The mayor of Bikini Atoll, the site of a U.S. hydrogen bomb test in 1954, called on people throughout Japan, including in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to work together in keeping alive the memory of the horrors of nuclear weapons.
“This is the saddest event in the history of mankind and that’s why we need to be closer to make sure what happened doesn’t happen again,” Alson Kelen said in a recent interview in Tokyo.
“We feel that Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Kili Island are from the same history,” Kelen said, referring to the island in the Marshall Island chain where many descendants of former Bikini Atoll residents live.
“I want the world to not forget what happened and I want the world to make sure that this does not happen again,” said Kelen, who came to Japan for the first time to attend an event in Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, on Tuesday to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the March 1, 1954, Bikini test.
The radiation from the Bikini test affected 23 crew members of the tuna boat Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon) No. 5 from Yaizu, which happened to be nearby.
Kelen said the U.S. bomb tests have affected not only former Bikini islanders suffering from radiation-induced illnesses, such as thyroid cancer, but many on Kili Island who suffer from malnutrition and diabetes.
The island is not suitable for farming and the islanders cannot help eating canned food, Kelen said, even describing the situation as “a jail.”
Between 1946 and 1954, the United States conducted 76 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands and 23 took place at Bikini Atoll.
Prior to the first test, 167 people living on the atoll were told to leave their islands. Their descendants are estimated to number around 4,500 but none can live permanently on Bikini Atoll as the area is still heavily contaminated with radioactive materials from the nuclear tests.
Kelen, 42, who became mayor in May 2009, pledged to work to help those of Bikini background to maintain their identity and pass on the tradition of the Marshall Islands to younger generations.
“They (the descendants) only heard that they are from Bikini, have heard that there’s Bikini out there but all they know about Bikini that there was a bomb, a nuclear testing there . . . it’s sad,” Kelen said.
Kelen, also a member of a nongovernmental organization aiming to preserve the tradition of the Marshall Islands, said he hopes that the listing last year of Bikini Atoll as a World Heritage site will help people of Bikini background who have never lived there to understand its culture and tradition.