean, which has been historically used for nuclear testing by the United States, Britain and France, “should no longer be a dumping ground for nuclear wastes” and strongly urged Japan to consider “safer alternative plans.”

“We wish that didn’t take place,” Heine said. “I think more consultations should be taking place before actions like that happen. We have to respect each other, talk to each other and give each other’s perspective before.”

She said Japan and the Marshall Islands should candidly talk with each other as “true friends.”

“We have a long history, so we have to be friends, but that doesn’t mean we agree on everything,” she said. “When we see that you’re not doing something, we have to tell you. Those friends talk to one another, right? That’s true friends.”

Speaking about climate change, a critical concern to Pacific island nations, Heine called on industrialised economies to curb greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate global warming.

She said countries such as the Marshall Islands contribute little to global emission levels, but they are affected the most by climate change, which causes sea levels to rise.

“The big emitters are not doing enough,” Heine said, adding that they need to act, not island nations.

Heine, the first female president of the Marshall Islands, was re-elected in January following her first stint through 2020.