Rongelap Nuclear Survivors Plea To Return Home

Six decades after being forced to relocate from their home, order nine courageous women are pleading to return back to a safe and livable Rongelap Atoll.

As the government of the Marshall Islands prepares to host the 44th Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Majuro this week, the women, who are the oldest living generation of Rongelap, are pleading for the United States to clean up their lands from radiation and contaminants left over from 67 atmospheric nuclear tests conducted in the 1940s to 1950s.
At 73 years old, Lemyo Abon says she remembers the nuclear fallout, hearing strange blasts, nothing like that of the thunderstorm.
Power-like substance she described to look like shampoo was everywhere, in their drinking water, all over their land and crops.
Abon and the other women emotionally described the events of the nuclear era, holding back tears as they each recount painful memories.
Not knowing the dangers of the substance, Abon and some of the women says they remember playing with the substance and even putting it in their hair thinking it was shampoo.
“I played with the power, putting it in my hair. But I later lost all of my hair from it”, recalled 75-year-old Rinok Riklon who was about 14 years old at the time.
Hair loss was not the only health problem experienced by the women, vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches were some of the initial symptoms they experienced following their exposure to radiation.
But more severe health problems such as cancer have since claimed dozens of lives.
The women today and many more who has suffered from the effects of radiation exposure continues to endure serious health problems.
A provision entitled section 177 under the Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands provides for a comprehensive healthcare program for the exposed population.
But Senator Kenneth Kedi, Rongelap’s representative to the parliament, says the program with a funding of less than one million dollars is not sufficient enough to cover medical care.
After evacuating to a nearby atoll years ago and then on to Majuro, the people of Rongelap are eager to return to a safe and clean land.
In the early 1990s, Rongelap was given $45 million for resettlement and clean up, but only 200 of 600 acres of land have been cleaned and described by Senator Kedi as safe.
He says that although a portion of Rongelap has been cleaned, the people will not resettle until all of Rongelap is cleaned and safe for them to return.

Survivors of nuclear tests with former Rongelap Senator

Survivors of nuclear tests with Rongelap Senator Kedi

Lemyo Abon, nuclear survivor

Rongelap Senator Kenneth Kedi