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United Nations Affairs

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1952–1954
Volume III, United Nations Affairs, Document 945


ODA files, lot 60 D 257, “TTPI—Nuclear Testing—1954”

The General Manager, Atomic Energy Commission (Nichols) to the Assistant Secretary of State for united Nations Affairs (Key)

Dear Mr. KEY: The Atomic Energy Commission agrees that the United States representative on the United Nations Trusteeship Council should be well informed on tests in the Marshall Islands and their effects on the Trust Territory and its inhabitants. The Commission has undertaken to answer the questions posed in your letter of May 7, 1954.

It should be noted that in developing the answers, discussions have taken place between members of the Department of State, Department of the Interior, and the Atomic Energy Commission. The information contained in the attached answers also is unclassified and, therefore, can be utilized without security restrictions.

It is hoped that this information will prove helpful in allaying any possible concern of Trusteeship Council members and in minimizing any propaganda advantage of unfriendly nations. The Commission will be glad to furnish any further assistance you may wish.11. On June 17, 1954 a copy of this letter with enclosure was forwarded by the Director, Office of Dependent Area Affairs (Gerig) to William C. Strand, Director, Office of Territories, Department of the Interior, with the suggestion that it be transmitted to the High Commissioner of the Trust Territory (Midkiff), and inviting comments from both Strand and Midkiff. (ODA files, lot 62 D 225, “Trust Territory of Pacific Islands”)

Sincerely yours,

K. D. Nichols

[Enclosure]

Answers to State Department “List of Possible Questions” Submitted by Atomic Energy Commission

The following answers are in the same general order as the questions submitted.

1. The area of the Trust Territory was chosen for testing purposes because of its remoteness from populated centers and from established air routes and sea lanes. Another consideration was to obtain climatic conditions which present few obstacles to operations which are rendered quite difficult even under optimum conditions.

2. It is expected that there will be no deleterious, long-run effects on the physical well-being of the native inhabitants. This is based on the best medical estimates of external radiation doses as well as on the body burden of the ingested and/or inhaled fission products. Should a technical discussion develop on this subject the Atomic Energy Commission will be pleased to make available a person competent to answer such questions as may arise.

It is, of course, difficult to evaluate precisely the psychological impact of an incident of this kind. The Atomic Energy Commission has observed, however, that

  • (a) the evacuees were very satisfied with their treatment and living conditions at Kwajalein and with the announced plans to restock their islands;
  • (b) possibly the greatest concern to the natives in their minds is the uncertainty of the time of return of some of them to their home islands. Reassurances of their return and the time thereof have been made and will continue to be given.

3. The danger area as established before the start of Castle and as extended after the first shot of the series included no inhabited areas aside from the Atolls of Eniwetok and Bikini which were occupied solely by American Test Personnel. However, outside of the established danger area, the Atolls of Rongelap and Utirik, inhabited by Marshallese, and Rongerik, temporarily occupied by American Weather Personnel, were contaminated by radioactive fall-out because of an unexpected shift in wind conditions. As a result, the Commander, Joint Task Force Seven, ordered these Marshallese and United States Weather Personnel evacuated temporarily to Kwajalein Atoll, where they were given a thorough medical examination including blood counts. They have been kept under constant surveillance by an Atomic Energy Commission–Department of Defense team of medical experts. In addition to receiving the best of medical care, the people were well provided for in terms of food, clothing, shelter, and recreation. Sixty-four Marshallese were evacuated from Rongelap, eighteen from Ailinginae, and one hundred and fifty four from Utirik. The radiation level to which the Utirik inhabitants were exposed did not demand that they be removed but they were transported as a precautionary measure. About 40 persons from Rongelap showed beta radiation burns principally on their scalps and necks. Nearly all of these burns have healed leaving no permanent marks. Some 3 of these same persons also suffered loss of hair in patches on the scalp. It is expected that there will be regrowth of normal hair in these areas. It should be noted that the people who were on Ailinginae were residents of Rongelap but were engaged at the time of fallout in harvesting food. The 28 American Weather Personnel were evacuated at the same time in the same manner. The period of close medical observation having been completed, the inhabitants of Utirik have now been moved to their original homes and established under living conditions equivalent to or better than those which obtained at the time of evacuation. The people from Rongelap are being provided with improved homes on Majuro Atoll fabricated from plywood with aluminum roofs. This type of construction will enable them more efficiently to collect rain water which will enhance their subsistence. These new dwellings on Majuro Atoll are being built on a temporary basis and they will be removed from Majuro with the natives when they are re-established in their original home-site on Rongelap in approximately six months to one year. At that time they will be furnished livestock, provisions, and impediments [implements] which will establish living conditions at least equivalent to those which obtained immediately prior to the initial evacuation.

