The Maralinga Cleanup.

A bit of revision. The ICRP recommendations are, fundamentally the Australian nuclear regulator’s (ARPANSA) guidelines. In as much as civil populations living under the “new” recommendations are concerned, the first people to effectively live under the regime are not Japanese, but Aboriginal Australians.

Here’s short recap on that story.

(From the time the British left Maralinga, (aside from “their” boy, Titterton, head of the Australian
Atomic Weapons Test Safety Committee, whilst receiving pay from Australia, was in fact acting for the British, or at the very least, had divided loyalties) the experts in authority deemed the place safe.

It not until the Royal Commission that veterans and others with knowledge were actually listened to in this regard. Sure enough, when John Bannon, the state premier went up there, wearing a suit and no respirator, towing a couple of ARPANSA scientists with him, including Peter Burns, it was confirmed that the place was unfit for human habitation. And the plutonium had been blowing about since the 50s.

(This was always a surprise to me, for I have had, since my time in the Army, the opinion, belief (dang knows where I got it from) that Australian Army units routinely but secretly monitored the fallout at the mainland sites in the same way the Navy monitored the Monte Bello Islands. The Navy monitoring can be talked about, the Army monitoring has never been publiished officially, so, as per usual, I must be
officially wrong. Why would a nuker hosting nation be the least bit interested in the data hmmmmm?)

Funny how the truth was acted upon only after Titterton had been dead a while. Fishy. Couldnt show the old turncoat to be liar while he was alive I guess.

Here’s the take on the result of the Maralinga cleanup which led to the result of the Aboriginal people to their land:
Australian Broadcasting Commission ABC TV
The Man From Maralinga

Broadcast: 02/11/2007

Reporter: Mike Sexton

IAN HENSCHKE: More than half a century after the last atomic test at Maralinga, traditional owners are on the verge of taking back their country.

But there are those who still question whether it is safe.

And a warning to Indigenous viewers, this report contains images of deceased persons.

ANDREW COLLETT: This area, section 400, the Maralinga test site, is like a little 4,000 square kilometre rectangle right in middle of the Maralinga lands. And so it is important for the Maralinga people to get that land back.

MIKE SEXTON: Maralinga in the state’s far north west is a giant slab of real estate which has an owner desperate to off load and a residential group eager to take up.

So in real estate terms, it should be a simple deal.

But there is rarely anything simple about this place, which translated from Pitjinjara, means Thunder.

A half a century ago, the British detonated seven nuclear weapons at Maralinga, but it was the so-called minor trials that caused most of the nuclear contamination.

Hundreds of smaller explosions scattered deadly plutonium across the desert.

After the British finished their tests, they paid for a clean-up they called Operation Brumby, which is now considered not much more than a tidy-up.

ALAN PARKINSON: Brumby was an absolute shambles. They claimed they had made that nice and safe and Sir Ernest Titterton was the head of the weapons test safety committee and he went and told the Government it was fine, everything’s good.

But when we uncovered the pits, we found that everything was not good.

MIKE SEXTON: Alan Parkinson is a nuclear engineer who was recruited by the Menzies Government to help build a nuclear power station in this country.

That project never eventuated, but a decade ago he found himself at Maralinga as a consultant for an ambitious project to clean up the old test site, once and for all, at a cost of $100 million.

While much of the work was removing and burying contaminated soil, the plutonium was to be dealt with by a state of the art system of superheating, known as vitrification.

ALAN PARKINSON: Now vitrification turns the whole lot into a hard glass-like rock. I have a piece of the rock here. Now this is not radioactive, but that’s what it does, turns it into that glass and that immobilises the plutonium and the other contaminants for perhaps a million years.

MIKE SEXTON: After a dozen successful vitrifications at burial pits around Maralinga, there was an unlucky 13th procedure when something buried in the 1960s exploded.

ALAN PARKINSON: It was certainly a serious situation. Nobody was involved, so nobody was injured at all, but it was a huge explosion.

MIKE SEXTON: As a result, vitrification was abandoned and the clean-up continued with all waste being buried.

