PARLIAMENT OF AUSTRALIA
Title: QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE, PLUTONIUM RESIDUES, MARALINGA. Senate Hansard
Thursday, 31 May 1984 Page: 2227
Senator MAGUIRE —My question is directed to the Minister for Resources and Energy. I refer to reports today that amounts of plutonium were discovered recently at the Taranaki site at Maralinga in South Australia. Why has it taken so long to find these pieces of plutonium? Have staff resources and the technology for monitoring been upgraded recently, thus enabling this new plutonium to be discovered? Who will be responsible for removing the plutonium? Will it be repatriated to the United Kingdom, as in the case of plutonium identified in the 1970s? Can the community be reassured that there is little or no likelihood of there being further plutonium at Maralinga?
Senator Jessop —An absolutely stupid question.
Senator WALSH —I certainly do not think it is a stupid question. In fact, I think that is a pretty stupid comment to make about an important question. I am sure that the people of South Australia will be pleased to know that Senator Jessop thinks that is a stupid question and they can make their views known to him as to whether they think it is a stupid question. There are a number of possible reasons for the long time it has taken to discover the substantial pellets of plutonium that have been discovered at Maralinga in recent days; it is not necessarily an exhaustive list. I understand that there has been some technical improvement in the equipment used to search for contaminated materials. In the past the main emphasis, I am informed, in the radiological surveys has been directed towards sites where the bomb tests were held in the 1950s rather than the sites where the minor trials were held in the 1950s and the 1960s. The plutonium residues are almost certainly the result of the minor trials rather than the bomb tests. Moreover, in the past surveys were concentrated on area levels of radiation rather than very specific pinpointed levels.
As those who went to Maralinga last week would know, prior to the trip by Mr Bannon, myself and others, the people conducting the survey had searched and found a couple of pinpointed areas where the readings were quite high. Journalists and others in the party were shown those specific points. No decision has yet been made as to what should be done with whatever plutonium is recovered or for the final treatment of the site. It would be premature at this stage to make such a decision, at least until the radiological survey has been completed and the results analysed. I believe that will most likely take some three to four months. However, it should be noted that the previous Government in 1979, when a small quantity of plutonium embedded in salt was returned to the United Kingdom, signed an agreement or exchanged letters with the United Kingdom absolving the United Kingdom of any further responsibility for the repatriation from Australia of plutonium which had been deposited here during the weapons tests and other trials.
Senator Cook —You mean the Libs sold us out?
Senator WALSH —Yes. The original permission for these trials to be conducted in Australia was given by irresponsible State and Federal Liberal Party governments and the most recent Liberal Party government absolved the British from any further responsibility for the plutonium residues from those trials.
Senator Maguire’s last question was about whether the Government can reassure the community that no more specks or granules of plutonium of that size will be discovered. The answer has to be no, we cannot be certain that further granules of that size will not be discovered. Indeed, the fact that some have already been discovered in an area of at least 50 acres, being the possible area where such granules could be found, makes it likely that there would be granules, if not of that size, which in total would equal that much plutonium. I am not certain at this stage whether the two-gram speck that was found was inside or outside the fenced area at Taranaki. The people I contacted last night could not assure me of that, but I will let Senator Maguire know as soon as the information becomes available.
RETURN TO MARALINGA,
Australia Bomb Test Site
On 24 May 1984 a special VIP flight to the RAAF left Adelaide for Maralinga. On board were the Minister of Resources and Energy, Senator Walsh, and the south Australian Premier, John Bannon, accompanied by scientists of the Australian Radiation Laboratory. The tour of the bomb sites took no more than four hours and the politicians learned little more than they already knew from their briefings in Canberra and Adelaide. But the importance of the trip was symbolic. The representatives of the Federal and South Australian Government were there jointly to express their regret that the atomic test series had ever been allowed to take place in Australia and to pledge their support for all investigations into the possible harm done to servicemen, Aborigines and the environment.
The test site visitors were presented with an array of desert landmarks that bore witness to the nuclear events that took place at Maralinga only three decades before. They are the debris of major tests, minor trials, clean-up operations and burial sites: the remains of which had been variously exhumed, relocated, auctioned and, in one case transported back to Britain. Where there once were craters, there were now concrete pyramids solemnly inscribed ‘Test Site A British Atomic Weapon was exploded here on ….’. Where there would have been trees and scrub before the explosions, there were now the burnt-out skeletal remains. Nuclear burial sites were surrounded by barbed-wire fences with radiation warning symbols and written warnings in English, Greek, Italian , Serbo-Croatian and Spanish. More ominously, teams from the Australian Radiation Laboratory guiding the ministerial team showed the presence of radioactive material on the surface of the range with their constantly clicking Geiger counters.