4. There was no land destroyed or damaged outside the Pacific Proving Grounds (Eniwetok and Bikini Atolls). With respect to other atolls the fallout that occurred did not damage the land in the sense that it could not be reinhabited or could not be used for agricultural pursuits. Except for possibly the uninhabited northern islands of Rongelap Atoll, all of the islands could be re-entered safely in the near future by personnel who had not previously experienced significant radiation exposures. Since the indigenous inhabitants have already received some radiation exposure, it has been deemed wise not to allow them to return until the activity has decayed to an insignificant level. The amount of activity in the soil does not constitute a hazard to the growth and edibility of plant life. The amount of activity in Bikini and Eniwetok lagoons would make it unwise to eat fish at this time from these areas without monitoring them first. The information presently available indicates that the fish in all the lagoons, except Bikini and Eniwetok, and in the open sea are suitable for consumption at this time, as the activity is so small that no deleterious effects may be expected to the fish themselves nor will the edibility of the fish be impaired. It is pertinent to note that the fish which normally inhabit the lagoons are not of the migratory species and that those migratory fish which enter the lagoons are not apt to become radioactive during the short period in which they remain in the lagoons. No sea areas need decontamination. The radioactivity on practically all of the islands will be at a very low level in a few months.

5. As pertains to compensation for injuries and loss of income suffered by the natives, personnel of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense are now investigating means for settling any claims which may arise. As of this date no claims have been registered by native personnel. In connection with Bikini and Eniwetok Atolls steps are being taken by the Department of the Interior and the Navy Department to settle claims in favor of the former inhabitants of those atolls for the use of their lands.

6. Prior to the Castle test series the United States established a danger area around the Pacific Proving Grounds. The area was bounded by the meridians 160°35’–166°16’ East Longitude and the parallels 10°15’–12°45’ North Latitude. Formal notices were published warning vessels and aircraft to avoid the area designated above. This information was disseminated through all practicably available channels such as Notice to Mariners, Notice to Airmen, daily memoranda from the various Hydrographic Branch Offices Pacific, and scheduled radio broadcasts by Hydrographic Office Pacific. After the experience of the first shot of Castle, the danger area was extended to include the above area plus a sector from 240° clockwise to 095° out to a distance of 450 miles from a point 12° North 164° East. This new enlarged danger area was made known prior to continuation of the test series through the channels noted above and in addition special notification was given to the Japanese Government through our State Department and our Far East Command.

In addition to the above warnings, the Commander, Joint Task Force Seven, maintained an active sea and air patrol of the area at all times. During periods immediately prior to shot times these patrols were intensified and extended. Areas of predicted fallout were searched from ground zero over a sector extending 600 miles out and 120 miles in width. The Atomic Energy Commission considers the above measures were adequate. If during these patrols and survey periods the Task Force had noted any personnel within the danger area it would have taken measures to warn such personnel to leave the area and the shot would have been deferred until they had moved to a safe location. The danger area was abolished on May 21, 1954 and the only areas from which transient aircraft and shipping are now precluded are the closed areas of Bikini and Eniwetok Atolls and the water areas of their lagoons within three miles to the seaward side of the peripheries of the land areas of these atolls.

7. At future tests the Atomic Energy Commission will exercise all caution possible to avoid injury to personnel or damage to property. Based on knowledge gained in past experiments, the Commission feels that it can assure that future tests can be conducted without any untoward incidents.

1 On June 17, 1954 a copy of this letter with enclosure was forwarded by the Director, Office of Dependent Area Affairs (Gerig) to William C. Strand, Director, Office of Territories, Department of the Interior, with the suggestion that it be transmitted to the High Commissioner of the Trust Territory (Midkiff), and inviting comments from both Strand and Midkiff. (ODA files, lot 62 D 225, “Trust Territory of Pacific Islands”)