Cold War fallout in the Mashall Islands

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A number of modern homes paid for by American taxpayers stand empty. The freshly painted church welcomes no one. The stark landscape and empty buildings gives this atoll the feeling of a ghost town abandoned by its residents.

Though the government says a portion of Rongelap is safe, the former residents will not return to live there. The northern part of Rongelap - one of a string of tiny islands spread across the vastness of the southern Pacific Ocean - was left so radioactive from the 67 American nuclear bomb tests that ended in the late 1950s that it still remains a forbidden zone...

... More than 50 years after the last nuclear bomb was detonated by the United States, events that transpired in the Marshall Islands at the height of the Cold War are still being played out.

For many Marshallese, history has not turned a page. They see themselves as nuclear refugees who endured exposure to radiation so that the United States could test its nuclear bombs. Many residents and officials say they are deeply worried about cancer rates.

In 2007, the Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal - a little-known group established by the United States and the tiny Pacific nation in 1988 to assess damages surrounding nuclear tests - ruled that residents of Rongelap were owed a $1-billion damage award because of radioactive fallout that contaminated the island and sickened its residents.

The ruling brought into sharp focus another entity whose history in the Marshall Islands remains largely untold: Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton.

And now, the Obama administration will have to decide whether to continue a policy left over from the most recent Bush administration and refuse to pay the $1 billion to the former residents of Rongelap, who say their homeland was treated like a radiation laboratory. That amount comes on top of the approximately $500 million that the United States already has spent in construction and cleanup projects on a number of contaminated islands....

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