During the period from June 30, 1946, to August 18, 1958, the United States conducted 67 atmospheric nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands, 43 at Enewetak Atoll, 23 at Bikini Atoll, and one approximately 85 miles from Enewetak. The most powerful of those tests was the "Bravo" shot, a 15 megaton device detonated on March 1, 1954, at Bikini atoll. That test alone was equivalent to 1,000 Hiroshima bombs.
While the Bravo test is well known, it should be acknowledged that 17 other tests in the Marshall Islands were in the megaton range and the total yield of the 67 tests was 108 megatons, the equivalent of more than 7,000 Hiroshima bombs.
For the sake of comparison, it may be noted that from 1945 to 1988, the U.S. conducted a total of 930 known nuclear tests with a combined yield estimated to be 174 megatons. Approximately 137 megatons of that total was detonated in the atmosphere. In other words, while the number of tests conducted in the Marshall Islands represents only about 14% of all U.S. tests, the yield of the tests in the Marshalls comprised nearly 80% of the atmospheric total detonated by the U.S.
In June 1983, a formal Agreement Between the Government of the United States and the Government of the Marshall Islands for the Implementation of Section 177 of the Compact of Free Association was entered into (Section 177 Agreement). In that agreement, the U.S. recognized the contributions and sacrifices made by the people of the Marshall Islands in regard to the Nuclear Testing Program and accepted the responsibility for compensation owing to citizens of the Marshall Islands for loss or damage to property and person resulting from that testing.
Under the 177 Agreement, the United States provided to the Marshall Islands the sum of $150 million as a financial settlement for the damages caused by the nuclear testing program. That money was used to create a fund intended to generate $270 million for distribution over a 15 year period with average annual proceeds of approximately $18 million per year through the year 2001. These funds are distributed among the peoples of Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap, Utrik, for medical and radiological monitoring, and the payment of claims.
The 177 Agreement also provided for the establishment of a Claims Tribunal with jurisdiction to "render final determination upon all claims past, present and future, of the Government, citizens and nationals of the Marshall Islands which are based on, arise out of, or are in any way related to the Nuclear Testing Program."
The Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal was established in 1988. In 1991, the Tribunal first implemented a compensation program for personal injuries deemed to have resulted from the nuclear testing program. By the end of 1999, the Tribunal had awarded more than $70 million in compensation for such injuries with additional compensable claims being filed on a regular basis. In addition, the Tribunal is hearing several class action claims for property damage in Enewetak and Bikini, the two test sites used by the U.S., and in Rongelap and Utrik, two atolls admitted by the U.S. to have been contaminated by fallout from the Bravo test in 1954.
With only $45.75 million available for actual payment of awards made by the Tribunal, it has become clear that the original terms of the settlement agreement are manifestly inadequate.