Many of the 140 inhabitants of Bikini pleaded with the U.S. high commissioner for the Trust territory early this month to be permitted to remain on the radiation-contaminated atoll until final proof was found that it was unsafe, the Interior Department told a congressional subcommittee yesterday.
Despite that request. Ruth Van Cleve, director of Interior's Office of Territorial Affairs, said the entire group of 140 Marshall Islanders would be moved in mid-August.
Van Cleve said yesterday she did "not think they would be forceable evictions."
A spokesman for the Bikini people, Tomaki Juda, magistrate of the Kili/Bikini Council, said the Bikini residents were confused about the danger.
One week before the high commissioner arrived, Juda said, a doctor who regularly examines them under contract with the Department of Energy told the inhabitants that "Eneu Island (adjacent to Bikini) was safe and that they could eat and drink the coconuts on Bikini Island."
Then, Juda went on, the high commissioner came "to announce that the people had to leave Bikini and that Eneu is not considered safe at this time."
In their June 2 meeting on Bikini Island, High Commissioner Adrian P. Winkel told the subcommittee in a submitted statement that the inhabitants' choice, should they be forced to leave, would be to "move to 'public domain' land in the state of Hawaii or in mainland United States."
Interior officials and Marshall Island witnesses told the subcommittee yesterday that moving outside the Marshall Island would not be a reasonable solution to the problem.
The Bikinians' third choice, and the one they will probably get, was to leave their future to the high commissioner, who functions as the governor of the Pacific Islands trust territory.
Winkel and Van Cleve said yesterday that the Bikinians would be taken back to the island of Kili and resettled there in a new, but temporary, plywood village.
Bikini Atoll, a 23-island Pacific chain surrounding a lagoon, was the site of U.S. nuclear weapons tests from 1946 through 1958. In 1946, before the first test, its 157 residents were evacuated and eventually moved to Kili 300 miles to the south.
In 1954, the two former residential islands in the atoll, Bikini and Eneu, were closed as a result of fallout from a 15-megaton hydrogen bomb test, the largest device ever set off by the United States.
In 1969, the Atomic Energy Commission declared Bikini Island safe for habitation after uprooting the old coconut trees and planting 50,000 new ones. Beginning in 1970, some of the 450 Bikinians who lived on Kili began to return.
Two years ago, when the first locally grown coconuts and vegetables in Bikini began to be eaten, the residents began to show an unexpected increase of radiation in their systems.
Subsequent tests showed the plants were taking up unexpected amounts of cesium and strontium from the still-contaminated soil.
Last fall it was decided Bikini was unsafe for continued occupation but hope was held out that Eneu, which received less of the 1954 fallout, would have lower contamination levels.
Yesterday, Winkel said the Bikini residents wanted to stay on Bikini, or even move to Eneu temporarily, to await final word on that island's safety.
Department of Energy officials told the subcommittee that it would be January before the final results would be available. And they did not expect their recent prediction of unsafe to change.
Von Cleve said Interior "didn't want to take the risk of staying that long."
Juda, speaking for the Bikinians at the hearing, said he believed if the residents are told in August they must go that they would, "but sadly."
All the witnesses agreed that Kili would have to receive substantial U.S. aid if it were to end up as the permanent residence for the Bikinian people.
Interior has already requested $15 million to aid the Bikinian relocation - an amount that is consideration by [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCES] - an amount that is under consideration by the House subcommittee.