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Last Updated: Monday, 1 March, 2004, 13:35 GMT
Bikini Atoll bomb test remembered
Former crew member Matashichi Oishi, 70
Japanese survivor Matashichi Oishi wants government compensation
Peace activists in Japan have marked the 50th anniversary of an atomic bomb experiment in the Pacific which killed one person and injured dozens more.

The US test on tiny Bikini Atoll in the Marshall islands contaminated a passing Japanese fishing boat and showered nearby villagers with radioactive ash.

The bomb was 1,000 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima.

Those affected still claim to suffer from radiation exposure, and Bikini Atoll islanders are exiled as a result.

About 2,000 peace activists marched in Yaizu, the home port of the contaminated Japanese fishing trawler the Lucky Dragon. They went to the grave of radio operator Aikichi Kuboyama, who died several months after the 1 March, 1954 bombing, at the age of 40.

His dying wish was to be the last victim of an atomic bomb.

"The tragedy 50 years ago must not be repeated in the 21st century," survivor Yoshio Misaki, 78, told an assembly in the city.

Eleven of Kuboyama's colleagues have also since died, many perishing in their 40s or 50s from cancer, liver disease or hepatitis.

For the inhabitants of Bikini Atoll, the test has left a devastating legacy.

The 1 March 1954 test - codenamed Bravo - exploded with far greater power than scientists predicted.

The Bikinians were evacuated, but nevertheless some of the atolls they were moved to - including Rongelap, about 125 miles east of Bikini - were irradiated.

John Anjain, the community leader of Rongelap Island at the time, visited Yaizu for the anniversary.

"On the day of the hydrogen bomb blast, white powder fell on us like snow," he said. "We soon began to feel sick and our hair started falling off."

Both the surviving Japanese fishermen and the former inhabitants of Bikini Atoll are still agitating for compensation.

Unlike the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the crew of the Lucky Dragon are not entitled to medical and financial support from the Japanese government because the US agreed to pay each crew member an average of 2m yen ($18,350) as "sympathy money" in a political settlement.

Dozens of US military and civilian personnel received high doses of radiation during the test, but only a few have successfully claimed compensation.

The Bikinians are still unable to return to their atoll because its land-based food chain remains contaminated.

Tibon Bejiko, a 72-year-old islander, who left Bikini in 1946, told the BBC that the atoll's inhabitants agreed to co-operate with the US then because they were promised that Washington would look after them.

He said financial compensation was not adequate; that he wanted the US to clean up Bikini so he could return.

"I'm an old man now... I haven't been able to go back and live on my homeland Bikini, my gift from God," he told the World Service programme The World Today.

He, like many of the other Bikini inhabitants, now lives on Kili island, where the islanders were resettled in 1948. Kili is far more difficult to fish from than Bikini.

"Now I'm getting ready to die and I know I'm not going to see Bikini cleaned before I'm gone," Mr Bejiko said.

Gy = gray, radiation dose received during 4 days after detonation
10 Gy is a lethal dose

Bikini islander Tibon Bejiko
"I haven't been able to go and live on my homeland... my gift from God"

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