UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres yesterday raised concerns that a concrete dome built last century to contain waste from atomic bomb tests is leaking radioactive material into the Pacific.
Speaking to students in Fiji, Guterres described the structure on Enewetak atoll in the Marshall Islands as “a kind of coffin” and said it was a legacy of Cold War-era nuclear tests in the Pacific
“The Pacific was victimised in the past as we all know,” he said, referring to nuclear explosions carried out by the United States and France in the region.
In the Marshalls, numerous islanders were forcibly evacuated from ancestral lands and resettled, while thousands more were exposed to radioactive fallout.
The island nation was ground zero for 67 American nuclear weapons tests from 1946-58 at Bikini and Enewetak atolls, when it was under US administration.
The tests included the 1954 “Bravo” hydrogen bomb, the most powerful ever detonated by the United States, about 1,000 times bigger than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Guterres, who is touring the South Pacific to raise awareness of climate change issues, said Pacific islanders still needed help to deal with the fallout of the nuclear testing.
The “coffin” is a concrete dome, built in the late 1970s on Runit island, part of Enewetak atoll, as a dumping ground for waste from the nuclear tests. Radioactive soil and ash from the explosions was tipped into a crater and capped with a concrete dome 45 centimetres (18 inches) thick.
However, it was only envisaged as a temporary fix and the bottom of the crater was never lined leading to fears the waste is leaching into the Pacific.
Cracks have also developed in the concrete after decades of exposure and there are concerns it could break apart if hit by a tropical cyclone.