22 Nov 2010

Disputed resettlement of nuclear test-affected atoll in Marshalls moving forward

10:13 am on 22 November 2010

A disputed resettlement of a nuclear test-affected island is moving forward with the building of 40 US-funded houses on remote Rongelap Atoll in Marshall Islands.

American government scientists say the main island, which has been the focus of a more than $30 million nuclear clean up and rehabilitation programme since the late 1990s, is now safe.

Bids to construct new housing are now in the process of being awarded.

Rongelap's Mayor,James Matayoshi, and his council are under pressure from the United States Congress and Obama Administration officials to begin resettlement by October next year.

That's when US officials say funding for the community, now living in exile, will be cut off.

The Rongelap community is split over the plan to return to the atoll, partly because the clean up has focused only on the main island, leaving many other islands still contaminated nearly 60 years after the Bravo nuclear tests.

Rongelap islanders are also highly sceptical of statements by U.S. government scientists after being told for years that the island was safe, only to have that stance overturned by independent studies in the late 1980s.