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Marshall Islanders, whose island was affected by U.S. nuclear testing, "want to go home, that's the bottom line"

Rimajol
Jeban Riklon is a senator in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
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By Giff
Johnson

The
Marshall Islands Journal

Posted: September 28, 2012

MAJURO, RMI -- Jeban Riklon traveled half way around
the world to be present during the United Nations Human Rights Council’s
hearing September 13 on the human-rights impact of US nuclear testing in the
Marshall Islands. Riklon, now a senator in the Marshall Islands Nitijela
representing Kwajalein, was a two-year-old on Rongelap when the Bravo hydrogen
bomb was exploded at Bikini on March 1, 1954, dumping high-level radioactive
fallout onto Rongelap and other downwind islands.

“I was only two at the time and I don’t remember the
test,” he said in earlier this month. “As I grew up, I learned about March 1
from my grandmother, from reading documents and talking with Department of
Energy officials. My grandmother told me that we were all very sick, with
diarrhea and hair falling out.”

Riklon joined with Rongelap survivor Lemeyo Abon,
who also attended the Human Rights Council session in Geneva. Riklon does
remember returning to Rongelap with his family in 1957 — when US officials told
Rongelap Islanders their atoll was safe for re-habitation, but at the same time
said in a report: “Even though the radioactive contamination of Rongelap Island
is considered perfectly safe for human habitation, the levels of activity are higher
than those found in other inhabited locations in the world.
The habitation of these people on the island afford
most valuable 
ecological radiation data on human
beings.”

Riklon wouldn’t read this passage until many years
later. In the meantime, his family in the 1950s settled on an island in the northern
section of Rongelap, the most heavily contaminated by the Bravo fallout cloud
in 1954, living by eating fish and the fruits of the land that were laced with
cesium 137 and other radionuclides from Bravo and other nuclear tests.

“Dr. Robert Conard (the American medical doctor who
supervised medical care and studies of Rongelap from 1954 until the early
1980s) told me my life span would be short,” said Riklon, now 60. “I’m very
fortunate to be alive today.”

In contrast to the large percentage of the 82 people
and four unborn babies who were on Rongelap during the fallout in 1954, Riklon has
not had surgery to remove thyroid tumors. He called himself “lucky,” noting
that he has only one serious health problem: a headache so severe that it
induces him to vomit and cause serious muscle pain. It has reoccurred for many
years. Doctors at a Hawaii hospital checked the problem and “told me that it
will never go away,” he said. “I don’t know the cause of it. It will go away
for a while, then suddenly return.”

In 1985, Rongelap islanders self-evacuated their
atoll out of concern for radiation-caused health injuries, and remain exiled to
this day. But a US-funded nuclear cleanup of the main island in Rongelap in
recent years has put a return to Rongelap on the front burner. Riklon believes
people are not ready to go back and should not be pressured to return to
Rongelap.

“People, especially the younger generation, don’t
understand the consequences of contamination,” he said. “We who were under the fallout,
we know. We experience it mentally and physically.”

He said there is a need for much more consultation
and dialog with the United States government on the issue of Rongelap’s safety
— a concern that the UN Special Rapporteur highlighted in his report to the UN
as a “legacy of distrust” from the nuclear testing period in the 1950s.

“We want to go back home — that’s the bottom line,”
Riklon said. “There is no place better, it’s my home.” But before people
return, Rongelap Atoll must be safe and Rongelap people must be fully aware of
all the issues involved in resettlement, he said.

Copyright
2012 The Marshall Islands Journal

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