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August 22, 2013 @ 1:01 pm

Ep. 157 “Darlene Keju - Pacific Health Pioneer, Champion for Nuclear Survivors”

(hosted by Dr. Vivian Dames with production assistance of Joy White ) was recorded 7/30/13 and airs 8/2/13.  

Program guest is Giff Johnson (, author of Don’t Ever Whisper - Darlene Keju, Pacific Health Pioneer, Champion for Nuclear Survivors (2013)a recently published biography about his wife which he describes as “a story about taking risks and a passion for change . . about the desire of a young woman from a small Pacific island to gain an American education despite disadvantages of language and resources, and to use that education first to expose to the world a US government coverup of the damage caused by nuclear testing in her islands, and later to motivate and inspire young Marshall Islanders to make changes in their personal behavior that transformed the health of their communities.”   

Darlene Keju was born April 23, 1951 in the island of Ebeye in the Marshall Islands, next to the Kwajalein Missile Base (now the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Site). By that time, the United States had already detonated seven nuclear weapons at Bikini and Enewetak atolls. Shortly before her third birthday. the US tested ‘Bravo,” its largest hydrogen bomb explosion. The 15 megaton blast sent a massive fireball of radioactive coral, sand, trees, and water into the sky. The wind did the rest. Nuclear fallout from Bravo exposed hundreds of islanders, including Darlene, to radioactivity.  All told, the United States detonated 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands before halting its testing program in 1958, a few months after Darlene’s seventh birthday.  Darlene was diagnosed with breast cancer and died June 1996, just two months after her forty fifth birthday. 

Darlene grew up on a remote island, returned to Ebeye in 60s to see first hand the early stage of urbanization as its population swelled from US military relocations and the arrival of outer islanders looking for jobs, then left for the University of Hawaii to pursue her education eventually completing a Master’s degree in Public Health in 1983.  As she learned about her island’s history and relationship with the United States and engaged with community leaders active in Hawaiian and Pacific anti-nuclear, and sovereignty struggles, she began to appreciate the richness of her own culture and history.  She deftly used her island cultural skills in combination with her formal education to become a champion for nuclear survivors on a global platform and to become a force for change in her home islands.  

In hundreds of speeches Darlene made in the United States and the pivotal one to the World Council of Churches in Vancouver, Canada in 1983 (, she expressed her outrage over repeated resettlements of Marshall Islanders, continual and unnecessary exposure of people to nuclear test fallout and the resulting health problems, and the US governments’  refusal to admit that many more islands than Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap, and Utrik were affected.  All this in islands that the United States government was obligated by the United Nations Trusteeship Agreement  to “protect the inhabitants against the loss of land and resources ... [and] protect the health of the inhabitants....” She continued to work until her death with the Youth to Youth in Health (YTYIH) organization which she founded.  

In his foreword,  Francis  X. Hezel, S.J. notes, “This book  is more than a biography.  It’s a love story, written by a man who idolized the women he married.  But it’s also a tale of a woman who loved her people, seeing them as so much more than victims of nuclear irradiation and colonial despoilment. . .  [who had] the courage to dream daringly along with the commitment and patience to settle for one step  --one family, one atoll -- at a time.” 

Mr. Johnson was born in Chicago, grew up in Hawaii and Fiji, and has lived in the Marshall Islands since the mid-1980s. He was influenced in his writing by the activism of his parents who were engaged in the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s,  the anti-Vietnam War movement in the 60s and 70s, then issues related to land development in Hawaii, the US role in Micronesia, and the Pacific anti-nuclear movement. He edits the weekly Marshall Islands Journal and is a regular contributor to several regional news media.  His previous books include Collision on Course at Kwajalein:  Marshall Islanders in the Shadow of the Bomb (1984) and Nuclear Past, Unclear Future (2009).   

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