MARSHALL ISLANDS REPRESENTATIVE SAYS NUCLEAR TESTS COULD `COLLAPSE ENTIRE ATOLL' IN PACIFIC
MARSHALL ISLANDS REPRESENTATIVE SAYS NUCLEAR TESTS COULD `COLLAPSE ENTIRE ATOLL' IN PACIFIC19951016 Fourth Committee Is Told of Tenfold Increase in Health Problems; France Says Minuscule Part of Atoll Affected, Welcomes Environmental Evaluation
Nuclear testing had significant effects on the health and environment of the Pacific islands, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) was told this afternoon as it considered the effects of atomic radiation.
The representative of the Marshall Islands said tests from 1946 to 1992 had contaminated numerous islands and large areas of ocean with radiation. "In the Marshall Islands alone, several islands were vaporized and others have been declared uninhabitable for thousands of years". Health problems, such as miscarriages, stillbirths, cancers, birth deformities and other diseases had increased up to tenfold.
Some scientists said that each test caused a massive bubble in the basalt rock resulting in a large unstable honeycomb structure. One more jolt, she said, might be all that was needed to collapse the entire atoll, unleashing a torrent of radiation on the Pacific islands and the Pacific rim. Therefore, the tests must stop.
Speaking in right of reply, the representative of France said the atoll where the tests were carried out had a very hard basalt sub-structure with a calcified superstructure, which was very secure. Only one tenth of a million of the total volume of the atoll was affected. France welcomed an evaluation of the environmental impact of testing, and was open-minded and transparent in an unprecedented way with regard to the tests.
The representative of India said his Government was convinced that nuclear energy, incorporated effectively with other forms of power generation, would play an even more important role in the future. Nuclear energy was an important means to accelerate economic development.
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The report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation was introduced by the representative of Peru.
Statements were also made by the representatives of China, Spain (for the European Union), Libya and Argentina. The representatives of France and the Marshall Islands spoke in right of reply.
The Committee also concluded its general debate on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples by hearing statements from the representatives of Sierra Leone and Tunisia.
The Committee decided to defer until next year consideration of the question of the composition of relevant United Nations organs.
The Committee is to meet again on Wednesday, 18 October, when it is expected to conclude debate on the effects of radiation.
Committee Work Programme
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to conclude its debate on Decolonization questions and begin consideration of the effects of atomic radiation. It was also expected to take up the question of the composition of relevant organs of the United Nations.
The Committee had before it the report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (document A/50/46), which at its forty-fourth session in Vienna last June studied sources of radiation exposure, dose assessment of radionuclides, DNA repair and mutagenesis, and the effects of exposure to human health and the environment.
The Scientific Committee said it would study the consequences of radiation exposure in countries worldwide and review new information from radiobiological and epidemiological studies to improve understanding of the effects and risks of radiation. It would also review new data on the consequences of the Chernobyl accident, in particular to clarify the possible relationship of childhood thyroid cancers to radiation exposure in Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation. The Committee will hold its forty-fifth session in Vienna from 17 to 21 June 1996.
Effects of Radiation
The Committee had before it a draft resolution on the effects of atomic radiation (document A/C.4/50/L.2) by which the Assembly would request that the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation continue its work to increase knowledge of the levels, effects and risks of ionizing radiation from all sources, and report on the matter to the Assembly at its next session.
The Assembly would request that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) continue providing support for the Scientific Committee's work and for the dissemination of its findings to the General Assembly, to the scientific community and to the public. It would invite Member States, the United Nations system and concerned non-governmental organizations to provide further data about doses, effects and risks for various sources of radiation, which would greatly help the Committee in the preparation of future reports.
By other terms of the text, the Assembly would commend the Scientific Committee for its valuable contribution over the last 40 years. It would endorse the Scientific Committee's intentions for its future activities of scientific review and assessment on behalf of the Assembly.
The draft resolution is sponsored by Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France,
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Germany, Greece, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States and Viet Nam.
In addition, the Committee had before it a report by the Secretary- General on the situation concerning Western Sahara, dated 4 October 1995, (document A/50/504) which is a compilation of his previous reports to the Security Council, covering the period from 18 September 1994 to 30 September 1995. Those reports summarize progress and setbacks to the implementation of the Settlement Plan.
