Former Stony Brook University President Shirley Strum Kenny

Former Stony Brook University President Shirley Strum Kenny Credit: Thomas A. Ferrara

Former Stony Brook University President Shirley Strum Kenny says she was unaware of a $1-billion damage award made by the U.S. Nuclear Claims Tribunal in 2007 to Marshall Islands residents exposed to U.S. nuclear testing during the Cold War.

A Newsday story published Aug. 23 showed that the residents were returned to their contaminated islands in the late 1950s by medical personnel from Brookhaven National Laboratory and by U.S. officials so that the impact of radiation on their bodies could be studied.

Although Stony Brook has served as an overseer of the Nobel Prize-winning lab since 1997, Kenny said she had never before heard the criticisms of Brookhaven's 43-year medical program in the Marshall Islands. Those criticisms were outlined in documents filed by the tribunal in Washington, D.C.

"Of course I would have wanted to know - these people were shockingly wronged," said Kenny, who retired in June after 15 years on the job, but remains affiliated with the university while on administrative leave.

BNL spokeswoman Mona Rowe said last week there was no reason to inform Kenny about the tribunal's decision because the lab's involvement in the islands ended in 1998.

The tribunal's $1-billion award in March 2007 included $34 million in compensatory damages for "emotional distress" involving BNL's treatment of about 250 people who were allowed to live on contaminated islands from 1957 until 1985. Newsday's story also showed that more than 100 Marshallese were persuaded by BNL's team to have questionable thyroid surgery by paying them $25,000 for their cooperation, without their fully informed medical consent.

"It shocks us as human beings," Kenny said last week.

BNL's program ended in 1998 when the U.S. Department of Energy replaced the medical team. Since 1997, BNL operation has been overseen by Stony Brook and Battelle Memorial Institute, an Ohio-based not-for-profit.

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