Tony deBrum says “No Thanks” to Senator Bingaman on S. 1756, and instead turns to Eni Faleomavaega for leadership on nuclear compensation issues

It is clear the RMI ruling regime has made more money for Imata Kabua its top priority, even putting nuclear claism on the back burner.   The new Foreign Minister, Tony deBrum, has even suggested that there was some linkage between the increased Kwajalein lease payments issue and the claims of RMI citizens arising from the U.S. nuclear testing program in the RMI from 1946 to 1958.   However, Kwajalein is not recognized by Congress as a nuclear affected atoll, and the prior ruling party had already taken a strong stand seeking additional compensation for nuclear testing claims far beyond what Congress has agreed to provide.    

While some RMI claimants are seeking re-consideration of the adequacy of hundreds of millions in compensation already paid to address these claims, absent a federal court ruling awarding more compensation there is little apparent prospect that the new ruling party will get any traction on nuclear claims beyond what the previous ruling party was able to accomplish, through diplomacy, based on the close alliance between the RMI and the U.S. that includes the Kwajalein base rights agreement.  

The slow and frsutrating process for seekign additional compesnation was beginning to show signs of progress.  This included the consideration by the U.S. Senate of legislation to provide certain supplemental nuclear test compensation for programs outside of the scope of the personal injury and property damage claims pending before the U.S. Court of Claims.   

Of course, paying more to the landowners  for use of Kwajalein than was already agreed  will do nothing for the RMI nuclear claimants.    Since the  claims for more personal injury and property damage compensation are before the courts, Congress will probably wait to see what the courts say rather than agreeing that more compensation is owed as a matter of legal obligation.  

Instead, as noted below, Congress was prepared to consider supplemental compensation for certain nuclear healthcare, nuclear worker compensation, and scientific monitoring programs on a discretionary basis, as requested by the affected atolls and the former ruling party pursuant to existing  authorizations to  additional payments or programs to the affected atolls on an exgratia basis.    

There is  evidence in a NCI report to Congress that there are people  in the RMI that were affected by radiation, but not included in the 1985 settlement of claims reached  between the U.S. and the RMI.  However, the question of lease payments to the Kwajalein chiefs has nothing to do with compensation to the actual nuclear testing claimants, and with regard to the nuclear claims the question of liability is different from the issue of additional humanitarian assistance.   The courts can determine if the U.S. has additional legal liability, while Congress determines what ex gratia assistance should be provided in the future.  

Because the people of the RMI paid a higher price than most Americans during the Cold War, and made a real contribution to America’s success in the arm’s race, Congress has consistently provided ex gratia assistance to the nuclear claimants apart form any legal required compensation.    Instead of trying to pretend that paying more to lease Kwajalein from the chiefs on that one atoll will somehow help the nuclear testing survivors, the new ruling party in the RMI government needs to take a clear position on S. 1756.

This is a bill which the former ruling party and its U.S. Senate sponsors agreed to modify in order to seek approval by Congress of supplemental nuclear claims compensation on an “ex gratia” or discretionary  basis, including a proposal to increase to $4 million the annual funding (originally proposed at $2 million annually) for health care for up to 10 atolls recognized as nuclear affected areas.   For the newly installed RMI ruling party to suggest that the U.S. should pay more the Kwajalein because of the nuclear testing claims is simply disingenuous propaganda. 

The people of the RMI contributed more than most Americans to the success of the U.S. in the Cold War arms race, albeit involuntarily, because their lands and the people were exposed to radioactive fallout as part of the nuclear weapons development program that made U.S. nuclear deterrence credible and out ahead of the USSR nuclear programs.   Making sure the affected population has adequate health care should be a priority for the RMI and Congress, as a sort of deferred cost of winning the Cold War.  

However, the new RMI ruling party likes to talk about the nuclear testing program to generate sympathy, and then parlay that into money for Kwajalein chiefs.   That does nothing for the nuclear claimants at all, and actually erodes the moral premise for additional discretionary assistance.    

S. 1756 includes a radiological monitoring device for Utirik Atoll to ensure that residual radiation is not exposing the residents to health risks, eligibility of RMI citizens who were employed by the Department of Energy for compensation if their health was affected, and health care for atolls whose populations were affected by radiation, expanding that medical program from 4 atolls to 10.   With inflation adjustments for the health care grants, the total supplemental compensation in the bill could reach $100 million over the next 20 years.   

That is much more important to the RMI people nationwide than more money for the high chief of one atoll, Kwajalein, especially when the largest portion of the payments go to one chief and his lobbyists.   Since the payments to the chiefs do not trickle down very broadly or substantially to the full landowner community, more money for Kwajalein does much less to promote U.S. or RMI interests than S. 1756. 

Yet, the new ruling party, headed by the High Chief of Kwajalein, not surprisingly has made Kwajalein the top priority of the government, and any chance U.S. Senate sponsors and supporters of S. 1756 had to get it passed during the current election year may already have passed while the new RMI ruling party has dithered and bickered over political purges and use of official cars.   Apparently, the new RMI leadership decided getting more money for the Kwajalein chiefs is more important than adequate compensation for the nuclear testing victims.  

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