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‘A total lie’: US never bothered to secure its Pacific nuclear waste ‘coffin’ from leaks

The US has failed to prevent the Runit Dome temporary nuclear waste storage site from leaking into the ocean, leaving the inhabitants of Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands and cleanup workers with an array of health problems.

“There was never any lining put in that dome,” Ernest Davis, an Enewetak Atoll cleanup veteran, told RT, noting that the US government apparently had never planned to replace the temporary dome with a permanent containment structure that would be properly sealed from radiation leaks. “Nobody said anything about going back in and removing it or making it permanent. We were told that it was permanent.”

“I don't think it was ever [the US government’s] intention to further clean up the island. It was too costly,” Brooke Takala Abraham, who lives in the Marshall Islands, told RT.

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The United States detonated 43 atomic bombs around the Marshall Islands in the 1940s and 50s. The highly contaminated debris left over from the weapons tests was then dumped into a 100-meter-wide bomb crater on Enewetak Atoll. US servicemen sealed it up with a concrete cap to create a structure called the Runit Dome. The work, however, was allegedly carried out without any proper safety consideration for the cleanup crew.

“Those people who were involved in the cleanup... did not receive proper protection from radioactive elements,” Abraham said.

Furthermore, the government has never even bothered to study the long-term health issues of those exposed to radiation waste.

“There was no radiation study with us. Certain ones would leave the island and they will have them fill a big jug with urine and I guess they were supposed to test it,” recalled Davis, who left just before the project was completed. “Some of the dosimeters that were given to us, the rad-badges – they just did not work. So we can’t say that any radiation study was done whatsoever.”

After a three-year decontamination process which began in 1977, the US government declared the southern and western islands in the atoll safe enough, allowing residents of Enewetak to return and the cleanup crew to go home. However, people who now live on the island say the dome began leaking almost immediately after the engineers left.

“The waste has always been leaking from the get-go. The cleanup of the entire atoll was not complete” before the native people were allowed to return, Abraham told RT.

That is just a portion of the radiation that exists on the atoll. A large amount was dumped straight into the ocean. It was dumped into a lagoon. And it was dumped in open pits on other islands.

Over the years, Enewetak’s population began feeling the deleterious effects of the radiation. “The radiation affects us on a daily basis. We have many illnesses in our community from cancers to weakened immune systems, and other noncommunicable diseases as well,” Abraham explained. “And they’re still struggling as well with the transgenerational effects of radiation.”

“Most of us have come up with some type of illness, whether it’s cancer... many of us have peripheral neuropathy on our feet without being diabetic,” Davis recalled, noting that many of the roughly 8,000 people involved in the decontamination process have since died. “They told us we would not be exposed to any more radiation than having maybe two or three x-rays a year, which was a total lie.”

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