In his last report to the Council, dated 8 September 1995, (document S/1995/779), the Secretary-General recommended that the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) be extended until 31 January 1996, which was approved by the Security Council in resolution 1017 (1995). The Secretary-General stated, however, that if the conditions necessary for the start of the transitional period were not in place by 31 January 1996, he would suggest alternative options, including the possibility of MINURSO's withdrawal.
The MINURSO -- which is known by its French acronym -- was established by Security Council resolution 658 (1990), which approved plans for a settlement of the Western Sahara question. It provides for the United Nations to supervise a cease-fire between Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamara and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) and to organize and conduct a referendum in which the people of the Territory would choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
According to the report, progress between 19 May and 19 August 1995 had been disappointing. Over 53,000 persons had been identified as being qualified to vote in the referendum, representing over 40 per cent of persons residing in the Territory and over 51 per cent of those in the refugee camps. However, the report said the identification process could continue and be expanded to cover all applicants within and outside the Territory only if certain issues were resolved. Morocco intended to present for identification 100,000 applicants residing outside the Territory and who reportedly had completed the preliminary vetting of those applicants. The POLISARIO categorically dismissed the applications as an attempt to include 100,000 Moroccan nationals in the voters' list.
The report said the POLISARIO also had major reservations about members of certain tribal groupings in the Territory -- "Tribus del Norte", "Costeras y del Sul" and "Chorfa". They rejected three groups as "in no sense belonging to the Territory". The POLISARIO had suggested that identification of the
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three groups be left until the end of the process, after the less contentious cases had been completed. That is what MINURSO had done in the planning for identification.
With respect to other groups, the report continued, POLISARIO had agreed to participate in identification on the assumption that the number would be modest and the individuals could be identified by one tribal leader from each side. The Government of Morocco, on the other hand, insisted that there should be no discrimination between applicants, irrespective of whether they were currently residing in or outside the Territory and irrespective of the criterion under which they applied. The MINURSO had an obligation to consider all applications which had been correctly submitted.
The report went on to say that technically, there would be no obstacle to organizing identification sessions in various places within or without the Territory, wherever the bulk of the applicants resided. The practice could continue of calling on two tribal leaders (sheikhs) from the tribal subgroup concerned, but these would not invariably be drawn from each side as had been the previous practice. If identification took place without the participation of the tribal leaders from the POLISARIO, it would require documentary evidence to establish that the individual's father was a Saharan who was born in the Territory.
The POLISARIO would be invited to observe the proceedings. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) should also be represented. If such a programme could be implemented, the report continued, there would be no practical reason why the identification of persons living outside, as well as those from the camps and the Territory, could not be completed in approximately four months.
The Government of Morocco had reiterated its commitment to reduce its troops to the agreed level of 65,000 at the appropriate time. The POLISARIO objected to the suggestion that its troops be confined outside the Territory. Morocco refused to agree that the POLISARIO troops be confined in the area between the sandwall (berm) and the international border of Western Sahara.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) would start working on the release of prisoners of war as soon as the parties were ready. Both parties said they were ready to address all questions relating to the agreement on the exchange of prisoners.
The code of conduct was finalized and sent to the two parties on 17 August and both sides later indicated their inability to accept it; the Secretary-General said he would further revise the code. Both sides were reluctant to compromise on any issue which they believed could weaken their own position. The Secretary-General appealed to the parties to make every effort to permit the expeditious implementation of the settlement plan.
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In another report (document S/1995/404) dated 19 May 1995, the Secretary-General stated that while the cease-fire was implemented and had been observed since 6 September 1991, the widely differing positions and preoccupations of the parties led to prolonged consultations in the search for compromises on other aspects of the plan, and the timetable for its implementation had been subjected to considerable adjustment.
The complexity and sensitivity of the identification process had not been foreseen. It had taken 10 months to process less than one third of the persons to be identified in the population centres of the Territory and the camps near Tindouf. However, many barriers that seemed insurmountable had been overcome and much had been achieved that now seemed irreversible.
According to the report, "potential voters are prepared to travel and to wait for hours in uncomfortable conditions. Parents and children, siblings, family members and friends are meeting for the first time after 18 years of conflict". The process represented the first genuine hope in two decades for resolving the dispute and made it impossible for the parties to revert to their previous positions without the most serious repercussions.