The Maralinga site will be a no-go area for many hundreds of years. At the One Tree test site, the scene of the first atomic bomb exploded at Maralinga, scientists have recorded the highest residual radioactivity level of any of the blast sites. It will be unsafe for human occupation well into the next century. At Taranaki, scene of the balloon-burst, twenty-one burial pits contain over 800 tons of contaminated material, including plutonium. At the test sites code-named TM 100 and 101, the experiments carried out in the minor trials left some twenty kilos of plutonium scattered over the surrounding area, and evidence of minute particles of plutonium on the surface of the ground are still picked up on the detection devices used by survey teams. The Australian Radiation Laboratory has declared that the British attempts at cleaning up after the tests were inadequate. The clean-up operation, code-named brumby, was carried out by a team of royal Engineers and scientists from AWRE in 1967. Before that date, the plutonium was left where it had been scattered. During Brumby it was ploughed back into the earth, under 10 centimetres of topsoil. Those who know the famous Maralinga winds and dust have argued that such a precaution was inadequate and the plutonium-contaminated soil was bound to get dispersed over the surrounding country. ‘The storms were like whirlwinds’, one veteran remembers, ‘and very powerful’.
There was also the problem of Cobalt 60, a powerful gamma emitter. It was not until British records showed that Cobalt 60 pellets were found scattered at Maralinga that it became known that cobalt had been tested as a bomb component. One of the British clean-up team at Brumby remembers ‘hand-scavenging’ the pellets., which involved locating the pellets and scooping them up on a trowel of sand and placing them in a lead tin under the supervision of AWRE scientists. ‘Although we all started keenly enough and aware of some danger, after a while things started being rushed and our boffin friends seemed homesick! This is when to my mind things got skimped. I know we did not recover all the pellets before the site was taken as cleared. I hope no Aborigine ended up carrying a pellet of cobalt between his toes one day!” Another veteran remembers hand-picking the still radioactive material that had been fused into glass by the heat of the atom bomb at the One Tree site. They were given protective clothing for the job but because of the temperature in the 120s they wore just army shorts and boots and dispensed with their respirators. The details of the 1967 clean-up operation were all carefully catalogued in a report by AWRE scientist, Noah Pearce. The Australian Weapons Safety Committee said they were happy with the operation and the ‘Pearce Report’ was subsequently classified by the British Government. Britain told Australia that she had no further use for the site, which remained under Federal control pending a survey and to ‘return’ to the South Australian Government. A permanent police presence was established at the site, located in the former cook-house, and a perimeter fence was built around the prohibited area. The authorities no doubt hoped that the story of Maralinga would remain safely behind barbed wire and in the vaults, hidden in British classified documents.
It was not so easy for the Federal Government to forget about the other ‘remains’ of Maralinga – the Australian veterans and their families who claimed that men had suffered as a result of the tests. In 1966, Melbourne widow Peggy Jones began her campaign for compensation for the death of her husband Bill. Warrant Officer William Jones was the serviceman who had stayed beside his tank in a forward area for two days after one of the 1953 detonations. He died of cancer thirteen years later. In 1974, she won a lump sum of $8600 under the Compensation (Australian Government Employees) Act. At the same time, Maralinga veteran Rick John stone successfully persuaded the authorities that his blood condition and nervous disorders had been caused by his experiences on the range. He was awarded a fortnightly payment of $220 by the commonwealth Employees’ Compensation board. It was a breakthrough despite the small payments made. The authorities had admitted responsibility for injuries incurred because of the tests. The veterans’ cause in Australia was launched.
