Supreme Court: No Review of Award for US Nuclear Weapons Tests

By Richey, Warren | The Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Supreme Court: No Review of Award for US Nuclear Weapons Tests


Richey, Warren, The Christian Science Monitor


US settled a claim more than 25 years ago over damage from its 67 nuclear weapons tests in the South Pacific. But Marshall Islands residents claim compensation was not 'just' under the Constitution and sued. The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear their case.

The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a challenge by residents of a string of South Pacific islands seeking "just compensation" for losing their homes and their land to US nuclear weapons testing conducted in the islands from 1946 to 1958.

Portions of the coral-fringed atolls were vaporized in 67 nuclear explosions ranging from 0.19 kilotons to a 15-megaton blast equivalent to 1,000 Hiroshima bombs. Nuclear fallout rained down on what remained of the islands.

The justices dismissed the petition without comment.

The action upholds a decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit dismissing two lawsuits seeking fair payment from the US government for the people of Bikini Atoll and Enewetak Atoll.

The appeals court ruled in January 2009 that the government of the Marshall Islands had settled the same claims more than 25 years earlier in a comprehensive agreement with the US government. Under that agreement, the US paid $150 million into an investment fund administered by officials of the Marshall Islands, with $45.75 million set aside to pay claims.

Island residents voted to approve the agreement in 1983. Congress and the president followed suit in 1986, and the agreement was finalized.

The agreement acknowledged that island officials were authorized to petition Congress for additional funds in the event of "changed circumstances." But it also said the settlement would provide the final and unreviewable resolution of any claims made by the people of the Marshall Islands against the US for its nuclear testing.

In 2000 and 2001, a Marshall Islands nuclear claims tribunal awarded $563 million in compensation and cleanup costs to residents of Bikini Atoll, and $385 million to residents of Enewetak Atoll. But the tribunal lacked the funds to pay the awards. In 2002 and 2003, the tribunal paid residents of Enewetak $1.6 million of the $385 million award.

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