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Islanders want monetary award for bomb test exposure

The president of the Marshall Islands says he will seek a meeting this fall with President Barack Obama to discuss a $1-billion damage award resulting from nuclear bomb testing and Brookhaven National Laboratory's controversial treatment of patients who were intentionally returned to contaminated islands.

Before the national parliament last week, Marshall Islands President Litokwa Tomeing said he plans to travel to Washington to discuss why none of the money awarded in 2007 by the U.S. Nuclear Claims Tribunal has been paid to the former residents of the island of Rongelap. The award included $34 million in compensatory damages because Brookhaven and U.S. officials allowed 250 people to return to their radioactive homeland for "scientific and military concerns," according to the tribunal.

An Aug. 23 Newsday story detailing the lab's involvement in the Marshall Islands showed that the 250 people were returned in 1957 to Rongelap, even though that island was contaminated from a 1954 hydrogen bomb explosion. Newsday's review also found the lab convinced some 100 Marshallese to have questionable thyroid surgery and were paid $25,000 in taxpayer money for their cooperation, often without informed medical consent.

Citing the Newsday story, Marshall Islands Sen. Tony de Brum said Brookhaven and U.S. officials "pre-planned resettlement of exposed people" onto their contaminated island, which he characterized as "at the very least inhumane if not criminal."

Current Brookhaven Lab officials have not commented on the 43-year program that ended when BNL was replaced by another medical team in 1998. U.S. Department of Energy officials have said Brookhaven's team acted properly in dealing with the Marshallese.

After the 2007 tribunal award, the Bush administration resisted any payments, saying some $500 million in cleanup costs and medical programs had been paid since 1958 to the Marshallese. So far, the Obama administration has not indicated if it will alter the U.S. position on the tribunal awards.

"Even a minimal compensation would be appreciated, especially since the elders who were exposed are getting old," said Rongelap Mayor James Matayoshi.

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