ABCNEWS April 23, 1998
The following is a transcript of an ABC World News Now interview with Bikini Trust Liaison Jack Niedenthal two days after a Bikinian delegation met with U.S. Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt. This interview, which occurred in Washington, D.C., followed the airing of a 4 minute segment about Bikini Atoll filed by ABC correspondent Mike Lee.
Mark Mullen [ABC New York]: ...And Jack Niedenthal is the liaison for the people of Bikini, he was with them when they met with Interior Secretary Babbitt, he spends a lot of time on Bikini Island and is married to one of its people. He joins us from Washington now, nice to see you.
Niedenthal: Thank you.
ABC: Let's bring everybody up to date. There have been tests since 1968 commissioned by the U.S. government which have essentially declared Bikini safe...Yet the people are still very reluctant because of what happened in 1968, correct?
Niedenthal: That's correct. They generally have a mistrust of U.S. scientists--and even international scientists--and its very difficult for them to believe anything about Bikini when it is such a complicated issue. They really need assurances from the U.S. government as you were saying before. It is very important for them.
ABC: Not only assurances from the U.S. government, but they want to hear it from President Clinton himself, correct?
Niedenthal: That's correct. Just like it was in 1968 when President Johnson told them it was safe, they would like the same assurances from President Clinton that Bikini is now safe and they won't settle for anything less.
ABC: Jack, you met with Secretary Babbitt on Tuesday. Any assurances from him?
Niedenthal: Secretary Babbitt was very nice to us. He assured us that the U.S. government would have a commitment to the people of Bikini, a commitment to not only themselves now, but to their grandchildren, and that was very heartwarming for the Bikinians to hear that. But they still want the reassurances from the President--and Mr. Babbitt could not do that for us at the time we met with him.
ABC: Your wife is a Bikinian, as we mentioned, if you all went to live on Bikini right now, could you? Would you feel safe?
Niedenthal: Me, personally, I have no problems with it. I've read six different scientific studies on Bikini. There would have to be a little bit of a cleanup done--a scraping of the lagoon area and also the potassium put down along the back of the island. I have no problems with it. I've had my children up there. I go up there all the time to dive. But I also understand why the people of Bikini--most of them--could not do that because of what happened in 1968. So we really have to distinguish between my personal opinions and what the Bikinians feel.
ABC: We should point out also that a $170 million trust fund has been established, but sometimes the money, you all worry, has not been coming quickly enough to do the cleanup, right?
Niedenthal: Well, we have three different trust funds. But the main trust fund is about $125 million right now. And that trust fund we can only use so much a year--between 8 to 10 million--and the problem is we have to use portions of that budget each year to take care of our people where they are now. So, the immediate needs are competing with the desire to clean Bikini and of course when you have to feed people and clothe people and take care of health care and education, those things tend to come first. So the cleanup has gone a little bit slower than we would like.
ABC: Something you said also brings me to our last question, Jack, and that is: With all of the subsistence, with the sort of welfare state that has been established trying to help the people who have been displaced, do you worry about an entire generation now not having the tradition of fishing and farming and really having to start from scratch?
Niedenthal: Well, I am the father of one of those generations--I have four kids--and it is very disheartening. I try to bring the elders around my kids as much as I can to teach them those things. But when you're off that atoll and you're living on a single island like most of the Bikinians do, most of their customs and traditions have gone by the board and I don't know if we'll ever be able to get them back. The only thing we can do is try to create a modern economy on Bikini with the diving and the fishing and hope that somehow we can work back towards the things that they cherished about their older culture and perhaps one day we can get them back onto a level that they once were.
ABC: Fair enough. Jack Niedenthal--from the heart. We wish you luck.
Niedenthal: Thank you.