The Australian Nuclear Veterans’ Association (ANVA) was formally set up in 1979 by two Vietnam veterans, Pat Creevey and Harold Crosbie. Both men had had experience of fighting the government on behalf of the victims of Agent Orange and they were armed with the necessary know-how to organize a medical questionnaire for their members. A year after its foundation, the Association had enlisted four hundred veterans, of whom ninety had cancer, seventy-seven of them terminal cases. Crosbie immediately challenged the government to set up a proper epidemiological study to prove whether a disparity existed between their cancer victims and a control group. Other veteran organizations, such as the Maralinga and Monte Bello Atomic Ex-servicemen’s Association, have been established in ANVA’s wake. In the face of anxious questions from the veterans, both the British and Australian Governments assured the Australian associations that safety precautions at the test were second to none. Sir Ernest Titterton made a public statement that ‘no one suffered on account of the test programme in Australia’. Nonetheless, the ‘Maralinga question’ became a national issue and the veterans’ association shave grown steadily since their formation. In 1980, when Adelaide’s Advertiser ran a bomb test veterans’ campaign, hundreds of veterans began to tell their stories. Some were incredible but others were genuinely alarming. The issue was frequently debated in Parliament, highlighting the differences between the Liberal Party, whose predecessors had invited the bomb tests to be held in Australia and the Labor Party, more traditionally ambivalent about the Commonwealth and nuclear matters. The main anti-Government protagonist was the Labor MP, Tom Uren. He told the House of Representatives that the Maralinga story was one of ‘negligence, dishonesty and secrecy on behalf of the Liberal-National Country government. Public concern has been answered by a series of untruths and half-truths about what testing took place at Maralinga, and the hazards present.’
Senator Carrick’s statement in 1980 that his Government believed there was ‘no case to answer’ and that there was no need for a full medical or judicial inquiry served merely to incense the veterans’ organizations and redouble their efforts to win compensation. After their first successes under the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act, ANVA pushed forward a claim from Lance Edwards, the RAAF squadron leader who had eaten the packed lunch on the flight through the cloud after the Totem 1 shot. He developed cancer of the thyroid and, after acknowledging that his illness was due to the atomic blast, the Compensation board awarded him only $4000. Widows who applied for compensation fared rather better. Four widows were awarded the maximum allowable under the scheme, $36,000, about one year’s salary for a squadron leader.
While the government tried to shelve the veterans’ issue, they were unable to ignore the publicity given to the stories of plutonium waste left at Maralinga. The secrets of the Pearce Report were revealed to the public by Australian veteran, Avon Hudson, whose television interview in 1976 caused a sensation. Hudson gave the first details of the ‘minor trials’, in which he had worked as a construction engineer on the bomb platforms. He revealed how the shots scattered plutonium, Cobalt 60, beryllium and natural uranium over the South Australian desert, and he alleged that 40 kilos of plutonium remained at Maralinga. In reply, the south Australian Mines and Energy Minister, Hugh Hudson, confirmed that 800 tonnes of radioactive waste was buried in Maralinga and suggested that the area should be monitored. The following year, the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory council reported that plutonium was scattered over some of the test sites and that they were unsuitable for permanent settlement. Furthermore, in a report to the Prime Minister, Defence Minister Killen said that it was possible for a small, determined group of terrorists to remove the ,plutonium and use it against the population. The Australian Government had recently rarified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and ministers believed it would be wiser to get rid of their nuclear inheritance.
In October 1978 the Australian Foreign Affairs Department sent a telegram to the British Foreign Office asking Britain to remove some of the plutonium. The British sent out a team to survey the possibilities and Britain agreed to clear up some of the nuclear rubbish. On 17 February 1979, three Hercules aircraft arrived at Maralinga containing supplies and equipment for the job. The clean-up ‘task force’ was made up of members of the commonwealth police, AWRE scientists and members of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. In appalling heat, the team started work at sunrise and after a midday break continued working under floodlights into the night in the so-called ‘airport cemetery’ where the bins containing the radioactive material lay buried. Because it was considered unwise to handle the bins, a crane had to be improvised to raise them to the surface. It took dour days to remove the first bin to examine the contents. An area around the excavated site was cordoned off and access denied to all except scientists wearing protective clothing and respirators.
The burial records were imprecise and there was some confusion as to which bin contained the plutonium. Dr Symonds, chief scientist at the Australian Energy Commission, had to put his gloved hand into one of the containers. The first time he carried out this hazardous operation, plutonium contamination was detected on his glove and the men knew that they had located the bin containing the recoverable material. It took ten buckets of grout to reseal the container and the official records show that Dr Symonds lost three kilos in weight during the operation. Emergency oxygen supplies were on standby throughout and the medical team present forbade anyone to spend more than an hour at a time on the operation. After the grouting, tin drums sealed with concrete were used to transport the plutonium ‘home’ to Aldermaston. With hindsight, scientists today agree that the operation was unnecessary and possibly foolish. The British only repatriated half a kilo of plutonium – all that was transportable. The rest was left churned up in the Maralinga soil, and at least nineteen and a half kilos of plutonium remain. Nonetheless, ‘honour’ on the part of the Australian Government was satisfied and the International Atomic Energy Authority noted with gratitude that no reportable nuclear material from the tests was left at Maralinga. The operation had been carried out on the understanding that Britain would never again be asked to remove waste from Australia.
