Now is the time for the people of Palau to revisit the Nuclear Free Movement and to consider the reasons behind our commitment and subsequent struggle for the safety and future of the people of Palau. We need to ask why did 92% of Palauan voters chose a Nuclear-Free Constitution? Japan suffered unprecedented damage resulting from a disastrous earthquake, tsunami and the subsequent accidents of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. We have to accept the fact that such unexpected devastating natural disasters and accidents will happen. The effects of nuclear disasters – whether by nuclear energy or nuclear weapons – are uncontrollable in time and space.

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If such a nuclear disaster happens to our small island nation, not only could the whole population of less than 20,000 people be victimized, but our beautiful islands and ocean with vast natural resources could be destroyed. We would lose our future prospects for survival, well-being and economic prosperity.

Our main island chain is only 160 km long, and the exclusion zones resulting from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster (Ukraine) and the recent disaster in Japan, have resulted in exclusion zones of at least 30 km, and substantial negative impacts elsewhere. We cannot afford to lose this much land to a nuclear “dead zone.” Furthermore, nuclear accidents result in the contamination of fish, crops and drinking water, and, as in the Chernobyl disaster, have resulted in long-term negative impacts on human health, including the increased incidence of some cancers and serious birth defects. We must not forget the devastating damage and suffering of our Micronesian brothers and sisters in the Marshall Islands, where the US Military conducted 67 nuclear tests in 1946-58. Many of the Marshallese people are dying of radiation-induced sicknesses. They cannot go back to their home islands and make a decent living due to radioactive contamination, inadequate clean-up and meager compensation from the USA.

About three decades ago, in 1979, in a quest to become an independent nation, the people of Palau declared themselves to be nuclear-free through Palau’s first Constitution. Palau became the first nuclear-free nation in the world, prohibiting the importation of nuclear weapons into its territory.

Unfortunately, this bold move to be nuclear-free put Palau into a collision course with the USA. In the following decade, after 92% of the people voted for the Nuclear Free Constitution, we were forced to fight against attempts by the USA to undermine Palau’s decision. We lost so much during the struggle and finally the constitution was undermined. However, the majority of the people still supported a nuclear free constitution. We are proud of the people of Palau for their farsightedness, courage and dedication to protecting the peace, safety and future of Palau.

Today, the world has changed dramatically from the time of the struggle. A large part of the earth is now covered by nuclear free zones. World leaders today are committed to a nuclear free world. The US President Barack Obama pledged to seek a nuclear weapon-free world in Prague in 2009. In 2010, the US and Russia agreed to make a further cut in their nuclear arsenals. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has proposed the start of negotiations for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The member states of the NPT (Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty), including nuclear weapon states, agreed to pursue “peace and safety of a world without nuclear weapons” in 2010. Moreover, some leaders are increasingly interested in pursuing clean, non-nuclear sources of energy (e.g., wind power), to meet their growing needs for electricity. We should support these efforts, and begin to practice energy conservation.

The nuclear disaster in Japan is a warning to us all. We call on the people of Palau to revisit the nuclear-free movement and join in the noble effort of rebuilding a nuclear-free Palau to ensure the safety and future of all of us.

The environment, natural resources, and, most importantly, the prospects for human health in this pristine Island Nation will be destroyed if one single nuclear accident happens in Palau and it will happen if we let it. We cannot afford to lose our home and Palau is our only HOME!

Nuclear Free Palau by Belhaim Sakuma [/restrict]