Nuclear Energy, Environmental Damage, and Migration

Akua Nyarko-Odoom
May 16, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018

Nuclear Testing Environmental Impact

Fig. 1: Image of nuclear test "Operation Crossroads Baker" taken in the 1950s. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The damage caused by nuclear testing worldwide has produced a number of significant impacts on the ecosystems, health, and migration of many species. A large number of nuclear tests were carried out by nations like the U.S. in deserts and on islands including the Marshall Islands. From 1946 to 1958, the US military tested nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, a total of which were were "equivalent to 7200 Hiroshima-sized bombs," exposing island dwellers to "significant levels of radiation". [1] The Marshall Islands was named one of the most contaminated places in the world. [1] According to Choi, rates of cancers and thyroid problems are still increasing due to exposure to radiation caused by immediate fallout. [2] Additionally, "the lack of a health care infrastructure and trained health professionals prevent the population from receiving appropriate health care services. (and) is a significant reason for recent emigration from the RMI (Republic of the Marshall Islands) to Hawaii and Guam". [2]

Migration Effects

Bikini Atoll residents were forced to migrate in preparation for the the Nuclear tests of the 1950s (see Fig. 1). [3] Those on nuclear testing sites were forced to migrate, but those nearby were not evacuated and thus were exposed to nuclear fallout through water, plants, and seafood. [1] In 1986, the US signed the Compact of Free Association (COFA) agreement with the Marshall Islands and other territories in the Pacific Islands. [1] This agreement allows residents of these territories to move freely between the islands and the U.S. with special immigration status. In exchange, the U.S. gained "exclusive military control" over this contested area which is highly valuable for military strategies. [1] This agreement enabled the Marshallese to move to the U.S. away from "poor economy, limited employment, and inadequate educational opportunities and health care infrastructure". [1] In the U.S., particularly in Hawai'i and Arkansas, Marshallese migrants have low educational attainment and tend to work in service industries. [1] In Hawai'i, the Marshallese "are located in the lowest socioeconomic brackets" (and) are considered one of the most vulnerable populations in Hawaii. [2] Unlike non-COFA immigrants, COFA migrants are eligible for state funded public benefits which provide access to affordable health care and housing. [2] According to Pobutsky et al., the migration of Marshallese and other Micronesians has resulted in the increase in spread of communicable disease (as the micronesians are not far along in the epidemiological transition between high prevalence of communicable disease and non communicable disease), health costs incurred by the Hawaiian state government, and intercultural tension. [4]

© Akua Nyarko-Odoom. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] P. A. McElfish, E. Hallgren, and S. Yamada. "Effect of US Health Policies on Health Care Access For Marshallese Migrants," Am. J. Public Health 105, 637 (2015).

[2] J. Y. Choi, "Seeking Health Care: Marshallese Migrants in Hawai'i," Ethn. Health 13, 72 (2008).

[3] S. D. Donner, "The Legacy of Migration in Response to Climate Stress: Learning From the Gilbertese Resettlement in the Solomon Islands," Nat. Resour. Forum 39, 191 (2015).

[4] A. M. Pobutsky et al., "Micronesian Migrants in Hawaii: Health Issues and Culturally Appropriate, Community-Based Solutions." Calif. J. Health Promot. 3, No. 4, 59 (2005).