This post is part of a forthcoming multimedia series produced by The GroundTruth Project focusing on the Marshall Islands, a US legacy of nuclear contamination and a looming threat posed by climate change. Coleen Jose, Kim Wall and Jan Hendrik Hinzel reported from the Marshall Islands to Northwest Arkansas
The Marshall Islands in the North Pacific is one of the most remote places on the planet. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States detonated 67 nuclear and thermonuclear bombs over the atolls. The population was exposed to radiation, displaced then subjected to decades of medical testing as part of classified military projects.
On Enewetak atoll, it was difficult to imagine that the 29 necklace-shaped thin strips of land and a striking blue lagoon where our reporting team journeyed to was witness to nuclear tests and a bomb 1,000 times as powerful as the one that decimated Hiroshima. The ‘forgotten atoll’, as some have described Enewetak, is home to hundreds of Marshallese living in the only repatriated nuclear ground zero.
A continuing contamination from a US nuclear legacy, still under-reported, is beginning to emerge in international discussion as the low-lying atolls grapple with the impacts of climate change. Increasingly frequent and unpredictable storms, inundation and severe drought are becoming more common in the Marshall Islands. Waves are destroying homes while breadfruit trees wither from salt spray.
Our forthcoming multimedia series is a deep dive into the stories existing alongside the vast Pacific Ocean. We’re examining the country’s experience with a nuclear legacy, climate change and migration to the United States where we follow a growing Marshallese community in Northwest Arkansas.
There is a word in Marshallese, lamoran, which means heritage, land and identity. The loss of land to the rising sea or intense tide is inseparable with loss to one’s identity. For thousands of years, the Marshallese survived on the atolls—generations of master sailors navigated the rough seas to subsist. It wasn’t until the Pacific battles of World War II and Cold War era nuclear testing that these plentiful resources in land and sea were decimated and for thousands of years contaminated from radioactive fallout.
A tradition of resilience continue despite the threat of climate change, one soundly described by a Marshallese poet: “no one’s going to become a climate change refugee, no one’s losing their homeland,” Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner recited in front of world leaders at the UN Climate Summit in 2014.
Tags: GroundTruth Project, nuclear waste