“Stay away from nuclear weapons”: Interview with Christopher Loeak, president of the Marshall Islands

by Michiko Tanaka, Staff Writer

Expresses support for Hiroshima’s appeal for nuclear abolition, and concern about restarting Japan’s nuclear power plants

On February 15, Christopher Loeak, president of the Marshall Islands, who was paying an official visit to Hiroshima, sat down for an interview with the Chugoku Shimbun. Mr. Loeak expressed concern over the Japanese government’s willingness to restart its nuclear power plants, as well as support for Hiroshima’s appeal for nuclear abolition. Below are highlights of the interview.

Could you tell us why you’re visiting Hiroshima?
March 1 of this year will mark the 60th anniversary of a U.S. hydrogen bomb test performed at the Bikini Atoll, called “Bravo” by the United States. The nuclear accident at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant also occurred in March. I thought that, on this occasion, I would like to mourn the A-bomb victims, recall the terrible effects of radiation, and show the world our solidarity with the A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as with Fukushima Prefecture, where the nuclear accident took place.

What are current conditions like in your country, in connection with the radiation released by nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands?
Residents who evacuated from the Bikini Atoll and the Rongelap Atoll, among other islands, are still unable to return to their hometowns. Though the infrastructure has been built up in Rongelap so that these people can go back, a lot of them are afraid to return because of residual radiation. I can understand their feelings, because my own parents suffered from a thyroid gland disorder and a brain tumor due to the effects of radiation. There has been little progress in the decontamination of the land. We have not yet decontaminated enough land to grow crops for daily food. We need assistance from outside.

What do you think about the Japanese government’s position of moving swiftly to resume operations at the nuclear power plants here?
I imagine that the Japanese government doesn’t want to depend on fossil fuels, which would surely soar in price. They may also be thinking that restarting the nuclear power plants will help prevent environmental pollution. But the idea of restarting these plants scares me, because we don’t know when an earthquake or tsunami could occur. As I know the consequences of radiation exposure through my own experience, I also feel for the victims of the accident at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima.

What sort of role do you think Hiroshima can play?
Nations that produce and possess nuclear weapons have plans to eventually use these weapons. There must be no more victims of nuclear arms. I hope that Hiroshima will continue its efforts to pursue lasting peace in the world, and we will lend our support to this cause. We would like to maintain our ties with Hiroshima and continue to convey this message together to the world: “Stay away from nuclear weapons.”

(Originally published on February 16, 2014)