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Nuclear Testing’s Discriminatory Legacy Must Never Be Forgotten: UN Expert

The hazards of nuclear testing continue to affect the lives of many innocent victims and governments worldwide should redouble efforts for global nuclear disarmament, a UN human rights expert said today.

On the 75th anniversary of the Trinity tests in the United States that heralded the nuclear age, the UN Special Rapporteur on toxics, Baskut Tuncak, issued the following statement:

“On 16 July 1945, the world’s dynamics were forever changed, as the nuclear age was announced with an explosion over White Sands, New Mexico. The “Trinity” test of the United States not only marked the start of a new era for mankind, and prelude to two horrific explosions suffered by innocent people of Japan, but a long and tragic legacy of discrimination, a forgotten part of the legacy of nuclear weapons testing by States.

From the detonation of hundreds of nuclear bombs over vulnerable communities in the Pacific, to the disposal of hazardous radioactive waste on lands and territories of indigenous peoples, the legacy of nuclear testing is one of the cruellest examples of environmental injustice witnessed. Today it is important that we stop and reflect on the racial and ethnic discrimination of nuclear testing, and the victims of this legacy that continue to suffer.

From 1946-58, 67 nuclear bombs were detonated on the Marshall Islands. The total power of these explosions is the equivalent of detonating 1.6 Hiroshima-sized explosions every day for 12 years. These communities have suffered unimaginably from the insidious harms of radioactive contamination. However, their suffering continues to this day with a legacy of contamination, illness and anguish wrought by these nuclear tests. The phenomenal stress and anxiety of twin environmental disasters – climate change induced sea level rise and radioactive waste concentrated in a radioactive “tomb” that is believed to be vulnerable to already leaking – is a dark reality for the inhabitants of what should be a peaceful island paradise. Similarly, in French Polynesia over 200 nuclear tests were conducted over a 30-year period from 1966 to 1996, subjecting inhabitants to associated health and environmental damage.

The Indigenous Peoples of the United States continue to bear a tremendous environmental health impacts of radioactive waste, such as the uranium waste heaped on the lands and territories of Navajo Nation. In recent decades, numerous Native American tribes received funding to store unwanted nuclear waste on their lands. Those of Point Hope, Alaska became recipients of radioactive soil, and higher cancer rates that are believed to have been the foreseeable result. And the people of Greenland discovered radioactive waste left by the US military, unbeknownst to them as the ice continues to melt in the Arctic.

Seventy-five years after the Trinity test, the hazards of nuclear testing remain a chronic persistence in lives of many innocent victims. States must provide an adequate, acceptable and long-lasting solution to such situations to meet their duty to secure access to justice and effective remedies. The discriminatory nature of nuclear testing should be acknowledged and addressed as part of the ongoing conversation on systemic racism and nuclear disarmament. Unaddressed, the dangers of radioactive contamination will persist for centuries, and so too will the harmful legacy of racism that surrounds this tragic chapter of humanity. All States should remobilise their cooperation and efforts for global nuclear disarmament.”

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