Marshall Islands Nuclear Survivor Medical Program: Reports
As part of the US’s above-ground tests of atomic bombs among the Marshall Islands (1945-1958), on March 1, 1953, the largest nuclear detonation in American history was carried out. Castle Bravo turned out to be much more powerful than expected – one thousand times the force of the bombs dropped on Japan – and it irradiated the inhabitants of the Rongelap and Utrik atolls. The next year, a law was passed charging the Atomic Energy Commission (and later the Department of Energy) with running a program to medically aid the people on those islands. Since then, they’ve received annual medical exams and ongoing care for conditions resulting from radiation overexposure.
According to the 2016 report: “There were 253 people on Rongelap and Utrik during the test. There were 112 individuals eligible for participation in the program as of October 1, 2015, and 103 received comprehensive medical screening examinations in fiscal year (FY) 2016.”
The Energy Department is required to file an annual report with Congress detailing this little-known program for nuclear survivors. I found three older status reports online – the latest was from 2002 – so I filed a FOIA request for the two most recent annual reports. They’re in the PDF above, along with a 5-year report covering 1992-1996, the 2001 annual report, and a quarterly update from 2002.
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The Castle Bravo detonation:
The radiological legacy of U.S. nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands remains to this day and will persist for many years to come. The most severe impacts were visited upon the people of the Rongelap Atoll in 1954 following a very large thermonuclear explosion which deposited life-threatening quantities of radioactive fallout on their homeland. They received more than three times the estimated external dose to the most heavily exposed people living near the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. It took more than two days before the people of Rongelap were evacuated after the explosion. Many suffered from tissue destructive effects of radiation and subsequently from latent radiation-induced diseases.
In 1957, they were returned to their homeland even though officials and scientists working for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) determined that radiation doses would significantly exceed those allowed for citizens of the United States. The desire to study humans living in a radiation-contaminated environment appeared to be a major element of this decision. A scientist in a previously secret transcript of a meeting where they decided to return the Rongelap people to their atoll stated: “While it is true that these people do not live, I would say, the way Westerners, or civilized people, it is nevertheless also true that they are more like us than the mice.”
“Castle Bravo revisited” at Restricted Data: The Nuclear Secrecy Blog