Brookhaven lab breaks silence on Marshall Islands

In 1957, Dr. Robert Conard brought a small In 1957, Dr. Robert Conard brought a small group of Marshallese to Argonne National lab near Chicago, where they were tested for radiation. Photo Credit: Brookhaven National Lab

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Breaking its silence on the issue for the first time, Brookhaven National Lab released a short history of its medical program in the Marshall Islands during the weekend, saying its nuclear radiation research on the islands ended in 1998.

The lab did not address a Newsday story Sunday that said the lab allowed hundreds of Marshallese to live on contaminated islands during the Cold War so that American scientists could study them.

Lab spokeswoman Mona Rowe could not be reached Sunday night for comment.

Until Saturday, BNL officials had declined to comment about the program, headed for most of its tenure by Dr. Robert Conard, who died in 2001.

"Robert Conard became head of the program, and he and colleagues made trips to the Marshall Islands every year to treat radiation-related illnesses, collect samples for laboratory analyses and measure radiation levels in the environment," BNL said in the statement. "Study results were shared in scientific journals."

"Twenty years later, when the Department of Energy came into being in 1977, Brookhaven was asked to maintain the program under contract to DOE," the statement said.

In the statement, BNL pointed out that their program ended in 1998, and that the U.S. Department of Energy still provides annual medical screening to the Marshallese at clinics in the islands and in the United States.

In Newsday's report, DOE officials, who own BNL, defended the team's actions and pointed out that more than $500 million has been paid to the Marshall Islands nation for damages, environmental cleanup and medical expenses.

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