The Secretary-General stressed that the process could not, however, be brought to a successful conclusion without the full cooperation of the parties. The MINURSO could address technical difficulties as they developed, but could not force the parties to cooperate. If MINURSO were permitted to proceed rapidly with identification, the referendum could take place early next year. Before confirming the date for the start of the transitional period, progress must be achieved on other important aspects of the settlement plan.
According to the report, both parties might have lost some of the incentive to cooperate in the implementation of some elements of the settlement plan, because of the end of fighting and the delinking of the cease-fire taking effect and the start of the transitional period.
The Secretary-General stated that the rate of identification had been uneven. The timely availability of tribal leaders or persons to replace those elected in 1973 and no longer living had been the single greatest obstacle to identification since the process began. At the end of April, identification was taking place at only three centres, as problems were obstructing progress at the other five.
In another report dated 30 March 1995, (document S/1995/240), the Secretary-General noted that over 21,000 persons had been identified to vote in the referendum, and that the "suspicion and mistrust that have characterized the process are gradually being dampened". However, he said, they could easily be rekindled by others who might wish to undermine the process.
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The Secretary-General stated that the parties had been drawn into a new degree of engagement while concern about the outcome had contributed to increasing nervousness. Completion of the operation would depend on the smooth functioning of the complex logistical arrangements, the ready availability of sheikhs and tribal leaders and flexibility on the part of representatives and observers. The difficulties were complicated by the vast distances and the dispersal of members of each tribal subgroup throughout the towns of Western Sahara and the camps near Tindouf.
The Secretary-General urged the parties to abandon any insistence on strict reciprocity in the number of centres and on the linkage of a centre on one side with a specific centre on the other, since population distribution was uneven. Limits should not be imposed on the numbers to be identified on any given day. Also, the parties should proceed expeditiously with the implementation of other aspects of the settlement plan.
In an addendum to that report, dated 13 April 1995, (document S/1995/240/Add.1), the Secretary-General said the preliminary estimated cost of the deployment of MINURSO at full strength would be approximately $77 million for a six-month period.
Declaration on Decolonization
OTTO DURING (Sierra Leone) said that his Government was proud to have contributed to the work of the Decolonization Committee. It had been committed to the process of self-determination for more than 30 years, yet the task remained unfinished. Determined action was needed to win freedom for those people who were still unable to determine their own affairs, who were mostly from small island States in the Caribbean and Pacific region.
The size of those Territories should not be an impediment to implementation of the Declaration, he continued. He appealed to the Administering Powers to respect the rights and wishes of the peoples in the territories they governed.
WALID DOUDECH (Tunisia), said the United Nations had played an indispensable role in ensuring self-determination for people in the non-self- governing Territories. The Decolonization Committee had undertaken its work with determination and dedication since it was set up in 1961 and should continue to follow the economic, social and political situation in those Territories. It was a good place for people from the Territories to express their wishes. He welcomed the work of New Zealand which had permitted the territory of Tokalau to express its wish for a free association with the Administering Power.
He said most of the Territories lacked adequate resources; the international community and the Administering Powers must improve the living
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conditions, promote prosperity, and respect local culture and the people's capacity to govern themselves. The specialized agencies had a crucial role to play in promoting the economic and social situation in the small territories. Circulation of the Special Committee's Report would increase awareness of conditions in the territories.
Effects of Atomic Radiation
JUAN-MIGUEL MIRANDA (Peru) introduced the Report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, and submitted the draft resolution on the issue before the Committee. He expressed the hope that the draft would be adopted by consensus as in previous years.
NEIJON R. EDWARDS (Marshall Islands) said that of uppermost concern for the people of the Pacific were the dangers caused by the effects of atomic radiation, particularly as a result of nuclear testing. During the trusteeship administration, two of the northwest atolls of the Marshall Islands were used as a testing ground for at least 66 nuclear devices. Some of the explosions were up to a thousand times greater than the nuclear bombs detonated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including one of the biggest hydrogen bombs ever tested in the world, which was detonated in March 1954.