In 1982, the Australian Government sought to regain the initiative by commissioning a study by the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council into the safety measures during the tests and their possible after-effects. A second study was made by the Commonwealth Department of health into the ‘Health of Atomic Test Personnel’. The report from AIRAC, which came out in 1983 claimed that no Australian who worked on the test range was exposed to levels of radiation higher than those permitted by international recommendations. There was ‘no evidence’ that members of the RASF or ground crews received excess doses of radiation. There was also ‘no evidence’ that any Aborigine was injured by the nuclear tests. AIRAC’s only concession to human error was in admitting the possibility that unauthorized entry to a contaminated area fouled not be entirely ruled out, but here again ‘no evidence has been found that such an incident occurred’. A year after the report’s publication, a Radiation council member told the authors that ‘AIRAC9’, as the report is known, was ‘written without wanting to offend the British’.
The special committee chaired by Professor Kent, set up in 1984 by the Hawke government to review all the literature concerned with the test series criticized AIRAC9 for its obfuscation, especially in those parts dealing with matters of political and public sensitivity, and for significant omissions of highly relevant data. Most of all it disagreed with the philosophy behind it: ‘the use of simplified assumptions which do not accurately reflect the complexities of what took place and the constant endeavour to present the best possible case, which results in a comfortable picture of the British nuclear tests’.
1983 brought a new government and a new attitude to the test debate. In March, Bob Hawke’s Labor Party, the party which had promised a full inquiry in October 1980, was voted back into office after eight years in opposition. Labor Ministers used the historical association of the tests with the Liberal party and their own ‘innocence’ in the affair to full advantage. Never one to mince words, the Minster for Resources and Energy, Senator Walsh, told Parliament during one of his early debates on the tests that the real villain was Sir Robert Menzies, ‘the lickspittle empire royalist who regarded Australia as a colonial vassal of the British Crown’. In his first ministerial visit to London , foreign Minister bill Hayden asked the Thatcher government to ‘open up the files’ so that his Government could resolve once and for all whether sufficient safety measures had been taken during the test series. In a press conference held before Australian and British journalists at the Australian High Commission in London, Hayden said that the tests had taken place ‘in an atmosphere of incompetence and ignorance’.
The new government brought a rush of revelations about the test series. The premiers of south Australia and Victoria both protested when it was discovered that fallout over Adelaide and Melbourne had been higher than previously admitted. A former worker in the physics department at the Peter MacCallum Clinic to Melbourne told the Melbourne Age that a survey in 1957, after the Monte Bello and early Christmas Island tests, detected radiation levels up to 167 times the normal background radiation. Laboratory technicians in Adelaide claimed that one of their team, Keith Oliphant, brother of the nuclear physicist Sir Mark Oliphant, had admitted falsifying the records of radiation levels over Adelaide after the Maralinga tests by moving the decimal points ‘one or two places’. In fact the fallout recorded by the now dead Oliphant should have shown radiation levels one thousand times those normally recorded.
There was renewed concern over the environmental hazards at Maralinga. In March the Maralinga Tjarutja Land Rights Act was passed, handing back to the Aborigines the land that had been ‘requisitioned’ by the Federal government for the bomb tests in 1955. Two months later, however, the Pearce Report with its full revelations about contamination at Maralinga was tabled before the Federal Parliament. During his trip to London, foreign Minister Hayden had asked the British to issue the full unexpurgated version. Before this, Parliament had had to rely on an edited version deposited in Canberra in 1979. The Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement wanted to know how safe the area surrounding the bomb site was. While it was agree that the immediate test site area should remain condoned off, there was concern about contaminated wildlife straying beyond the limits of the prohibited area. Aboriginal groups had been seen camped within thirty miles of the bomb craters and it was possible that they were eating contaminated rabbit flesh.