In March 2000 at Ground Zero, the clean-up was declared a success.

NICK MINCHIN: We can shut the book on it, but in a way that is very positive for the future in the way that we have worked together with the Aboriginal people to clean up this area and rehabilitate it, not just to say sorry, but, sorry it happened but we’ll walk away. We’ve actually, as a people, and this is Labor and Liberal, together, have worked with the Aboriginal people to rehabilitate this area.

MIKE SEXTON: The idea was the land would then return to the traditional owners, the Maralinga Tjarutja.

Now after more than seven years of negotiation, that appears likely.

ANDREW COLLET: The hold up is really in negotiating the final agreement and also in relation to indemnities, which the South Australian Government and Maralinga Tjarutja have sought from the Commonwealth about future claims in respect of injury.

I am confident that those matters will be resolved and that the clean up sorry, the handover, will take place within the next six months or so.

MIKE SEXTON: Aside from being able to carry on traditional practices in their country, the Maralinga Tjarutja have modest plans to develop the old test site and village for tourism

ANDREW COLLETT: They have enormous interest to students of history, atomic physics and indeed botany. It is ironically a pristine botanic environment, and a very beautiful environment.

There are many people who have an interest in the sites, there are many former Australian service personnel who are out there in the ’50s and the Maralinga people would be delighted for them to come back.

MIKE SEXTON: But Alan Parkinson still believes the Maralinga Tjarutja have been short-changed.

He’s recently written his side of the story in a book explaining why he believes economics, not safety, was the reason for abandoning the vitrifaction process.

ALAN PARKINSON: The Government did not do what they agreed to do, and they did it just to save money.

MIKE SEXTON: Science Minister Julie Bishop declined to be interviewed but issued a statement describing Alan Parkinson as a disgruntled employee whose claims were without basis.

ALAN PARKINSON: Julie Bishop is wrong on both counts. I’m neither disgruntled nor an ex-employee.

I’m dismayed, I’m disgusted at what they’ve done and claim this is world’s-best practice and Maralinga is now safe.

MIKE SEXTON: Alan Parkinson has acted as an adviser to the Maralinga Tjarutja, and their lawyer says they share his concerns about the abandonment of the vitrification process, but they are taking a pragmatic approach, working a deal to cover future clean-ups.

ANDREW COLLETT: Things are about to change, and so Maralinga Tjarutja and the State Government would be crazy to say, “This is a good clean-up.”

It may be at the moment, it may not. The more important thing is to deal with further problems as they arise, and as they certainly will.

The Commonwealth Government, to their credit, has agreed that they will make that undertaking. And that would be an entirely appropriate undertaking to make.

MIKE SEXTON: While the traditional owners prepare to conclude decades of wrangling to control their country, the vitrification technology from Maralinga continues to be used successfully abroad.

Multinational engineering firm Amec acquired the worldwide rights to the process after the Maralinga clean-up, and has used it successfully in Japan and the United States.

Everyone agrees to various degrees that Maralinga is now cleaner than it’s been for decades, but Alan Parkinson still believes the Maralinga Tjarutja should bear in mind the adage that old test sites never die.

ALAN PARKINSON: It’s not my land, it is their land. I do not have the same affinity with the land that they would have, but I wouldn’t accept it back.
end quote.
ABC Radio Adelaide.
Nance Haxton reported this story on Friday, December 18, 2009 18:30:00

Maralinga traditional owners get their land back

MARK COLVIN: More than 50 years after Britain’s nuclear tests at Maralinga, the traditional owners have finally got the last of their land back.

Most of the Maralinga lands had already been returned to the Aboriginal people, but 3,000 square kilometres remained cordoned off. The site known as Section 400 was heavily contaminated by radiation and hazardous chemicals.

After years of Federal Government remediation, that last parcel was returned today to the Maralinga Tjarutja people in an emotional ceremony at Maralinga Village.

Nance Haxton reports from there.

(Sound of atomic bomb)

NANCE HAXTON: Maralinga was the site of seven of the now infamous British nuclear tests, with the first atomic bomb set off there in 1956.

