Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Enewetak Atoll radioactively poisoned for residents and USA soldiers

  This concrete dome holds a leaking toxic timebomb
It was supposed to be a trip to paradise, instead it sealed their fate http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-28/the-toxic-legacy-of-a-deadly-paradise/9168422  These soldiers were ordered to clean up the toxic legacy of America’s nuclear program, now they’re dying, and their Government has abandoned them.Foreign Correspondent, By Mark Willacy   When Jim Androl landed on a remote central Pacific atoll to take part in the biggest nuclear clean-up in United States history, the only extra items his military superiors gave him were some flea powder and a pamphlet on how to avoid heat stroke.

The army did have special radiation suits and respirators for handling the left-over atomic waste on the atoll, but the young soldiers were only allowed to wear them on special occasions.

“The [protective suits] were for photo ops,” the former communications specialist with the US Army’s 84th Engineer Battalion recalls.

“I know once when I believe 60 Minutes was there, they did [let us wear them]. We were just issued our normal warm weather gear … shorts, tee-shirts, hats and jungle boots and that’s it.”

Androl was one of about 4,000 US troops sent to Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands between 1977 and 1979 to scrape up the contaminated remnants of the United States’ atomic testing program.

The US government decided to use soldiers for the clean-up, because employing specialist nuclear workers would have doubled the cost.

“I’d never even heard of Enewetak. I never knew that there were 43 nuclear tests out there,” Androl, who was 22-years old when he was deployed to the atoll, says.

Some of those bombs were the among the most powerful ever detonated, and they left behind a toxic legacy that will live on for thousands of years.

“One of the attempted nuclear weapons explosions didn’t work,” Michael Gerrard, the director of the Earth Institute at New York’s Columbia University, says. “So the plutonium was just broken apart by the conventional explosion, leading to about 400 little chunks of plutonium that were spread around the atoll.”

The plutonium on Enewetak has a radioactive half-life of more than 24,000 years, and the US clean-up troops were ordered to place the shattered pieces into plastic bags and dump them into a crater left behind by an old atomic bomb test.

One-millionth of a gram of plutonium is potentially harmful, and can cause cancer decades after first exposure.

“They’d have us walk around and pick up loose pieces, and just gather up whatever we could, throw it in a pile,” Androl says.

It’s estimated that 85,000 cubic metres of radioactive material was collected and dumped, including contaminated soil, concrete, and military equipment.

“It was a very dirty operation,” Ken Kasik, another of the men sent to Enewetak as part of the clean-up, says. “[The veterans are] all sick, they’re all dying, and it’s because of the radiation.”

Kasik can barely rise from his chair to greet me when I arrive to see him.

We were supposed to meet at his home in Hawaii.

But by the time I land, he is seriously ill in the intensive care unit in Honolulu’s Straub Medical Centre, and is tethered to drips and monitoring machines.

“About three-and-a-half years ago I had so many cancers on me, I couldn’t work anymore. They ripped me apart,” he says.

This time it’s not cancer that has forced Ken Kasik to be rushed to the ICU, but a brain aneurism he says is directly linked to his time on Enewetak and the atomic fall-out there.

“When those bombs go off, in Enewetak, that’s coral sand,” Kasik says. “That just gets pulverised and comes back down as baby powder, and it was on everything, everywhere. The guys would come home, take off their sunglasses, [and their faces] would be white.”

“I never had any clue that dust could literally get into your lungs,” Jim Androl says from his home in the suburbs of Las Vegas. “You breathe it, you drink it, you eat it, you swim in it. Every day for six months, 24/7.”

The problem for Enewetak clean-up veterans like Androl and Kasik, is that successive United States governments have refused to recognise them and their comrades as atomic veterans. This means they cannot access health benefits or radiation exposure compensation.

Other atomic veterans, like those involved in the original atomic testing program in the Pacific in the 1940s and 1950s that left behind the waste on Enewetak and Bikini atolls, were covered for more than 20 specific types of cancers.

“Our boys worked six-month tours on a dirty island, and the government says, ‘You were never there’,” Kasik says. “We were never acknowledged…we don’t exist.”

Like Kasik, Androl has suffered serious health problems over the years that he blames on his six-month tour at Enewetak.

“He had his gall bladder out … two weeks [later] they found a seven-and-a-half-pound tumour, cancerous tumour in his abdomen,” Androl’s wife Bev says.

“I suffer from roughly 40 to 45 residuals from the cancer,” Androl says. “I’ve got pancreatitis, I’ve got a spot on my liver that they’re watching.”

As well as cancers, veterans complain of brittle bones and even of birth defects in their children.

The US military insists there is no connection between veterans’ illnesses and the clean-up on Enewetak, saying their radiation exposure was well within safe limits.

A two-year campaign by Enewetak veterans to get Congress to give them medical benefits has been unsuccessful.

“I think mostly they’re trying to get health coverage, medical care because they’ve got terrible bills. Really high bills from hospitals, because of their treatment,” Giff Johnson, the publisher of the Marshall Islands Journal, the country’s only newspaper, says.

There has never been a formal study of the health of these men, many of whom are now in their late 50s and early 60s.

But an unofficial social media survey of more than 400 Enewetak clean-up veterans found that 20 percent had reported cancers of some type.

The life they live is a far cry from the photos Ken Kasik took at the time, of young men in their prime.

 “It just breaks our heart, You know, they’re dying before they’re 60. It’s ridiculous,” Bev Androl says.

A poison on our island

The Marshall Islands is once again grappling with its nuclear legacy, as the threat of climate change threatens to break open the dome.

“God, there’s been so many [who have died],” Androl says of his former comrades. “We just lost one two weeks ago. We lost one about six months before that. They told me I’d be dead by now. We’re nobody, we don’t matter, our family’s lives don’t matter.”

The people of the Marshall Islands also suffered terrible heath impacts from 12 years of atomic testing in their homeland, including increased rates of thyroid and other cancers, as well as birth defects.

Whole islands were evacuated, and many people are still not allowed to return to live in their home villages decades on.

Like the US clean-up veterans, the Marshallese who suffered were never properly compensated.

A nuclear claims tribunal set up by the Marshall Islands and the United States awarded more than $2 billion dollars to victims of the atomic testing program — less than $4 million was ever paid.

“America dumped all of their worst rubbish to the Marshallese, and abandoned them with it. And we don’t want to hear about it,” Kasik says.

“It’s a disgusting shame. It makes us look bad.”

 

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November 29, 2017 - Posted by | General News

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