The Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal

by John Silson, LCNP Intern


From June 30, 1946 to August 18, 1958, the United States conducted a total of 67 atmospheric nuclear test explosions totaling 108 megatons in the Marshall Islands. Accepting responsibility for the damages to persons and property caused by this testing, in 1983, the United States established a $150 million fund from which reparations could be made to the people of the islands. The Tribunal has awarded a $300 million claim to the People of Enewetak Atoll and similar claims are pending by the Peoples of Bikini Atoll and Rongelap Atoll. Unfortunately, the original fund has been nearly exhausted making reparations for other damages related to nuclear testing since 1983. To meet the demands on the fund, the Government of the Marshall Islands plans to request approximately one billion dollars from the United States Government. Congressional handling of this request will provide an important international precedent for future claims made to the United States for damages from nuclear testing.

In 1990, the People of Enewatak Atoll filed a class action claim with the Tribunal for damages to land from the United States nuclear testing program. In December 1947, the People of Enewatak were removed from the Atoll and told that they would be able to return in three to five years. At the time of the removal of the people, the land area of Enewatak was 1,919.49 acres. On October 1, 1980, after forty-three atomic devices had been tested on the island, the people returned to the Atoll. Upon their return, 815.33 acres of land were returned to their use, 949.8 acres were "not available for use" and 154.36 acres had been vaporized. The Tribunal will most likely grant similar awards for the pending claims of the people of Bikini and Rongelap.

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