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Bikinians want to evacuate to US

MAJURO — On the 69th anniversary of their original evacuation for nuclear weapons testing, Bikini Islanders announced Friday they want to move their population in exile to the United States.

Bikini Mayor Nishma Jamore said Bikinians want to leave both Kili and the Ejit islands where they have lived in exile for decades because Bikini Atoll, site of 24 nuclear tests including “Bravo,” America’s largest hydrogen bomb detonation, remains too radioactive for safe resettlement.

First it was nuclear tests, now it is climate change that is pushing the islanders to evacuate their two main island homes, said Jamore. Increasingly bad flooding from high tides and storms on both islands prompted Bikini leaders to bring up the concern with U.S. Assistant Secretary of Interior Esther Kia’aina during her visit to Majuro earlier this month.

“We want to relocate to the United States,” said Jamore. “Kili has been repeatedly flooded since 2012 and we’ve asked the Marshall Islands government for help with no response.” Added to this is the Nitijela’s (parliament’s) recent legislative move to take authority for Ejit Island away from the Bikinians.

Kili Island’s main village area was flooded when annual king tides in February washed over the small island, which has been home to the displaced islanders since 1948 — two years after U.S. nuclear testing began on Bikini Atoll.  Bikini Atoll Local Government photoKili Island’s main village area was flooded when annual king tides in February washed over the small island, which has been home to the displaced islanders since 1948 — two years after U.S. nuclear testing began on Bikini Atoll. Bikini Atoll Local Government photo

This is not the first time the Bikinians have considered resettling in the U.S. In the 1980s, following an aborted resettlement at Bikini that ended with Bikinians being exposed to high levels of radiation in the environment, the exiled islanders sought to buy a large tract of land in Maui in the state of Hawaii for resettling the population. But the plan was vetoed when it ran into considerable opposition from Maui residents.

Now the resettlement option is gaining steam because of saltwater inundations that have repeatedly flooded Kili and Ejit, causing damage to homes and agriculture.

“We’re going to Washington next month,” the mayor said. The aim is to further the plan for relocating Kili and Ejit populations to three locations in the U.S., which Jamore identified as Arkansas, Oklahoma and the Big Island of Hawaii. There are already significant populations of Bikini islanders in these three locations, he said.

Jamore and Bikini Council executives would like to use their trust fund to purchase property for a resettlement. “We have asked the Interior Department if we can change the policy of the trust fund agreement (to allow for property purchases in the U.S.),” he said, adding Kia’aina was encouraging in her response. Currently the U.S.-provided Bikini trust fund allows for property purchase only in the Marshall Islands. “This will give the people options for education and jobs,” he said of the three potential resettlement locations.

The latest flooding at Kili hit last month during annual high tides, which turned Kili’s runway into “the Nile River,” according to Jamore. The entire runway, nearly a mile long, was flooded with about two feet of saltwater. The tides flooded most of Kili with two-foot-deep salt water last month, causing damage to homes and local food crops.