Resolution seeks to study possible effects on Guam of Runit nuclear leak

Senator Regine Biscoe-Lee, a Democrat, is chairperson of the Committee on Federal and Foreign Affairs. She says she hopes the next Congressman addresses Guam's relationship with the military, environmental issues and the island's political status. (PNC file photo)

Senator Regine Biscoe Lee has introduced a resolution that seeks to study any effects on Guam of possible leaks of radioactive material from the Runit Dome in the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Resolution No. 300-35 (COR), already supported by nine senators from both sides of the aisle, calls for Guam’s public servants, including the Legislature, the Governor, Attorney General, and Delegate to Congress to research, plan for, and mitigate any effects from current or future leaks out of the Runit Dome, where leaks and cracks have been noted over the years, including as recently as 2019.

The proposed legislative policy also urges the U.S. Secretary of Energy to consider Guam when researching and drafting a report on the status of the Runit Dome as mandated by the 2020 NDAA.

“In succeeding decades following nuclear detonations in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the Marshall Islands, and areas of the Pacific, links to multi-generational defects, fatal cancers, and other diseases—including for down-wind areas like Guam, have been studied and proven,” the resolution states. “The continual consequences and risks associated with American nuclear activities represents an ongoing obligation the U.S. government has to the innocent bystanders who had no choice but to be exposed to deadly or irresponsible levels of radiation and radioactive fallout.”

Following U.S. nuclear tests conducted in the Republic of the Marshall Islands’ Enewetak Atoll, the Runit Dome, also called “Cactus Dome” or “The Tomb,” was built to house topsoil debris from six islands. The amount of radioactive debris, including lethal amounts of plutonium, equals 3.1 million cubic feet, enough to fill 35 Olympic-sized swimming pools, according to an investigative report from the Los Angeles Times cited by the resolution.

The unlined crater of the Runit Dome, though capped with concrete, represents a risk to the environment, said senator Lee. Congress already passed a measure in 2012 that mandated regular monitoring of the Runit dome and nearby groundwater, to determine if there is a “significant change in the health risks to the people of Enewetak from the contaminants within the Cactus Crater containment structure.”

Most recently, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (2020 NDAA) commissioned another report on the Runit Dome, which is required to include the “effects on the environment that the Dome has currently and is projected to have in 5 years, 10 years, and 20 years.”]

“It is imperative that those who call Guam, the Marianas, and Micronesia home in 50 years are not left wondering why mysterious diseases are rampant, why babies are born into a lifetime of suffering because of genetic mutations inherited through radiation exposure, why places blessed with bountiful, life-sustaining resources have turned into poisonous wastelands,” the resolution stressed.

If adopted, the measure will be transmitted to local, federal, and regional officials. A public hearing on the resolution has been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 19.