ABORIGINAL ELDER: We’ll have a minute’s silence today for those who have passed on, those who have fought very hard for their country.

NANCE HAXTON: Hundreds of people gathered under trees at Maralinga Village today for the official hand-back of the land that was taken off them for the tests. Maralinga Tjarutja chairman Keith Peters says having the land returned will bring healing to the community.

KEITH PETERS: Our people fought, they fought so bad to get the land back, back in the past in the ’80s, and they’ve finally made it, to get the land back.

NANCE HAXTON: Members of the Maralinga Tjarutja community cried as the South Australian Governor Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce handed over the deed, such was their relief at having the last parcel of their land back.

Governor Scarce says today closes a sorry chapter in Australia’s history.

KEVIN SCARCE: In Britain’s race to develop a nuclear weapon capability this area was declared off limits to the traditional owners and they were forced to leave. Most were moved to coastal grey-sand country at Yalata, a place which they had no connection.

NANCE HAXTON: Maralinga Tjarutja Council member Mima Smart says it’s a special day for her people.

MIMA SMART: But their spirits are here and we can feel it with this beautiful day today, wind blowing, their spirits are here with us.

NANCE HAXTON: You’ve waited a long time for this?

MIMA SMART: Waited a long time. It took that long and we have to talk and talk.

NANCE HAXTON: The Maralinga lands are no longer desolate, with rolling red sand hills covered in dense scrub. But in the Maralinga Village, old cement blocks on the ground are an eerie reminder of the hundreds of people who once lived in buildings there during the nuclear tests.

South Australia’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jay Weatherill says it’s hoped that the remaining buildings and land can be used by the Aboriginal people for community and tourism facilities.

JAY WEATHERILL: There are opportunities now both with the handing back of this land, not only to restore people and their wellbeing but also to create some economic opportunities in Maralinga village.

NANCE HAXTON: Given the history though of the land is it a bit optimistic to think tourists will come here?

JAY WEATHERILL: No I think that this is a fascinating site. I mean the story of the Maralinga clean up, the story of the fight for justice; the artefacts and relics of the 1950s era are of great interest.

NANCE HAXTON: Lawyer Andrew Collett has represented the Maralinga Tjarutja people since the 1984 McClelland Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia. He says today’s hand-back is highly significant as the land finally poses no health risks.

ANDREW COLLETT: It’s a great tribute to the community, to their endurance that we’ve got there and it is a great day and it’s been a great model of cooperation and achievement by the community.

NANCE HAXTON: It’s taken years of federally funded remediation before the land could be returned. Even now there are areas that are restricted, places where it’s safe to hunt but not safe to live.

ARPANSA CEO Peter Burns says they had to remove the top 10 centimetres of topsoil from Section 400 and bury it on site, a process that took five years.

PETER BURNS: So in total about 200,000 cubic metres of soil was removed and buried.

NANCE HAXTON: So what’s the radiation level like at Maralinga now compared to other areas in Australia I suppose?

PETER BURNS: The actual general radiation level at Maralinga from background radiation is a lot less than a lot of areas of Australia. So apart from the contaminated areas, the level of radiation at Maralinga is quite low.

NANCE HAXTON: While the official authorities are reassuring the traditional owners that the land is now safe, there are still doubts. Mima Smart says they have mixed emotions about the hand-back.

MIMA SMART: We’re still a bit concerned that this land is not real clean, it’s not safe. But I know it’s still dangerous, the radiation is still around on trees and plants and buildings and the cement, everything you touch you are going to get infected because the radiation is still on this land, it is a happy day, a happy and a sad day.

MARK COLVIN: Maralinga Tjarutja Council’s Mima Smart ending Nance Haxton’s report.

end quote.

I believe it was Peter Burns who was the chief author of the following ARPANSA report, it has his feel about it, though on the ARPANSA site the actual author is not credited:

ARPANSA Maralinga Site Cleanup

Seven atomic explosions took place at Maralinga in 1956 and 1957.

