FSM and Marshalls urge nuclear clean-up

2:56 pm on 7 June 2017

A number of Pacific leaders have used the UN Oceans Conference to bring global attention to nuclear contamination and World War Two wrecks that have become environment hazards.

Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands have led the charge in highlighting what they call 'real concerns' confronting their people in the event of nuclear contamination or an oil spill from shipwrecks in their territorial waters.

Shipwreck in Rota in the Northen Marianas.

Shipwreck in Rota in the Northen Marianas. Photo: Copyright: otohime / 123RF Stock Photo

The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) said since 2005, when its regional strategy on marine pollution from World War 2 wrecks was adopted, not much had been implemented because coastal states preferred to deal with the issue bilaterally with the flag states.

The two flag states for most of the 800 wrecks that litter the territorial waters of five Pacific countries are the United States and Japan.

Most of the wrecks are remnants of World War 2.

Tony Talouli, SPREP's Pollution Adviser, said some of the wrecks had been identified as high risk due to the large quantity of oil in the vessels.

A SPREP 2003 database of World War 2 wrecks said the Japanese government owned 3326 vessels and the United States, 415.

The database included military and civilian merchant vessels.

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Photo: Copyright: offish / 123RF Stock Photo

"Currently for SPREP, the issue is addressed on a case by case basis at the invitation of the member state," said Mr Talouli.

"The move now by some countries to support the resolution of this issue is a good sign.

"We have been hearing this call from FSM and Marshall Islands since 2012.

"They have taken it to the Forum Leaders meeting but nothing was resolved. SPREP is glad that it is now in the conversation of leaders here at the Oceans Conference."

Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day is a national holiday in the Marshall Islands it commemorates the March 1 Bravo hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll in 1954.

Majuro residents joined in a parade down the main road in the capital on Wednesday 1st March 2017 to mark Photo: Isaac Marty

Mr Talouli said SPREP recognised that more work needed to be done because there were 800 World War 2 wrecks that posed high risk environmental damage in the five Pacific countries - FSM, Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.

"For us the environmental risk is from the contaminants in the wrecks. If the wrecks do not have any oil, it does not pose as an environmental hazard. Most of these wrecks have become historical sites, although not declared by UNESCO yet.

"They become declared underwater heritage if they have been there 100 years. We have some wrecks that will likely be declared a cultural underwater heritage site in the next 20 to 30 years."

Mr Talouli said the removal of oil from a US oil tanker from Ulithi Lagoon in Yap in in 2002 at a cost of US$6 million was the only exercise approved by the flag state and the Federated States of Micronesia.

"The removal of oil from the USS Mississinewa was an expensive recovery project. The SPREP Council decided thereafter that the issue be not addressed at the regional level but between the flag and coastal states bilaterally.

"At the moment there are 60 wrecks in the Chuuk Lagoon in FSM and five or six of them are leaking oil. The FSM Government will have to negotiate with the Japanese or the American, whoever owns the vessel to come in and give permission to access and assess the wreck because the wrecks are still owned by Flag States."

Another issue of concern now is corrosion.

"The metal will get too thin by 2020 to 2025. We don't have much time. It's timely that the FSM and Marshall Islands are bringing this up now at the Oceans Conference because they can see that they don't have much time and want to do something about this issue before something catastrophic happens that will pollute and damage the environment," said Mr Talouli.

The Ocean Conference's draft Call for Action calls for accelerated action to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds including marine debris, hazardous substances and pollution from abandoned or lost ships.

Nuclear Contamination

Also speaking at the Oceans Conference the President of the Federated States of Micronesia Peter Christian said nuclear contamination was a serious threat for small island countries in the north Pacific as there were claims the fall-out from the nuclear tests conducted in the Marshall Islands may have reached as far as Palau.

The FSM pointed out a storage dome for radioactive waste on Enewetak Atoll was cracking and leaking and plants around it were dying.

The Runit Dome was constructed on Marshall Islands Enewetak Atoll in 1979 to temporarily store radioactive waste produced from nuclear testing by the US military during the 1950s and 1960s.

The Runit Dome was constructed on Marshall Islands Enewetak Atoll in 1979 to temporarily store radioactive waste produced from nuclear testing by the US military during the 1950s and 1960s. Photo: Supplied

The FSM called for the Pacific Islands Forum to invite countries responsible for the nuclear contamination and Second World War shipwrecks to the Forum leaders' summit later this year to explain what they intended to do about the waste.

The Samoan Prime Minister and Forum chair Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said the issue will be on the agenda at the September meeting.

- Pacnews

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