Pay to Former Bikini Residents OK'd

Pay to Former Bikini Residents OK'd

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House agreed Monday to a one-time payment of some $3.8 million to former residents of the Pacific Ocean atoll of Bikini, which was used as an atomic bomb testing site after World War II.

The bill, approved by a voice vote, was in recognition of the hardships suffered by the Bikini people, who were moved from their home in 1946 and are still unable to return because of high radiation levels. The measure requires Senate action.

Relocations first to the island of Rongerik and later to Kili, 400 miles south of Bikini, were ``the worst calamity imaginable for the Bikinian people'' said Robert Underwood, Guam's delegate to Congress.

The funds would come from a Bikini resettlement trust fund established in 1982. Over the years, Congress has appropriated $110 million for the fund, which, through investments, has grown in value to about $126 million.

It will be distributed through a Bikini citizens' counsel primarily to 90 surviving elders who lived on the atoll at the time of the 1946 relocation. They are expected to spread the money to others in the community of some 2000 Bikinians living in Kili and other islands of the Marshall Islands group where Bikini is located.

Bikini is made up of a 54-mile-long reef encircling a lagoon and covering only 2.3 square miles. Between 1946 and 1958, there were 23 atomic tests on the atoll that made it uninhabitable.

In 1968, the radiation levels were pronounced safe and some people returned, but they were resettled again in 1979 after new studies found the atoll unfit for human life. It is expected to take at least another decade of cleanup before people are allowed to return.

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The bill is H.R. 2368.

.AP-NY-09-13-99 1636EDT

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09/13