The following information is an extract from a more detailed factsheet (PDF 121kb) which also contains an extensive reference list.
What caused the radioactive contamination at Maralinga?

Between 1955 and 1963, the United Kingdom conducted a program of nuclear weapons development tests at Maralinga in the remote outback of South Australia (Figure 1). This testing led to widespread dispersal of radioactive contamination to the local environment.

Seven atomic explosions took place at Maralinga in 1956 and 1957. The contamination from these “major trials” has largely decayed and no longer presents a significant health risk. Many “minor trials” were also conducted on the site. These were safety tests and other experiments designed to develop the components of a nuclear device. These tests involved the burning and explosive dispersal of plutonium, uranium, and other radionuclides. Much of the contamination from these minor trials remained on or close to the ground surface following the decommissioning of the site by the British. In many cases the radionuclides were short-lived and have long disappeared, but three sites, Taranaki, TM100/101 (TMs), and Wewak remained highly contaminated with plutonium 40 years later. This plutonium has been assessed as representing a significant health risk to potential occupants of the land.

Taranaki was the site of the last (Oct. 1957) and biggest (27 kilotons) nuclear explosion conducted at Maralinga (See factsheet for details). The device was exploded from a balloon at a height of 300 m and left the area relatively uncontaminated. The Taranaki site was subsequently used for a series of minor trials during the Vixen B series.

These Vixen B minor trials, conducted in 1960, 1961 and 1963, left Taranaki the most severely contaminated site at Maralinga. Approximately 22 kg of plutonium-239 (239Pu) and the same quantity of uranium-235 (235U) were dispersed at the site during 12 single-point safety trial.
What has been done to rehabilitate the site?

In a rehabilitation operation carried out by the UK Ministry of Defence in 1967 (Operation Brumby), an attempt was made to dilute the surface concentration of plutonium in the more highly contaminated areas, particularly in central Taranaki. This was done by turning over and mixing the surface soil. In future rehabilitation programs this area was known as the “ploughed area”.

Since the closure of the range in 1967, numerous studies have been carried out to map and characterise the contamination at Maralinga including detailed studies in 1984-85 by the Australian Radiation Laboratory (ARL, which became ARPANSA in February 1999). These studies revealed that contamination levels at the site were much greater than earlier acknowledged.

Planning of the latest clean-up began in 1993 with the establishment of the Maralinga Rehabilitation Technical Advisory Committee (MARTAC) whose purpose was to provide advice to the Department of Primary Industries and Energy (later the Department of Industry, Science and Resources, DISR), the project managers responsible for the site. MARTAC was given the responsibility for establishment of the clean-up criteria for remediation of the site. These clean-up criteria are presented and discussed in the factsheet.

The rehabilitation project consisted of defining the clean-up boundaries at the sites contaminated with plutonium, followed by bulk removal of contaminated soil from the three sites and burial within purpose-built burial trenches under at least 5 m of clean rock and soil. At Taranaki the 22 pits in which the British disposed of unknown quantities of plutonium associated with the 12 Vixen B firings also required rehabilitation. Eleven of these were treated by means of in-situ vitrification (ISV) while the remaining pits were exhumed and their contents reburied in another custom-built burial trench. Figure 2 shows the Taranaki site after removal of contaminated surface soil.

What is the risk from plutonium contamination?

Of the long-lived radionuclide contaminants at the Maralinga site, plutonium-239 presents the most significant radiological hazard. Other isotopes of plutonium contribute ~15% additional dose. The most important pathway for exposure is by inhalation. The aim of the recent rehabilitation of the Maralinga range was to reduce the risk arising from radiation exposure of individual Aborigines, living an outstation lifestyle, to a level that was acceptable to the Aboriginal community and the Australian Government.

Plutonium, being an alpha emitter, presents a health risk only if it enters the body. Of the three pathways for entry into the body (inhalation, ingestion, or through cuts and wounds), inhalation of plutonium and subsequent retention in the lungs gives rise to a risk of lung cancer. However, if the plutonium enters the body through one of the other pathways the greater risk is of bone cancer (osteosarcoma) or cancer of the liver. The degree to which each of these exposure pathways contributes to potential dose depends on the type of lifestyle practised by occupants of the land.