The deathbed confession of John Burke added to the furore. He claimed that he had found four dead Aborigines in a bomb crater in 1963. He also revealed details of the hitherto unpublicized minor trials and claimed that he knew that Aborigines had already taken advantage of their salvage rights in the area. They had, according to Burke, dug up contaminated articles such as Land Rovers and heavy engineering equipment and had sold them in Coober Pedy. Within days of his death, South Australian senators were calling for a public inquiry. At its caucus meeting on 8 May, the Labor Party called for a full judicial inquiry into the tests. On the same day Adelaide’s Advertiser said that with all the new allegations, Britain should stop repeating its blanket, assurances that no one suffered during the tests. ‘It behoves Britain to give a much more detailed explanation than has been given so far.’ In its leader, entitled ‘Maralinga cover-up’, the Melbourne Age claimed that ‘what we are witnessing is a conspiracy of silence: a conspiracy to which the Australian Government is party, albeit a reluctant one’. The Australian government reacted with the establishment of the Kerr committee. Senator Walsh, Minister for Resources and Energy, gave Professor Kerr and his team just sixteen days to review all the published scientific literature on the tests, to assess any dangers that the tests might have caused the Australian people and to recommend to the Government any appropriate action. The government wanted to be seen to be treating the matter with the highest priority and urgency. A week after announcing the Kerr committee, Senator Walsh accompanied premier Bannon on the flight to Maralinga. In prepared statements to coincide with the trip, Walsh announced: ‘Let me assure the Australian people that the government has no interest or intention of keeping facts relating to the nuclear tests in Australia secret.’ Premier Bannon said that the tests should never have taken place and ‘it’s now up to us to make amends’.
On 31 May 1984, Senator Walsh received the report from the Kerr committee. Contrary to all the assurances on the safety given by the British and Australian Governments, the Committee had concluded that ‘with such a large and prolonged endeavour it is unrealistic to assume that things did not go wrong and on occasions they did.’ the report said that the task of unravelling the truth about the tests was impossible without full access to the documents and that, notwithstanding Britain’s thirty-year rule laid down by the Public Records Act, the declassification process should begin right away. Above all, the committee recommended that ‘the government hold a public inquiry to determine how the conduct and consequences of the British nuclear tests affected the health and well-being of Australians who served at the nuclear test sites and on those, mainly Aborigines, who lived in the region of the tests’. Exactly twenty-one years after the British testing team fired their last shot, the Australian government announced a Royal Commission to look into Britain’s conduct of the test series. The commission was asked to examine the safety measures carried out during the tests and whether the health of people in Australia t the time, British servicemen included, had been adversely affected. They were also asked to look at the management of the test sites, both at the time of the tests and afterwards. The Commission was given the authority to recommend to the Australian ‘Government that it should make provision for certain individuals or groups and, if necessary, recommend ways of making the test sites safe.
The decision to set u a royal commission created many political and legal problems. It was the first time that a commonwealth country had summoned a Royal commission to look into the behaviour of the ‘mother country’. Hostility from Britain was only to be expected but, as the Kerr Committee had already pointed out, there was little a further inquiry could achieve without access to Britain’s documents. The Australian Government took a gamble. Britain might snub the Australian request for documents, in which case the commission was unlikely to achieve anything, though if Britain took that attitude she would lay herself open to accusations of a ‘cover-up’. Or Britain might weigh the consequences of a diplomatic row against the indignity of having to ‘com e clean’ and decide to cooperate. In the early days of the commission, relations between the two countries were acrimonious. When the commission opened in September 1984, it was still not known whether the British government would hand over all the documents required by the commissioners or whether the British Government would be represented when the Commission moved to London. The Chief commissioner, Mr Justice James McClelland, a former labor Cabinet Minister under the Whitlam government, made no secret of his dislike of the British and Australia’s pro-British politicians. When after the first few weeks of the hearings, the British High commissioner in Canberra complained that Britain’s name was being dragged through the mud, Justice McClellan d asked whether the High commissioner would prefer Australian history books to remove all reference to the nasty way Henry VIII treated his wives. ‘If he wants the Royal Commission to be fully appraised of the British government’s view of the way the nuclear trials were conducted, he should advise his Government to do what it had repeatedly been invited to do but which it has not yet deigned to do: be represented before the commission.’ The Sydney Morning Herald paraphrased the Judge’s challenge to the British with the headline, ‘Show Up or shut Up’. A few weeks later, the British government announced that it would be present at the Commission’s hearings.
When the Commission moved to London in January 1985, McClellan d adopted the same technique to goad the British Government into handing over all the documents required by the commissioners. Before a crowd of barristers, press, television and veterans assembled for the commission’s first day’s hearings, the judge lambasted the British. He said that they had only agreed to be represented before the commission because he had accused them of ‘dragging their feet’. On Britain’s reluctance to hand over documents that might involve military secrets, he said ‘secrecy, in the national interest, has always been a convenient alibi for failure of disclosure. But today it is hard to believe that Britain is in possession of any atomic secrets unknown to the great powers’. The British had ‘told the Australian authorities almost nothing’ about what they were doing in Australia during the tests and they were now morally obliged to make everything known. McClelland was successful in his campaign to gain access to secret documents. When the commissioners left London three months later they had few complaints about co-operation from the British. Except for extremely sensitive weapons data, the British Government had made available almost all the thirty-eight tons of material on the tests stored at Aldermaston, in the Ministry of Defence and in the Public Records Office, Where necessary the thirty-year rule was broken.
