International Disarmament Institute News

Pacific Region

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From 1946 to 1996, the US, UK and France detonated 318 nuclear devices in the Pacific region in the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia/Te Ao Maohi, Kiribati, Australia, the US territory of Johnston/Kalama Atoll and Amchitka Island, Alaska. Fallout was dispersed throughout the region. In addition to nuclear detonations, the UK conducted some 600 dangerous “minor trials” in Australia, and the US tested chemical weapons, explosives and ballistic missiles in the Marshall Islands. This has left a devastating legacy of sickness, anxiety, displacement, radiation and environmental damage. The humanitarian impact extends beyond the communities most affected to the thousands of military and civilian personnel – from the USA, France, UK, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand/Aotearoa – who participated in the tests and suffered from exposure to radiation.

The following documents provide crucial general and global overviews of the humanitarian, human rights and environmental impact of nuclear weapons use and testing. For our own global overview, click here.

Key Indicators of Humanitarian, Human Rights and Environmental Harm from Nuclear Weapons in the Pacific Region

  • 28,000 Australian and New Zealand/Aotearoa troops exposed to radiation following atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • Total of 318 US, UK and French nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia/Te Ao Maohi, Kiribati, Australia (plus 600 dangerous “minor trials”), Johnston/Kalama Atoll (US Territory) and Amchitka Island, Alaska
  • Tens of thousands of military and civilian personnel from the UK, Australia, France, New Zealand/Aotearoa and Fiji participated in the tests; many suffered exposure to radiation
  • New Zealand’s Fallout Monitoring System detected fallout across the South Pacific region, including in Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Tuvalu, New Zealand/Aotearoa, the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau. The entire current population of these states — almost 6 million people — may be considered potential victims of nuclear testing
  • A further 79,000 people live in the non-self-governing territories administered by the US, UK and France that were in the vicinity of islands that received fallout but were not included in New Zealand’s monitoring system; it is possible they too may be considered potential victims of nuclear testing
  • Pacific nuclear testing killed thousands of animals, destroyed fragile ecosystems and damaged coral atolls; test sites in Marshall Islands, French Polynesia/Te Ao Maohi and Amchitka Island show signs of leaching radioactive material into the ocean
  • Areas of the land and seas of the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia/Te Ao Maohi, Kiribati, Australia, Johnston/Kalama Atoll (US Territory) and Amchitka Island, Alaska continue to be contaminated by radiation

Official Documents

Kiribati. (2014) “Joint Statement on Behalf of Pacific Island Nations: Second Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons Nayarit, Mexico, 13-14 February 2014.” External link.

K.M. Matthews. (1992/1993) Radioactive fallout in the South Pacific: A History. Part 2: Radioactivity measurements in the Pacific Islands. Christchurch, National Radiation Laboratory. Download.

Academic Studies

Stewart Firth. (1987) Nuclear Playground. Sydney, Allen and Unwin.

Nic Maclellan. (2017) Grappling with the Bomb: Britain’s Pacific H-Bomb Tests. Acton, ANU Press. External link.

Tilman A. Ruff. (2015) ‘The humanitarian impact and implications of nuclear test explosions in the Pacific region.’ International Review of the Red Cross. 97(899). pp. 775-813. External link

Civil Society and Thinktank Studies

Nic Maclellan. (2014) Banning Nuclear Weapons: A Pacific Islands Perspective. ICAN Australia. External link.

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