|Area||21 km2 (8.1 sq mi)|
|Highest elevation||3 m (10 ft)|
Rongelap Atoll RONG-g?-lap (Marshallese: Ronap, [r?(?)lp?]) is a coral atoll of 61 islands (or motus) in the Pacific Ocean, and forms a legislative district of the Ralik Chain of the Marshall Islands. Its total land area is 8 square miles (21 km2). It encloses a lagoon with an area of 1,000 square miles (2,600 km2). It is historically notable for its close proximity to US hydrogen bomb tests in 1954, and was particularly devastated by fallout from the Castle Bravo test. The population was evacuated from Rongelap following the test due to high radiation levels. However, according to the most recent census in 2011 it has begun to recover with about eighty people living on the atoll.
The first sighting recorded by Europeans was by Spanish navigator Álvaro de Saavedra on 1 January 1528. Together with Utirik, Ailinginae and Toke atolls, they were charted as Islas de los Reyes (Islands of the Three Wise Kings in Spanish) due to the proximity of Epiphany. Fourteen years later it was visited by the Spanish expedition of Ruy López de Villalobos.
Rongelap Atoll was claimed by the Empire of Germany along with the rest of the Marshall Islands in 1884, and the Germans established a trading outpost. After World War I, the island came under the South Seas Mandate of the Empire of Japan. Following the end of World War II, Rongelap came under the control of the United States as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
March 1, 1954: United States detonates 15-megaton hydrogen bomb (Castle Bravo test) allegedly unaware that fallout will reach Rongelap. These claims are made for tort-liability prevention purposes only. Ralph Lapp cites in his 1955 paper Global Fall-out, that, by measuring roentgen doses, the yield of the devices are calculated.
March 3, 1954: US evacuates Rongelap inhabitants to Kwajalein Atoll. Islanders have vomiting, diarrhea, skin burns, and some later experience hair loss.
1955-1957: Internally displaced Rongelapese inhabitants repeatedly request permission from the US Government to return to their atoll.
1957: Atomic Energy Commission declares Rongelap safe for re-habitation. US scientists note: "The habitation of these people on the island will afford most valuable ecological radiation data on human beings."
1958: Rates of Rongelap miscarriages and stillbirths twice the rate of unexposed women.
1963: First thyroid tumors begin to appear.
1971: Independent Japanese medical team invited by Rongelap magistrate denied permission[who?] to visit by US citing "visa problems."
1986: Nuclear test compensation approved,[who?] setting aside a $US150 million trust fund.
1989: United States Department of Energy determines Rongelap safe for habitation.
1994: Independent scientific study[who?]finds that depending on dietary restrictions, 25 to 75% of Rongelap population would exceed the 100 mrem maximum annual exposure limit set.
2000: Marshall Islands government submits Change of Circumstances petition asking for significantly more compensation than the $US150m.
2005: Bush Administration determines it has no legal responsibility to provide additional nuclear test compensation.
2007: The Nuclear Claims Tribunal awards Rongelap more than $1 billion as fair damages for its land damage claim, however, since the $US150m trust fund is almost completely depleted this compensation can never be paid.[clarification needed]
From 1946 through 1958 the United States military conducted numerous atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, including hydrogen bomb tests, primarily at Bikini Atoll, about 120 kilometres (75 mi) from Rongelap Atoll. On March 1, 1954, the testing of the Castle Bravo hydrogen device produced an explosion that was 2½ times more powerful than predicted, and produced unexpected amounts of fallout that resulted in widespread radioactive contamination. The blast cloud contaminated more than 7,000 square miles (18,000 km2) of the surrounding Pacific Ocean including some of the then inhabited surrounding islands including Rongerik Atoll, Rongelap Atoll (120 kilometres (75 mi) away) and Utirik Atoll.
Irradiated debris fell up to 2 centimetres (0.79 in) deep over the island. A United States military medical team visited the island with geiger counters the day after the fallout, but left without telling the islanders of the danger they had been exposed to. Virtually all the inhabitants experienced severe radiation sickness, including itchiness, sore skin, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue. Their symptoms also included burning eyes and swelling of the neck, arms, and legs. The inhabitants were forced to abandon the islands, leaving all their belongings, three days after the test. They were relocated to Kwajalein for medical treatment. Six days after the Castle Bravo test, the U.S government set up a secret project to study the medical effects of the weapon on the residents of the Marshall Islands.
The United States was subsequently accused of having used the inhabitants in medical research (without receiving consent) to study the effects of nuclear exposure. This is true as research formerly sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, was being done by the United States on human beings without their consent. This is in part based on eugenics theories, that non-caucasian person's lives are inherently of less value. For more information also see: Science Advisory Board Under the National Research Council, Federal Security Agency, War Research Service, and National Academy of Sciences.
In 1957, three years later, the United States government declared the area 'clean and safe' and allowed the islanders to return, though they were told to stick to canned foods and avoid the northern islets of the atoll. Evidence of continued contamination mounted, however, as many residents developed thyroid-tumors, and many children died of leukemia. The magistrate of Rongelap, John Anjain, whose own son died of leukemia, appealed for international help, without significant response.
In 1984, Marshall Islands senator, Jeton Anjain approached the environmental group Greenpeace to seek their help in relocating the people of Rongelap and in 1985, 'Operation Exodus' took place. In three trips, the Rainbow Warrior moved approximately 350 people and 100 tonnes (98 long tons; 110 short tons) of building material. to the islets of Mejato and Ebeye on Kwajalein atoll, approximately 180 kilometres (110 mi) away. The operation took 11 days, moving everyone from 80-year-olds to newborns, their homes and their belongings. Ebeye is significantly smaller than the islands of Rongelap, and joblessness, suicide, and overcrowding have proven to be problems following the resettlement.
In September 1996, the United States Department of the Interior signed a $45 million resettlement agreement with the islanders, stipulating that the islanders themselves will scrape off a few inches of Rongelap's still contaminated surface. However, this is an operation deemed impossible by some critics.[according to whom?] In recent years, James Matayoshi, the mayor of Rongelap, claimed that the cleanup was successful and envisioned a new promising future for the inhabitants and for tourists. Scientific measurements made in August 2014 verified a safe level of radiation on Rongelap.
In 1991, the People of Rongelap and Jeton Anjain received the Right Livelihood Award "for their steadfast struggle against United States nuclear policy in support of their right to live on an unpolluted Rongelap island."