Declassification of Marshall Islands Atmospheric Nuclear TestDocuments

U.S. Department of Energy, Office of the Press Secretary, Washington, DC20585


Declassification of Marshall Islands Atmospheric Nuclear TestDocuments

Table of Contents

Specifically
Background
Benefits
Who Are the Key Stakeholders?
Contact
Questions and Answers

The Department of Energy is releasing previously classified documents onatmospheric nuclear testing that took place in the Marshall Islandsduring the Cold War.

Specifically

  • Over 460 individual records are related to the U.S. MarshallIslands nuclear weapons testing program, including correspondence, memoranda,studies,reports, and surveys.
  • The records provide the scope, extent, and effects of thepotential or actual health and environmental consequences of radioactivefallout as known by the Atomic Energy Commission.
  • Detailed accounts are given on:
    • pretest decisions and weather information surrounding thethermonuclear detonation at test "Bravo" in March 1954, that resulted inheavy contamination of Rongelap, Rongerik, Utrik, Bikar Atolls, andadjacent islands;
    • atmospheric nuclear weapons testing yields;
    • influence of weather conditions on fallout;
    • extent of fallout;
    • effects on the environment; and
    • subsequent scientific monitoring since the detonations.

Background

  • The Marshall Islands, located in the central Pacific Ocean, arepart of the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific. Between 1946 and1962, 67 bomb tests were conducted in or around the Marshall Islands.The largest of these tests was the 1954 Bravo shot, with an explosiveforce equal to nearly 1,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs.

Benefits

  • As part of the Secretary of Energy's Openness Initiative, theDepartment is declassifying information requested by the Republic of theMarshall Islands, the U.S. Congress, and interested parties earlier this year.
  • Release of this information will allow for more thorough healthand environmental analysis of the atmospheric nuclear tests forstakeholders and the public.

Who Are the Key Stakeholders?

  • The Public. Additional information will be available for publicdiscussion of health and environmental issues related to atmosphericnuclear detonations.
  • Public Interest Organizations. Stakeholders include theMarshallese residents, veterans groups, environmental, safety and healthgroups, legal counsel, historians, archivists, researchers, scientists,as well as Federal officials.
  • Freedom of Information Act Requesters. Specific requesters willhave additional records available.

Contact

U.S. Department of Energy
Office of Public Affairs
Contact: Sam Grizzle
(202) 586-5806


U.S. Department of Energy, Office of the Press Secretary, Washington, DC20585


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Q. What initiated the request for disclosure of information regardingthe effects of fallout on the atolls and people of the Marshall Islands?

A. Congressman Miller has requested disclosure of information regardingAmerica's nuclear testing program, but raised concerns that there may beadditional important information that has been withheld from Congressand the Marshallese regarding the Pacific testing program. His letterwas received by the Department on December 10, 1994. As a component ofthe Department's December 1993 Openness Initiative and in response toCongressman Miller's request the Department initiated an extensivesearch for Marshall Islands documents located in laboratory and facilityrecord centers throughout the Department of Energy complex.

Q. What specific areas of information were identified by CongressmanGeorge Miller for which documentation is desired?

A. Congressman Miller is interested in documents, includingcorrespondence, memoranda, studies, reports, and surveys that related tothe scope, extent and effects of the radioactive fallout and toDepartment of Energy/Atomic Energy Commission's knowledge of thepotential or actual health and environmental consequences of the nucleartesting program to the Marshallese people and their homelands.

Q. What input from the Republic of the Marshall Islands shaped thescope and the issues that were of concern about nuclear testing that wasconducted in the Marshall Islands in the 1940's and 1950's?

A. On February 14, 1994, Mr. Thomas D. Kijiner, Minister of ForeignAffairs, Republic of the Marshall Islands, also wrote the Department ofEnergy requesting disclosure of similar, but more detailed informationregarding ten areas of interest to the people of the Marshall Islands.

Q. When were the first documents declassified and pertinentunclassified documents made available to Congressman George Miller fromthose held at Headquarters, Department of Energy?

A. Congressman Miller's staff received declassified Marshall Islandsdocuments on February 28, 1994. An additional 35 already unclassifieddocuments were provided to Congressman Miller in two initial letterscovering medical followup of exposed Marshallese populations at Rongelapand Utrik Atoll and detailed reviews of the Department's environmentalmonitoring programs over the past 20 years.

Q. What was the outcome of the Department of Energy wide search forpertinent documents that addressed the concerns raised by CongressmanGeorge Miller and by the Republic of Marshall Islands Minister ofForeign Affairs?

A. The Department completed its search for unclassified documents inlate May 1994. Over 430 previously unclassified records in 26 boxeswere prepared and presented to the Republic of the Marshall IslandsEmbassy in Washington, D.C. on May 31, 1994. The documents includedthose declassified documents that were forwarded to Congressman GeorgeMiller on February 28, 1994. The collection also includes a chronologyof the Marshall Islands and four boxes of indexes to Marshall Islandsdocuments available at the Department of Energy's Coordination andInformation Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, as well as documents located atother locations.

Q. What kind of data was covered by the documents retrieved by thisDepartmental search for Marshall Islands records?

A. Documents found provide additional information on the fissionfallout products, fallout patterns, and associated atoll dose levels ofthe important Pacific tests, many memoranda and documents related to thedecision to detonate test "Bravo," similar data on test "Mike," andrecords on the radiological cleanup of Enewetak Atoll. To facilitatecongressional and Marshall Islands review, a set of indexes wasdeveloped.

Q. Were the 26 boxes of over 430 documents provided to the Republic ofMarshall Islands Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Phillip Muller?

A. A separate delivery was forwarded through the Department's PacificArea Support Office and was delivered by courier to Majuro, MarshallIslands arriving on June 20, 1994. American Ambassador David Fieldsformally presented these documents to Minister Muller on June 23, 1994,to facilitate their use within the Marshall Islands.

Q. An effort was made to identify all documents that are stillclassified that are pertinent and to accelerate their declassification. When will the commitment to provide all these declassified documents befulfilled?

A. About 1,500 pages of recently declassified documents and additionalunclassified documents are being provided to the representatives of theRepublic of the Marshall Islands and to Congressman George Miller byJune 30, 1994. These recently declassified documents are the ones foundafter an extensive Department-wide search.

Q. Will these documents be made available for public review and tomembers of Congress, if desired?

A. Yes, copies have been made available to Congress and can also bereviewed at the Department's Forrestal reading room by interestedparties.


Click to return to thetable of contents for this fact sheet.
Click here to return to the list of factsheets.
Click here to go to the previous fact sheet.
Click here to go to the next fact sheet.