American failure to address previous nuclear contamination from its military activity does not lend credibility to Biden’s or Morrison’s rhetoric.
Addressing the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly of the UN, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, said as his country is a party to the 1985 the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty he would like to keep the region nuclear free and put the region’s nuclear legacy behind it.
“The ocean remains the life blood for our survival and would like to work with everyone in keeping it blue and healthy,” Sogavare said.
He was referring to the the US, UK, Australia bid to bring in nuclear submarines to the Pacific Ocean through the AUKUS agreement aimed at curbing China’s activities in the Indo-Pacific region.
Long history of radioactive pollution by West in the Pacific
The American behaviour in failing to address previous nuclear contamination from the US military activity does not encourage belief in Biden’s or Morrison’s rhetoric.
The Australian state owned media outlet, the ABC, reported that “Rising seas caused by climate change are seeping inside a United States nuclear waste dump on a remote and low-lying Pacific atoll, flushing out radioactive substances left behind from some of the world’s largest atomic weapons tests.”
In the late 1970s, Runit Island, on the remote Enewetak Atoll, in the Marshall Islands was the scene of the largest nuclear “clean-up”in United States history. It was a cheap and dirty “clean-up”, in which according the the ABC, highly contaminated debris left over from dozens of atomic weapons tests was dumped into a 100-metre wide bomb crater on the tip of the uninhabited island.
Michael Gerrard, the chair of Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York says that the “bottom of the dome is just what was left behind by the nuclear weapons explosion …. It’s permeable soil. There was no effort to line it. And therefore, the seawater is inside the dome.”
Widespread concern by Pacific nations on regional arms race sparked by AUKUS
Pacific nations have expressed concern at the dangers to the region from the new US moves to militarize the Pacific. Indonesia and Malaysia have warned that the move could increase the prospects of a regional arms race. The New Zealand government reiterated its long-standing anti-nuclear policy, saying it will not permit nuclear-powered subs to enter its waters .
In Samoa, a country of about 200,000 people lying roughly halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, the country’s largest newspaper group this week accused the new security partnership of disrespecting the wishes of Pacific Island peoples and raising the risk of conflict on their doorstep.
“Why has Australia become a party to a military pact that could now see conflict return to our peaceful islands some 76 years after the end of WWII?” the Samoa Observer said in an editorial.
The opposition leader and former Foreign Minister of Vanuatu, Ralph Regenvanu, said that the nuclear submarine deal had left people “disappointed” and “fearful” for their future.
China’s Foreign Ministry speaks out
Drawing attention to the Solomon Islander’s speech, the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying told the media that “many people may not know that the South Pacific region is the worst area affected by nuclear pollution.”
“The US carried out 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958, which caused irreparable damages on inhabitants’ health and the ecological environment,” Hua said.
“The US has dumped nuclear waste into the Pacific Ocean 63 times, causing a large raise in the incidence rate of cancer, leukemia and birth defects in newborns and other illnesses among those living in the Marshall Islands,” Hua noted.
“The concentration of soil samples taken at the Bikini Atolls islands for plutonium-239 and -240 is 1,000 times higher than samples from Chernobyl, Ukraine and Fukushima, Japan,” she added.
“The nuclear submarine project under the newly established trilateral security partnership AUKUS has damaged the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, and leads the South Pacific region under the cloud of the nuclear proliferation again,” Hua said.
South Pacific Island countries and the international community have reason to be concerned. People from the South Pacific region should no longer be the victim of political blocs and military confrontation by individual countries, Hua said.
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
2021 year marks the 25th anniversary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, and non-proliferation and plays an important role in restraining nuclear arms races and maintaining global strategic stability, Hua said.
China was among the first countries to sign the treaty, and strongly supports its goals and objectives.
“China committed to suspending nuclear tests for 25 years, supports the treaty’s to be effective as early as possible and will contribute strength to promote its effectiveness. China will work tirelessly to achieve the goals on the comprehensive prohibition and total destruction of nuclear weapons,” the spokesperson said.
AUKUS Plan Carries Huge Risk
The nuclear submarine project under AUKUS has a huge risk. It violates the spirit of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The move may also trigger other countries to make similar moves and damage the international non-proliferation mechanism, exacerbating a regional arms race, Hua said.
The international community should come together against the nuclear submarine project launched by the US, Britain and Australia, and cannot let it be like this, Hua said.
The South China Morning Posts in an article commented that “Nuclear proliferation remains especially sensitive in many Pacific Island states due to a history of nuclear testing that has been blamed for extensive environmental damage and health problems including increased rates of birth defects and cancers.”
It pointed out the history of extensive testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific, by Western powers. “The US carried out more than 60 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958, while Britain detonated a number of nuclear devices in Kiribati during the 1950s. France conducted dozens of nuclear tests in its territories in French Polynesia up until the mid 1990s.”
In 1985, Australia, New Zealand and 11 Pacific Island nations signed the Treaty of Rarotonga banning the use, testing and possession of nuclear weapons within a zone covering a vast expanse of the South Pacific. Very few believe the Australian assurances that the new US controlled submarines will not be capable of carrying nuclear warheads – more importantly there is no verification system so other countries in the Asia Pacific region will treat all of the submarines as a nuclear threat.
South China Morning Post, 23 Sept 2021, https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/3149716/pacific-island-nations-uneasy-over-aukus-deal-amid-nuclear
Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 31 July 2020, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-27/the-dome-runit-island-nuclear-test-leaking-due-to-climate-change/9161442?nw=0