The plutonium at Maralinga is largely in the form of insoluble plutonium oxides. Due to this insolubility, the ingestion pathway is of much less importance to potential dose. Wound contamination is less likely to occur but does have the potential to deliver large single doses. For nomadic Aborigines such as the Maralinga Tjarutja, living an outstation lifestyle, the inhalation dose pathway is by far the most significant for both adults and children.
What is Maralinga like now?

Radiation doses for the inhalation pathway have been calculated for a range of sites and scenarios at Maralinga (See factsheet for details) following the 1994-2000 clean-up, to ensure that the whole Maralinga area has been rendered safe.

From pre-remediation dose estimates, certain areas were found to have inhalation dose rates that were too high to be acceptable under all but the most rigorously controlled circumstances. These included central areas at Taranaki, Wewak, TM100 and TM101. Now, following the rehabilitation by removal and burial at depth of contaminated surface soil, all areas at Maralinga have been shown by the dose assessments to be well within acceptable limits for all envisaged land uses.

The current restriction on permanent occupancy within a ‘restricted land-use’ (non-residential) boundary surrounding Taranaki can be seen as a purely precautionary measure as doses due to inhalation for permanent occupancy of all but a few areas (essentially within the untreated plumes) are well below the 1 mSv/y limit for members of the public. For a semi-traditional Aboriginal lifestyle, with camp sites occupying considerable area and moving regularly, it is difficult to envisage circumstances which would lead to inhalation doses, even within most of the restricted zone, above acceptable limits. The argument for maintaining restrictions on land-use at central Taranaki should perhaps be seen as restricting access to the sites of the new burial trenches (and thus discouraging intrusion).

It is now impossible for casual visitors making intermittent forays to the area, for example tourists, geological prospectors and surveyors, who do not engage in abnormal dust raising or large-scale soil-disturbance activities, to receive a committed effective dose by inhalation of anything approaching 1 mSv. The estimated doses received during ambient (calm) conditions are very low, and exposure to the substantial dust loadings observed during times of severe dust storms also results in doses which are essentially insignificant.”

end quote.

The concept of the commitment dose upon which the dose is calculated presents problems when presented as a transient dose presents problems based upon assumptions and calculations with which allow risk presented as an optimistic outcome.

the Beagles were not so lucky. And the Australian government refuses the logical and simple reason for the elevated risk nuclear veterans suffer as a result of their status as nuclear veterans.

hmm, Titterton, maybe some does get in stay there. Can’t tell the English Law Lords that though. they will not hear it.

Here’s what Peter Burns said on ABC radio a few years ealier.

“Plutonium is an alpha emitting nuclide that is very insoluble so that when you breathe it in, it lodges in the lung and stays there for a long period of time, close to living cells and emits a large amount of energy, radiation into those cells which can cause damage.

In 1967, the British launched Operation Brumby, to rid Maralinga of plutonium. The worst of the contaminated debris and soil were entombed in burial pits, capped with half metre-thick layer of concrete, and fenced off. The British pronounced it clean. It was anything but.

In 1984, just before the Maralinga lands were to be handed back to traditional owners, the Australian Radiation Laboratory checked the sites for contamination. …..Uranium emits alpha particles of the same sort of energy as plutonium but because plutonium is a lot more radioactive per unit mass, you only need to breathe in a micro-gram, one millionth of a gram of plutonium to produce a significant dose of radiation whereas with uranium you need to breathe in nearly a gram or so to produce the same effects.

In 1986, a Technical Assessment Group was appointed by the Commonwealth Government. Its goal was to reduce contamination at Maralinga to an International Standard of 5 mSv – that is, equivalent to 5 lung X-rays per year. That clean-up is now underway.