The outspoken and brash behaviour before and after the Commission by Justice McClelland was an indication of the strong anti-British feeling aroused in the aftermath of the tests in some Australian quarters. However, his loud-mouthed obiter dictum about Margaret Thatcher and a divided British nation caused anger and embarrassment to many Australians. Critics of the Royal Commission accused the Labor Government of establishing it as a sop to anti-nuclear and anti-British feeling; while US bases remained and uranium mining continued in Australia attention could be turned to the proceedings of the politically unimportant and possibly based Commission. That the comments of Justice McClelland caused little diplomatic ill-feeling between Britain and Australia was, perhaps, an indication of the importance with which he and his Commission was regarded. Political leaders in Britain have shown little interest in the tests or the royal commission. Neither major party has been keen to condemn its predecessor’s handling of the bomb test programme: both conservative and Labour Prime Ministers ordered the construction and testing of nuclear weapons in the 1950s. Even the Liberal party, traditional champion of environmental causes, has steered clear of formally associating itself with the veterans’ cause. Politicians on all sides are aware that the causes that appear attr5active in opposition can prove expensive in government. A single admission of negligence could open the floodgates to costly claims and stir up the simmering nuclear controversy in Britain.
The prospects of reaching a satisfactory conclusion to the veterans’ campaigns in Australia and Britain look remote. The political will is lacking and the scientific uncertainty about the effects of low levels of radiation makes any attempt at proof almost impossible. In some cases, the veterans have been their own worst champions. The tendency to blame every death from cancer on the test programme is understandable but misguided. Similarly, the accusation that birth defects can be blamed on the tests needs proper examination before it is made. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the tests in Australia and on Christmas Island were undertaken in haste. The nuclear scientists responsible were under strong political pressure to build and test the atomic and hydrogen bombs at almost impossible speed. In this the men of Aldermaston were successful. They reaped both personal and political rewards. William Penney was elevated to the peerage, and other senior nuclear scientists received knighthoods for their endeavours. Britain’s weapon design team was firmly established: in a far shorter time-scale than either of the super powers and with fewer resources, effective kiloton and megaton weapons had been built. It was , in its own terms, a great political and scientific achievement. Britain was enabled to exchange secret with the United States and, for the next three decades, the atom scientists could draw on enormous financial resources without reference to Parliament.
The senior Aldermaston men questioned at the “royal Commission appeared bewildered and upset by the hostility of some of the questioning. They had served their country well and had worked in dangerous conditions far beyond the call of duty. They considered the risks for the majority of the test servicemen to have been negligible. That they were now indicted by a foreign government for actions faithfully undertaken on behalf of their government many years ago. They will suffer no more than damaged reputations. The British Government has ensured their protection from any prosecution. The senior politicians responsible for the tests will not suffer either. They are either forgotten or have gone to the grave. The British Government has steered a difficult but successful course between revelation and self-protection. However, the aftermath of the tests, at one time a symbol of Anglo-Australian co-operation, has been to drive another nail into the coffin of Anglo-Australian friendship. The long tradition of Australian resentment at the seemingly superior and knowing attitude of the British, leading simple and trusting Australian manhood into danger, has been reinforeced. Just as Gallipoli and the Bodyline controversy built up a deep feeling of righteous anger against the pom, so the nuclear tests today appear the epitome of cynical and arrogant British botching. The feeling is not entirely justified. Australia willingly and eagerly co-operated in the nuclear trials, having fought with other commonwealth countries for the honour of playing host-country. Her scientific and nuclear knowledge benefited enormously from the co-operation and her armed services were only too happy to be able to learn as much as possible about the nature and effects of nuclear warfare.
