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HALF LIFE

Australia, 1985 (MIFF 1985)

Director: Dennis O'Rourke

Most of us imagine the Pacific as a place of idyllic tropical islands, beautiful palm-fringed beaches and sparkling azure seas, where carefree islanders live contentedly in Paradise. In the Nuclear Age, this is no longer the case.

The Marshall Islands are a part of Micronesia; they are about 2,000 miles south-west of Hawaii and comprise approximately 30 small, but beautiful, atolls and islands, inhabited by people who migrated from Asia thousands of years ago. These people adapted to their unique environment they were self-sufficient and developed a rich culture formed on their relationship with the land and sea.

Shortly after dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States was searching for an appropriate site for future atomic testing. The Cold War was in progress and the search was urgent. The US looked to the Marshall Islands for a number of reasons - it had just won the islands from Japan, they were a long way from America and they were populated by a small, overawed and politically innocent group of natives.

During the next decade, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) of the United States exploded 66 atomic and hydrogen bombs on the islands in direct violation of a United Nations "Strategic Trust" Agreement of 1947, under which the US had agreed to protect the health of the Marshallese people.

Of all the nuclear tests carried out in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958, one has come to symbolise the dark threat of nuclear weapons. On March 1,1954, the first hydrogen bomb codenamed "Bravo" was exploded at Bikini Atoll. It was one of the largest and "dirtiest" bombs ever tested.

For the inhabitants of Rongelap Atoll, March 1st, 1954, was the day the snow fell. The resident magistrate had been warned by a US navy man there would soon be a huge nuclear blast on Bikini Atoll, one hundred miles away, and that his people would be in danger. During earlier tests at Bikini, the Americans had evacuated the Rongelap population as a precaution - this time there was no evacuation. Several hours after the "Bravo" explosion, powder began to fall on Rongelap. So began one of the most bizarre experiments of modern science and medicine.

In 1985, it has finally been revealed that the AEC knew that the wind direction prevailing at the time of the "Bravo" explosion would blow fallout over Rongelap and deliberately allowed a substantial dose of radiation to be encountered by the local population. They subsequently arranged for teams of doctors and radiation experts to commence studies on the unfortunate Marshallese.

In this sense, the Marshall Islanders are the first victims of the Third World War. They are living confirmation of what life will be like for that part of the human race which 'survives' a nuclear war and continues to live only half a life.

See also...

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Mongrel's Funeral

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