711.5611/6–2954: Telegram

The United States Representative at the United Nations (Lodge) to the Department of State

official use only

892. Re Marshall Islands Petition. In handling the Marshallese petition, the following points are indicative of the general approach that Sears believes would be most effective.

  • First—obviously the blame for the miscalculation that endangered the Marshall Islanders lies entirely on the United States. It should never have happened.
  • Second—the Atomic Energy Commission has stated that “Based on knowledge gained in past experiments, the Commission feels that it can assure that future tests can be conducted without any untoward incidents”.
  • Third—the main facts in the case are as follows:
    236 Marshall Islanders were endangered by the blast of these; 45 suffered some degree of burn. All of them have completely recovered. Two Atolls, Rongelap and Utirik, were affected by the blast. The larger one-—Utirik—is back to normal and has been reoccupied. Rongelap will be reoccupied by its 82 inhabitants within a year.
    The Trusteeship Agreement of 1947 which covers the Marshall Islands was predicated upon the fact that the United Nations clearly [Page 1506] approved these islands as a strategic area in which atomic tests had already been held. Hence, from the very outset, it was clear that the right to close areas for security reasons anticipated closing them for atomic tests.
    Concerning the location of the Pacific proving grounds, the fact is that there is no other place to which the United States has access where these huge thermonuclear experiments can be conducted with less risk to human life. No one in his right mind would contend that the Soviets should be the only nation to conduct nuclear experiments. At issue, therefore, is not the right to conduct these experiments. The question is whether the United States authorities in charge have exercised due precaution in looking after the safety and welfare of the islanders involved.
    The conducting of thermonuclear experiments is a most difficult task under any conditions. The March “fall-out” over Rongelap and Utirik was not the only radioactive “fall-out” on record. The Soviet authorities are well aware of this. Due to miscalculations on their part, an area in Japan was subjected to a “fall-out” emanating from Siberia on blank [sic]. Fortunately, it had no more effect upon the health of the Japanese concerned than in the case of the people of Utirik in the Marshalls. But it happened.
    We are glad to have on our delegation Mr. Heine, who is one of the signers of the petition. He is, in fact, one of the two men who did the actual drafting of the petition. Through him and on our own behalf we are anxious to cooperate in every way possible to see that this petition receives the kind of attention that it deserves. The issue is not to be minimized because all those affected have already recovered, or because fewer people than would live in one apartment house are involved. Neither is it a simple case of taking private property under the law of eminent domain. Rather, it is a moral question which is highlighted because it occurred in a trust territory and comes against a background of experiments so powerful that all thinking people are aghast at the possible consequences.

In view possibility complex technical questions may be raised, it would be most helpful if AEC adviser could be present when this item is considered. Consideration not expected before July 7, but will advise on timing.