Environmental and Bioassay Programs
Marshall Islands Program
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY MARSHALL ISLANDS MEDICAL,
ENVIRONMENTAL AND BIOASSAY PROGRAMS
The Department of Energy (DOE) Marshall Islands Medical Program provides medical surveillance for the radiation-exposed populations of Rongelap and Utrők Atolls. The program was implemented in 1954 by the Atomic Energy Commission following the accidental exposure of Marshallese to fallout from a nuclear test at the Bikini Atoll.
BACKGROUND AND MEDICAL SCOPE OF WORK
After the 1954 accidental exposure of a group of Marshallese to nuclear fallout, Congress decided that, from the humanitarian, as well as scientific perspective, medical surveillance and the necessary medical care needed to address radiation-related illnesses should be offered to the those Rongelap and Utrők people exposed to fallout from Test Bravo in 1954. Participation in this medical program is voluntary. In 2007, there were 178 people in the program.
The Marshallese in the special medical care program are considered at increased risk for tumors as a late complication of past radiation exposure; thus, the DOE Marshall Islands Medical Program is based on an annual comprehensive medical screening examination and treatment of cancer. The special medical care program also dispenses primary medical care and preventive medical services when resources permit this.
When someone in the program is found to have general medical problems that are clearly not associated with prior radiation exposure, they are referred to the Republic of the Marshall Islands national medical care program. Any exposed person with a suspected neoplasm, or a medical finding that might be associated with prior radiation exposure and who cannot be treated is referred to specialty facilities for a definitive evaluation and therapy.
The DOE Marshall Islands Special Medical Care Program
- The program's primary objective is to provide for the identification and treatment of radiation-related diseases that occur in the populations of Rongelap and Utrik atolls exposed to fallout from the Castle Bravo weapons test.
- Until June 1998, medical care was provided by a team of U. S. doctors from Brookhaven National Laboratory.
- The medical team visited the Marshall Islands semi-annually for ship-based medical missions lasting 4 to 6 weeks. The semi-annual mission model was a logistically complicated program that provided intermittent medical care to the DOE patients.
- A land-based medical program began in August 1998.
- The land-based program provides year-around availability of medical care by providing two clinics in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The program provides an annual examination and treatment of tumors to those patients living in Hawaii and on the continental United States.
- Clinics are located on Kwajalein Island and in Majuro, RMI capital, where DOE's patients can be seen daily by local Marshallese medical officers, a physician and nurse supervisory personnel.
- The DOE patient population is only entitled to treatment for tumors and other conditions that are linked to prior radiation exposure; thus, the Department of Energy Marshall Islands Medical Program has implemented a cancer-oriented, annual health evaluation.
- The results of the examinations of the population indicate that before 1980, the DOE patient population had been at increased risk for thyroid cancer; thus, DOE patients continue to receive annual thyroid function tests.
- Any DOE patient with a suspected tumor, or a medical finding that might be associated with prior radiation exposure, and who cannot be treated by the physicians participating in the DOE program because of a lack of adequate facilities, is referred to specialty facilities for a definitive evaluation and therapy.
- The referral and the associated expenses relating to the care of the participating individuals are the responsibility of DOE. Referrals are made after consultation with the national health care plan medical referral committee.
- Individuals in the DOE patient population found to have general medical problems that are clearly not associated with prior radiation exposure are referred to the Republic of the Marshall Islands health care plan.
- The DOE special medical care program assures that Congress' mandate is carried out as memorialized in the Compact of Free Association Act of 1985 and the Compact of Free Association Amendments Act of 2003.
The DOE Environmental Monitoring Program
For more than three decades DOE contractors have conducted detailed environmental monitoring and agricultural research studies to provide measurement data and assessments to characterize current radiological conditions at the Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap, and Utrők atolls.
The environmental monitoring process consists of field sample collection and laboratory analysis of terrestrial foods, marine foods, soil, and water. Also, an agricultural research field station was centered on Bikini Island until 2006 and has provided important insight into possible mitigation strategies that help reduce the uptake of radioactive chemicals in locally grown food products.
- The Marshall Islands environmental monitoring program consists of whole body counting and environmental radiological surveys at the four affected atolls of Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrők.
- The environmental monitoring program, has conducted extensive radiological surveys to establish the levels of cesium-137, plutonium and other radioactive materials in the environment and in naturally occurring food plants.
- The program maintained an agricultural field station on the island of Bikini for the conduct of studies investigating the uptake of radioactive material in native plants (e.g., coconuts, pandanus, banana) until 2006. This research identified methods to mitigate or block the uptake of radioactive materials in native plants. To date, the research has shown that by the application of potassium chloride fertilizer on the radioactively contaminated soils dramatically reduces the uptake of cesium by the native plants.
- The major focus of recent DOE radiological characterization activities of Rongelap Atoll Island with primary emphasis on the monitoring of the southern islands of Rongelap. In 2006, Rongelap Island entered the final stages of their Resettlement Plan with funds provided by the U.S. Congress and federal agencies.
- DOE contractors have installed whole body counters on both Rongelap and Enewetak Islands as well as in Majuro. Local Marshallese technicians operate and calibrate the whole body counters locally, thus making whole body counting available on most work days throughout the year. The environmental monitoring program contractor provides technical assistance, ensures the whole body counters are functioning well, ensures quality control.
- The whole body counting program's capability includes data interpretation and dose assessments for individual or population groups based on whole body counting analysis.
- The whole body counting program's capability includes data interpretation
and dose assessments for individual or population groups.
- The program is conducted by the Lawrence Livermore National
Key Scientific Findings through 2007
- Since 1974, LLNL has studied the nature and extent of radiation
contamination in the northern belt atolls of Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap,
- The work has led to a number of important conclusions and
recommendations. Based on environmental sampling data, analysis, and
research, we have concluded that:
- The Utrők people can continue to live on their atoll without concern
about radiological exposure.
- The Rongelap Island people can resettle without concern about
radiological exposure if they (1) scrape the village areas, and (2)
apply potassium fertilizer to food growing areas. This mitigation
technique is referred to as the "combined option" was adopted by
- The Bikini Island people can resettle without concern about radiological
exposure if they, like Rongelap, (1) scrape the village areas, and
(2) apply potassium fertilizer to food growing areas. There are no plans to resettle.
- The Enewetak Atoll people have been resettled on Enewetak Island
since 1980. Plutonium urinalysis and whole body counting results have
confirmed that radiation doses are at or near world background levels
and pose no health consequence to the population.
- Analysis of other "tracer" materials released as part of the
nuclear testing program in the Pacific confirms that none of the
tracers pose a public health concern.
- DOE is committed to be responsive to the questions, concerns, and needs of the Marshall Islands people. DOE has worked toward this goal by actively listening to the central and local governments and their communities, giving them an effective voice in determining the future direction of the Marshall Islands program. DOE routinely publishes the results of its scientific environmental work in the public domain. DOE has declassified and made available documents related to the nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands.
- DOE has conducted regular community meetings with the local leadership and community members from Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap, and Utrők to discuss the results of scientific reports as they were completed.
- DOE sponsors an annual program review meeting among DOE, the RMI government, and local atoll government representatives from Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap, and Utrők. The Department of State and the Department of Interior also participate.