The real victims of the tests are often forgotten in the orgy of righteous indignation against the authorities responsible. They are the ex-servicemen and their widows, and the Australian Aborigines, who face years of complex legal and scientific argument before their cases are resolved. Deliberate exposure of many thousands of men to radiation may not be possible to prove, but there is no doubt that the men ‘fortuitously’ exposed to radiation were guinea pigs in an extensive and often mismanaged operation. No doubt history will refer to the tests as another footnote in the catalogue of grandiose attempts to restore Britain’s declining post-imperial prestige. Unlike the victims of the Falklands war, however, there will be no memorials to the men who may have given their lives in the effort to put ‘Britain on level terms again’. ” end quote
Jane’s Oceania here gives a pretty account of the twin cylinder motor cycle engine that is duopoly “democracy”. The Left hand (cylinder) appears to not know what the right hand has done. But neither steers the motorcycle. Those who do over arch the political process and guide it. The military has it’s own ways and means. Both Britain and Australia wanted a nuclear battle field to practice on and learn from and Maralinga was it. It was watched, I believe, for at least a half life of the longest lived products of concern. About 30 years. 1957 + 30 years = 1987. But that is my speculation. By 1984 the military needs would have been substantially met, and the hand back of the land, as moved by the State government in 1984, is within that ball park. The shock horror – which it was for those expressing it, for the reality is horrific – was ho hum for those who had been watching the place at top secret and above level since the very start in 1953. There are aspects to the affair which remain top secret or higher and we cannot yet know the full specifics.
Much of it relates to military aspects of nuclear weapons use in time of war – how long before area denial weapons permit occupation of invading troops. And so on. The biology of contamination. While at the time no Aboriginal foodstuffs were surveyed for fission product take up, the white diet was. Only later was local aboriginal game – kangaroos and the like – studied from this aspect.
The questioning of the decades old assurances of safety – by both Britain and Australia – in the mid 1980s led to an international uproar. New Scientist published a detailed account of the matter years later, in 1993. The British Guardian newspaper described the article and the man who wrote it: “Ian Anderson – Journalist who exposed Britain’s dirty nuclear deeds in Australia. The Guardian, Wednesday 5 April 2000 01.33 BST. In June 1993, more than 30 years after the British nuclear tests at Maralinga, in the South Australian desert, the science journalist Ian Anderson, who has died aged 53 of mesothelioma, wrote an article in the New Scientist magazine headlined “Britain’s dirty deeds at Maralinga”. It was a trenchant, detailed report of the Australian government’s protracted negotiations with Britain on sharing the cost of “safe-sealing” waste plutonium.
Hitherto, much of this highly toxic nuclear material had been lightly bulldozed into the soil rather than buried in deep, secure concrete pits. The question became even more urgent when the Trajrutja people of this central Australian aboriginal nation, some 600 miles north- west of Adelaide, demanded – and were promised – the return of their tribal lands.
Anderson’s article, backed by an editorial supporting the Australian claim, was timed to appear days before meetings between the respective foreign ministers. His evidence, and the media attention engendered by the material in such a prestigious science journal, played a crucial role in the successful conclusion of the talks.
Anderson was born and raised in the Melbourne suburb of Elwood, and began his career as a reporter on Rupert Murdoch’s morning tabloid, the Sun News- Pictorial. In 1972, he became deputy information officer at Monash University, while reading for an arts degree.
He and his wife Robin, a cancer researcher, had married when he was 21. It was a partnership in which Robin would play a key role in Ian’s vocation. In 1979, the couple moved to London, where Robin worked for the Medical Research Council. By chance, they found an advertisement in the New Scientist seeking freelance contributions, through which Robin was able to link her scientific expertise to her husband’s journalististic skills. Thus was Ian launched on a new career..” http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2000/apr/05/guardianobituaries3
Although nuclear veterans had warned since the 1950s that Maralinga was unsafe, no action was taken until the time the South Australian government prepared to hand back the land to the rightful owners.
And even then, clean up did not commence until the following decade. The last of the land has recently been handed back.
The land was dangerous in 1984, parts of it still are. How much more so would it have been dangerous in the 1950s, at a time when the people who are now nuclear veterans were national servicemen who had yet to be deployed to that place of deep deception and danger?
On the basis of the above story of delayed and incomplete disclosure, such that a State Premier was shocked by the horrible nuclear filth he was shown, one wonders what ARL and ARPANSA had been doing from the 1970s, when it started monitoring Maralinga. The available documents for both Monte Bello Islands are listed below with download links.
