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Radiation compensation plan considered

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Over a decade ago a blue ribbon panel was formed at the request of the Guam Legislature. Their mission was to study in-depth radioactive contamination in Guam between 1946 to 1958. This time period is crucial because this was around the same time the United States military was conducting nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands.

In November 2012 the blue ribbon panel completed an action report that determined the military "put the population of Guam in harm's way knowingly and with total disregard for there well being".  The report also stated "what was perpetrated against this region was the largest ecological disaster in human history." But despite that report, Guam continues to fight for compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. That effort continued at the Guam Legislature this afternoon.  The report and other studies that have been conducted on the matter have determined that there is a correlation between the nuclear testing and high incidences of cancer in Guam, which is the second leading cause of death locally.

Today the Legislature heard testimony on Resolution 39, the latest attempt for Guam to be treated fairly and justly compensated.

67 nuclear devices were detonated by the Atomic Energy Commission in or around the Marshalls between 1946 and 1962. The radiation emanating from these explosions severely affected those who lived in the Marshall Islands, resulting in everything from cancers to birth deformities. However, the radioactive fallout didn't stop there: it extended downwind over 1,000 miles away to Guam. 

Robert Celestial is the president of the Pacific Atomic Radiation Survivors, and testified before the Legislature, citing a study that shows how Guam was affected. "The study was made back in 2000/2001," he shared. "A report was made by the National Academy of Science - they just gave a broad eligibility conclusion that the residents of Guam during that time were exposed to high levels of radiation from the fallout." And according to Celestial, this information was kept classified until 1998. "The people of Guam were affected by the nuclear fallout and that the residents during that time period are eligible to receive compensation in accordance with the law right now that has been passed," he added.

He is referring to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, which provides up to $150,000 to victims of radiation. Although Guam residents should be eligible to receive compensation, they are not. Yet Resolution 994, and Bill 331 - recently introduced in the US Congress and Senate, respectively -  would amend federal law, to include island residents.

Celestial said, "Eligibility is anyone who was in Guam from 1946 to 1962; only have to prove that they were here, and they have one of 21 types of cancers, and the amendment would have $50,000 to $150,000 and free medical care."

Like Celestial, Berthena Nelson is hoping Washington will listen, saying, "This has been a couple of decades, and it's overdue, and in Chamorro the word for justice is hustia, and they need to be compensated."

John Farnum is also hoping for justice. He is a 30-year Department of Defense veteran who said he was compelled to attend the hearing because of his family. "What brings me here very heartily is that my complete family members have also gone through what radiation has done for us. I lost my mom and dad to cancer," he said. Nelson added, "I want the public to come out in numbers, to show their support. Be vocal. Demand justice. And it's for all of Guam!"

The legislative resolution urges Congress to pass House Resolution 994, which was co-sponsored by Guam Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, as well as Senate Bill 331, both of which include provisions that would provide compensation for Guam residents affected by the downwind effects of nuclear tests in the Pacific. 

But that wasn't the only issue discussed. Likewise considered was Resolution 52, which urges Congress to increase the annual spending for Compact impact assistance to affected jurisdictions from $30 million to $185 million annually. While Speaker Judi Won Pat estimates that the Government of Guam spends $144 million on providing services to migrants from the Freely Associated States, the federal government has reduced the amount of Compact impact compensation from $16 million to $14 million.

Both resolutions are inline with efforts underway in the nation's capitol by Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo to increase Compact impact assistance and amending the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. On Compact impact, the congresswoman says the Legislature's solution to support increasing funding will add to the legislative history of this effort and demonstrates a One Guam approach to the issue.

You can read both resolutions at GuamLegislature.com.

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