Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Life in Limbo

October 4th, 2012 · 2 Comments

Please take a moment today to check out this astounding collection of mid-1970s photos from Ujelang Atoll, a Micronesian speck that once played host to nuclear refugees from nearby Enewetak. When these particular photos were taken, the Enewetakese had been in exile for three decades, after being bounced from their homes so the United States could detonate 43 nuclear warheads over a period of years.

Contrary to the cheery images featured in the collection, life on Ujelang was far from carefree for the refugees, who were not allowed to resettle Enewetak until 1980. The daily hardships were described in great detail when the Enewetakese pressed for compensation before the Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal:

Conditions there were characterized by famine, near starvation, and death from illness due to the severe limitations of the environment and resources on Ujelang. There were also polio and measles epidemics, an uncontrollable infestation of rats, and infrequent and irregular field trip ship service.

In its decision, the Tribunal stated that “the conditions suffered by those relocated go far beyond simple annoyance.” In determining the appropriate amount of compensation, the Tribunal adopted an approach based on an annual amount for each person on Ujelang for each of the 33 years between 1947 and 1980. Recognizing that the period of greatest suffering was from 1956 to 1972, the Tribunal awarded an annual per person amount of $4,500 for each of those 16 years. For the remaining 17 years, preceding and following that period, the annual amount is $3,000.

According to a recent United Nations report, however, the U.S. has been less than assiduous about making good on those meager payments.


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2 Comments so far ↓

  • David Anderson

    Thanks for bringing attention to the situation of the ri-Enewetak on Ujelang. It is my understanding, and I could be wrong on part of this, that the situation on Enewetak is not all that great right now either. Diabetes is a very very serious problem, and a lot of that has to do with the USDA food that is eaten because the ri-Enewetak cannot eat a lot of the traditional local food items because of continuing radiation issues on Enewetak. When I was on Ujelang in the mid-70’s prior to the move back to Enewetak life wasn’t all that bad on Ujelang. Sure there were delays in field trip ship arrivals, and extended periods of dry weather, and other hardships, but people were generally pretty healthy on Ujelang. I think some would prefer moving back. Regardless, it is truly unfortunate what we did to Enewetak after WWII, and things need to be made right.
    David Anderson

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @David Anderson: Thanks a million for the comment and, more important, the incredible photos from mid-1970s Ujelang. I’ll try and do a follow-up post about current circumstances on Enewetak–email me if you have any sources I should check out.