Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Damning indictment of nuclear testing in the Pacific

Nuclear Exodus - Rongelap Islanders on board the Rainbow Warrior. Photo/video: David Robie


The legacy from US nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands has provided a media backdrop to last week's 44th Pacific Islands Forum in Majuro. Here is a short documentary made by David Robie and his Aroha Productions team and broadcast by Television New Zealand.

The item was published in the New Zealand Listener as a documentary preview on 2 May 1987 before the film was screened on TVNZ's Tagata Pasifika:

By Pamela Stirling, editor of the NZ Listener

The Rongelap Islanders of Micronesia have been described as the first victims of World War Three.

Many of them remember March 1, 1954, as the day it "snowed" on their atoll, as deadly fallout dusted down from a 15 megaton thermonuclear test, codenamed Bravo, held on Bikini Atoll.

Since then Rongelap people have suffered leukaemia deaths, cancers, thyroid tumours, miscarriages, deformed children and births described as "jellyfish" babies.

A noted American researcher has predicted that everyone who was aged under 10 when the contamination occurred will die of cancer.

This award-winning, 12-minute film tells the story of their contamination, and of their evacuation three decades later by the peace ship Rainbow Warrior to Mejato Island, 150 km away. Scripted and co-produced by Pacific affairs writer David Robie, Nuclear Exodus is a damning indictment of the nuclear machine.

Robie, author of Eyes of Fire, was one of several journalists on board the Rainbow Warrior during the tragic exodus. His coverage won him the 1985 NZ Media Peace Prize.

This film, which also talks about the sabotage of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985, was awarded a Media Peace Prize citation the following year.

Robie disputes the US government claim that the fallout over Rongelap was an accident due to a sudden change in wind direction.

"An  official government report reveals authorities knew six hours before the blast that weather briefings had indicated winds at 6000 metres were heading for Rongelap. And still the bomb was triggered."

The authorities, says Robie, "deliberately allowed the islanders to be contaminated. Then they failed evacuate them from their atoll until almost three days after the fallout had poisoned them, their food and water supplies".

Ironically, the islanders now live on Mejato, at the western tip of the vast Kwajalein Atoll, where the US has a missile-testing range and research centre for Star Wars. They are waiting for an independent radiological survey, which will investigate their health and advise them of when they can return to Rongelap, if ever.

Nuclear Exodus is based on still photographs by David Robie (from his 1986 exhibition of the same name), Giff Johnson, Gil Hanly, John Miller - and Fernando Pereira (who died during the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior).

It was produced by Michael Fleck, Chris Cooper and Robie for Aroha Productions in association with the Māori and Pacific production unit of Television New Zealand.

Video copies were distributed among peace groups and some schools and libraries in New Zealand and eight other countries.

Editor's note: Many Rongelap Islanders have moved back to Rongelap Atoll in recent years since this shot documentary was made.

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