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article imageBikini atoll residents denied compensation for nuclear tests

By Bob Gordon     Apr 7, 2010 in Environment
During the Cold War the Marshall Island atolls of Bikini and Enewetak were used for multiple nuclear tests. The Supreme Court of the United States recently ruled that compensation for resultant illnesses and birth defects will not be forthcoming.
In 1984 the Marshall Islands were granted independence. The "Compact of Free Association with the U.S." had the U.S. assume "responsibility for the nuclear damage caused by the equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshima atomic bombs a day for 12 years."
However, in a ruling that the Honolulu Star Bulletin described as "shameful," the U.S. government has evaded the responsibility to actually pay out any damages or compensation.
In 1986, Congress established a $150 million trust fund to provide compensation to former residents of Enewetak and Bikini.
In a 2001 settlement, the federal government agreed to pay the groups much more, the people of Enewetak were to receive $385 million and the people of Bikini $563 million.
With almost no compensation forthcoming in the next five years a group of former inhabitants sued, seeking what they claimed was just compensation under the Fifth Amendment for the “many resultant indignities they suffered, from the loss of their homes and livelihoods to the horrific effects of radiation poisoning.”
In August of 2008, the United States Court of Federal Claims, dismissed the suit saying that the Bikinis had missed the 6-year statute of limitations, and that they had filed too early because Congress could still act and give them money.
On Monday the Federal Circuit affirmed Miller’s opinion, ruling that federal courts have no jurisdiction to hear the claims since Congress set aside the $150 million in 1986.
The political questions raised in the case are “beyond the power of this or any court to consider,” the judges wrote. “In sum, this court cannot hear, let alone remedy, a wrong that is not within its power to adjudicate,” Randall R. Rader wrote for the panel.
The case illustrates the way the government "may evade the constitutional guarantee of just compensation ... by stripping the courts of jurisdiction over any claim that it has not provided just compensation for the taking," wrote Washington lawyer Paul Wolfson, who represented the islanders.
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