Such testing had significant effects on the health and environment of the islands, she said. Testing in the Pacific from 1946 to 1992 had "contaminated numerous islands and large areas of ocean with radiation; in the Marshall Islands alone, several islands were vaporized and others have been declared uninhabitable for thousands of years". The United States Atomic Energy Commission has called the Marshall Islands one of the most contaminated areas in the world. Health problems, such as miscarriages, stillbirths, cancers, birth deformities and other diseases, had increased up to 10 times pre-testing levels.
Residents of some of the atolls had been relocated. The people of the Bikini atoll remained nomads to this very day. With a total of only 170 square kilometres of land, the Marshall Islands viewed the loss of land as a blow to the nation's cultural fabric. Numerous scientists had called for further studies in the testing areas. Some scientists said that each test caused a massive bubble in the basalt rock resulting in a large unstable honeycomb structure. One more jolt, she said, might be all that was needed to collapse the entire atoll, unleashing a torrent of radiation on the Pacific islands. The tests must stop, she concluded.
KONG DEYONG (China) said the most recent results of Chinese studies on radiation effects were incorporated in the latest report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. The General Assembly
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should continue to support the research undertaken by the Committee to provide a scientific basis on which governments could explore the peaceful uses of energy.
JAVIER PEREZ-GRIFFO (Spain) speaking for the European Union, said that since its inception the Scientific Committee had played an important role in providing information, as well as education, about atomic and ionizing radiation and its effects on mankind and the environment. He welcomed the fruitful cooperation between the Scientific Committee and various United Nations agencies, and non-governmental organizations, particularly the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Commission on Radiological Protection.
The Scientific Committee should be encouraged for in its work on the effects of atomic radiation, he said. The European Union would like to see it continue its work and had therefore co-sponsored the draft resolution before the Committee.
SHRI P. V. KUMAR (India) said his Government was convinced that nuclear energy, incorporated effectively with other forms of power generation, would play an even more important role in the future. India was actively associated with non-power applications of atomic energy and was a leading producer of radio-isotopes which found applications in the fields of medicine, agriculture and industry. Nuclear energy was an important means to accelerate economic development.
India had the world's highest natural background radiation areas in certain parts of its southwest coast, and fairly dense populations had been living in those regions for generations. Scientific studies on human populations had been strengthened, and the cytogenetic and epidemiological data derived from those studies would help in a more precise understanding of the biological and health effects of chronic low doses in man.
OMAR JELBAN (Libya) said his Government attached great importance to the report of the Scientific Committee, in providing information on the issues which were researched by the Scientific Committee. These were issues which had a special importance for developing and developed countries. However, he said he was deeply concerned at press reports of increased radiation levels, caused by the Israeli Dimona nuclear reactor, which was polluting the neighbouring desert and countries in the region including his own. Israel had not acceded to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty or the supervision of its nuclear facilities by the IAEA. He also expressed disappointment at the resumption of nuclear testing by certain States in contradiction of the NPT review conference.
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He said the peaceful uses of nuclear technology could provide important contributions to medicine and other scientific fields. His own country had benefited from the assistance of the IAEA which had enhanced advances in medicine. He regretted that certain countries sought to limit the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
ALEJANDRO VERDIER (Argentina) said ongoing scientific progress should never lose sight of the human being. His government was doing research on atomic radiation and had followed the report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. The Committee should continue to analyze data, especially on sources of exposure, hereditary effects, and radiologically induced cancer. Argentina joined the international protest on the resumption of nuclear testing, continued to pursue the peaceful uses of atomic energy and supported the draft resolution.
Right of Reply
YVES DELAUNAY (France), in right of reply, said one delegation had called into question the innocuous nature of French nuclear testing. She had also indicated that what the French said about these tests was unimportant. French statements were based on scientific studies, which were very exact. The atoll where the tests were carried out had a very hard basalt sub- structure with a calcified superstructure, which was very secure. Only one tenth of a million of the total volume of the atoll was affected. France welcomed a test on the environmental impact of testing and was open-minded and transparent in an unprecedented way with regard to the tests.
Mrs. EDWARDS (Marshall Islands), said Ministers of the South Pacific Forum had already explained the region's concern in the General Assembly with regard to testing. She wanted an explanation from France as to why the testing could not be conducted in the Atlantic Ocean, or somewhere else closer to France.
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