It is my contention that Australia knew all along the true and disgusting state of the Maralinga lands. It had an army, it was skilled at contamination monitoring. It is offensive to suggest Australia did not know. Of course it did
http://www.arpansa.gov.au/publications/technicalreports/index.cfm source link page for the following download pdf documents:
ARL/TR005, December 1978
Residual radioactive contamination of the Maralinga Range from nuclear weapons tests conducted in 1956 and 1957 – 1,818 kb/43 pages
M.B. Cooper, J.C. Duggleby, L.H. Kotler and K.N. Wise
ARL/TR005, December 1978
Residual radioactive contamination of the Maralinga Range from nuclear weapons tests conducted in 1956 and 1957 – 1,818 kb/43 pages
M.B. Cooper, J.C. Duggleby, L.H. Kotler and K.N. Wise
ARL/TR007, December 1978
Field and analytical data relating to the 1977 Survey of residual Radiation contamination of the Maralinga Range (Appendices to ARL Report No. ARL/TR005) – Part 1 (pages 1-29) – 1,999kb/29 pages
Field and analytical data relating to the 1977 Survey of residual Radiation contamination of the Maralinga Range (Appendices to ARL Report No. ARL/TR005) – Part 2 (pages 30-60) – 1,056kb/31 pages
M.B. Cooper, J.C. Duggleby, L.H. Kotler & K.N. Wise
ARL/TR010, April 1979
Residual Radioactive Contamination of the Monte Bello Islands from Nuclear Weapons Tests Conducted in 1952 and 1956 – 1,541 kb/42 pages
M.B. Cooper and B.M. Hartley
ARL/TR012, August 1979
Residual Radioactive Contamination of the Test Site at Emu from Nuclear Weapons Tests conducted in 1953 – 745 kb/30 pages
D.S. Maclagan, M.B. Cooper, J.C. Duggleby
ARL/TR029, December 1980
Field and analytical data relating to the 1972 and 1978 surveys of residual contamination of the Monte Bello Islands and Emu atomic weapons tests sites – 1,449 kb/55 pages
M.B. Cooper and J.C. Duggleby
ARL/TR049, December 1982
Environmental radiation at the Monte Bello Islands from nuclear weapons tests conducted in 1952 and 1956 – 2,036 kb/61 pages
John R. Moroney and Malcolm B. Cooper
ARL/TR062, October 1983
The radiological status of the Monte Bello Islands; May 1983 – 469 kb/19 pages
Malcolm B. Cooper, K.H. Lokan, G.A. Williams and L. Toussaint
ARL/TR070, April 1985
Residual radioactive contamination at Maralinga and Emu, 1985 – Part 1, pages 1-49 – 1,922 kb/56 pages
Residual radioactive contamination at Maralinga and Emu, 1985 – Part 2, pages 50-62 – 614 kb/14 pages
Edited by Keith H. Lokan
ARL/TR075, July 1986
Plutonium-contaminated fragments at the Taranaki site at Maralinga – 881 kb/34 pages
Peter A. Burns, M.B. Cooper, J.C. Duggleby, J.F. Mika and G.A. Williams
ARL/TR081, September 1988
Tietkens Plain Karst – Maralinga – Part 1, pages 1-23 – 1,148 kb/28 pages http://www.arpansa.gov.au/pubs/technicalreports/arl081_pt1.pdf
Tietkens Plain Karst – Maralinga – Part 2, pages 24-33 – 1,986 kb/11 pages
Julia M. James and Geoffrey A. Williams http://www.arpansa.gov.au/pubs/technicalreports/arl081_pt2.pdf
ARL/TR085, August 1989
Plutonium contamination in the Maralinga Tjarutja lands – 1,009 kb/32 pages
Peter N. Johnston, Keith H. Lokan, Cheryl K. Richardson and Geoffrey A. Williams http://www.arpansa.gov.au/pubs/technicalreports/arl085.pdf
ARL/TR087, May 1990
Inhalation hazard assessment at Maralinga and Emu – Part 1, pages 1-41 – 1,976 kb/49 pages http://www.arpansa.gov.au/pubs/technicalreports/arl087_pt1.pdf
Inhalation hazard assessment at Maralinga and Emu – Part 2, pages 42-82 – 2,018 kb/42 pages http://www.arpansa.gov.au/pubs/technicalreports/arl087_pt2.pdf
Inhalation hazard assessment at Maralinga and Emu – Part 3, pages 83-125 – 1,890 kb/44 pages http://www.arpansa.gov.au/pubs/technicalreports/arl087_pt3.pdf
Inhalation hazard assessment at Maralinga and Emu – Part 4, pages 126-175 – 1,848 kb/51 pages
Edited by Geoffrey A. Williams http://www.arpansa.gov.au/pubs/technicalreports/arl087_pt4.pdf
ARL/TR096, December 1990
Radiological hazard assessment at the Monte Bello islands – 1,102 kb/44 pages
Malcolm B. Cooper, Lindsay J. Martin, Myra J. Wilks and Geoffrey A. Williams
ARL/TR086, December 1990
Properties of plutonium contaminated particles resulting from British Vixen B trials at Maralinga – 1,187 kb/26 pages
Peter A. Burns, Malcolm B. Cooper, Peter N. Johnston and Geoffrey A. Williams