Contamination soil is scraped off in 20 cm layers. It’s hauled to 15 m-deep burial trenches, excavated into rock. The trenches will be filled to within 3 m of the existing surface level and then capped with a 5 m deep layer of uncontaminated topsoil. The soil can’t escape into the surrounding rock – and there is no ground water to wash it away. Revegetation will stop the 5-metre top layer from eroding. It is a painstaking and exacting clean-up.

The clean-up’s major problem is protecting the workers from exposure to plutonium dust. The cabin of every vehicle that ventures into the so-called “red zone”, is sealed tight. A health physicist checks for plutonium contamination every time workers stop for a tea or lunch break. A raised walk-way keeps the boots away from potentially contaminated soil.

Barney O’Donohue is one of a dozen drivers who are subjected to rigorous scrutiny according to protocols laid down by the Australian Radiation Laboratory. Computerised records of who goes where and when are scrupulously maintained. Hands and boots are checked for radioactive residue upon every exit and entry. Inhaling plutonium dust is all too easy. But how is it detected?

Peter Burns, Australian Radiation Laboratory
“As part of all the plutonium that is here on the site, there is a small impurity called americium and that emits a gamma ray which is fortunate from our point of view because plutonium itself is very difficult to detect, but by looking for the gamma ray that is emitted from americium we can measure how much plutonium there is in the lungs.”

Every month Barney’s lungs are checked on-site for signs of plutonium dust. Australia’s radiation standards stipulate that workers are not to receive doses exceeding 10 times what they’d absorb from nature. By comparison, the limit for public exposure, is one-twentieth of worker’s levels. Only after rigorous testing, can workers continue to be exposed. So far, no-one at the Maralinga clean-up has recorded any trace of plutonium in the lungs.

After a year, the most heavily contaminated site at Taranaki, has been cleared. But how do we know it’s safe? After a layer of contaminated topsoil has been removed, this vehicle traverses every centimetre of the site. Detectors look for traces of plutonium. A global positioning system locates the exact position of each fragment. In the sealed cabin, a computer logs contamination levels. Where radiation exceeds specified standards, the scrapers are brought in and another 20 cm of soil is removed.

Where specks of plutonium remain, they’re swept up, vacuumed and taken away to the burial trenches. Finally, a specially-designed vehicle gives the entire surface another going-over from a height of four metres. By this stage, the site has met all the formal clearance criteria.

During Operation Brumby, the British took the most of the contaminated material, test site debris, and bulldozed it into burial pits. It remained highly dangerous. It is currently being immobilised, permanently.

These lumps of ceramic-like rock were originally highly contaminated bomb debris. They’ve been radically altered here on site by a process called “vitrification”.
end quote.

Peter, you can’t have it both ways mate. If it stays in the lungs a long time, why treat it like a transient dose ??

And, since the vitrification process was abandoned, you can’t say the place is as safe as planned originally. While I’m at it, re the whole body scanner for the clean up crew. It left Australia didn’t it? While it was here, did ARPANSA think to use it to check the veterans, military and civilain?

Ef, that would be a no. There is no other in the country.

Once its deemed safe by the authorities, you are’nt allow to question their internal logic. The Law Lords won’t allow it. Really.

One day the medical records and the regular monitoring reports from 1964 to 1975 will pop up. At the moment they are lost or didn’t happen. imo.

Of course, it is bleedingly obvious that the nuclear veterans of the 1950s should have been subject to the same standards of care and protection against internal contamination as Barry and the other cleanup workers.

Back the 1950s in actual fact, hot on the heels of the findings of Hamilton’s war time work (reliant as that was on even earlier work), the concept of protection against internal emitters was actually one which the competent were acutely aware. They knew what they were doing, and knew what they were omitting, in terms of radio-protection when they diverted conscripts and other troops from normal duties to the still hazardous and patently dangerous dangerous Maralinga lands.

If dozer drivers in the 1990s had to have sealed cabs and internal scans, how much more so the troops in the dust of the 1950s?

Of course, the Law Lords will admit this, or even hear of it.

One Response to “The Maralinga Cleanup.”

  1. CaptD Says:

    I think the last sentence should read:
    Of course, the Law Lords will NEVER admit this, or even hear of it.

Comments are closed.

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