US residual radioactivity research continues on Bikini Island

The 2.4 square kilometer island, which is uninhabited except for a few visiting staffers, also has palm trees planted in an organized way, bearing signs such as 'E1' and 'J2' on their trunks.

The research witnessed by participants in last week's rare media tour showed the United States is continuing to study the effects of nearly 70 nuclear bomb tests in the 1940s and 1950s in the vicinity of Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

The vegetable farm was dotted with a number of plates reading 'Tomato', 'Radish', and 'Watermelon' among other names.

There was little sprouting above ground, however. An official of the Bikini Atoll municipality, who guided the tour, said people were not allowed to eat anything harvested on the island, and that the crops had been sent to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California "a few months ago." The lab is a nuclear research institute.

The official said coconuts are also taken on a regular basis to Majuro, the capital about 600 kilometers from Bikini Island, for analysis by the US Department of Energy of radioactivity remaining in the soil.

Islanders of Bikini, who were ordered in 1946 to leave the atoll due to the nuclear tests, returned home after the US government declared it safe in 1968.

But they had to leave their homes again later after many complained of health problems such as miscarriages. US government research had suggested such symptoms might have been caused by internal exposure of radiation after the islanders ate coconuts and other crops there, according to the local official.

Readings of radioactive materials in the air only ranged between 0.1 and 0.4 microsievert during the 2.5 hour stay on the island on Saturday. A Geiger counter that a Kyodo News reporter carried detected no radioactive substances.

The current number of temporary residents is six, the official said. Workers for the department and the Bikini Atoll municipality take turns staying there for several months for scientific research and equipment maintenance.

Jendrik Leviticus, a 77-year-old former islander and doctor, took part in the tour. He returned to the island in the 1970s but had to leave again.

He said many people around him, including relatives and former Bikini islanders, have suffered from health problems such as thyroid cancer.

Standing on the empty lot where his house formerly stood, Leviticus said he felt "sad" to see news about the accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following the March earthquake and tsunami, which forced about 100,000 people to evacuate.

"People in Fukushima are feeling just as insecure as we did," said Leviticus, who now lives in Majuro. Leviticus branded US nuclear tests "unforgivable" as they deprived Bikini islanders of their homes and health.

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