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Maralinga - learn from our experience

Maralinga – by Natalie Goddard
Aged 15
Subject: Australian History
19th November 2004

“We got up in the morning from the tent… everyone had red eyes… Right here the smoke caught us it came over us… We tried to open our eyes in the morning but we couldn’t open them. [We had] red eyes and tongues and our coughing was getting worse …We got people still suffering. You haven’t got one healthy child nowadays.” Eileen Kampakuta Brown.
Site 01: http://www.iratiwanti.org

The negative effects the nuclear testing at Maralinga had on the inhabitants of Australia is abundant, and it’s not going away soon. During the 1950’s and 60’s the British Government tested atomic bombs in South Australia at Emu Junction and Maralinga (refer to appendix 01). The Australian Government barely questioned the nature and effect of the nuclear tests as they forged close links with the British Military.

The nuclear weapons used contain deadly substances which remain radioactive for up to 250,000 years, contaminating land and water systems.

The radiation exposure to local communities and surrounding country was extensive as dense radioactive clouds travelled far across the land. For the Indigenous people and other inhabitants of the Western Desert, radiation exposure caused severe sickness and death. The nuclear testing in South Australia revealed nuclear fallout and overall government cover-ups.

Maralinga, an area of 3,200 square kilometres in South Australia’s desert Nullabor region, was occupied by the Maralinga Tjarutja Aboriginal tribe when it was leased to Britain in 1952.

Between 1952 and 1963 the British government, with the agreement and support of Australia carried out nuclear tests at three sites in Australia – the Monte Bello Islands off the coast of Western Australia and at Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia.

Maralinga was developed as the permanent proving ground site, following a request of the British in 1954 and, after its completion in 1956, was the location of all trials conducted in Australia.

It was developed as a joint facility with a shared funding arrangement.
Site 02: http://www.naa.gov.au

By 1963 nine major nuclear atmospheric explosions had taken place within the site, including the two US tests that were conducted under a sub-leasing arrangement.

Three other British tests were held in Western Australia. The reason for the British government using Australia as testing grounds was simply the first step in their ‘coming-of-age’ as a nuclear power.

In 1957, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan explained news of the successful tests, would put his country “in the same position as the United states or Soviet Russia. It will be possible then to discuss on equal terms,” he said
Site 03: http://www.atimes.com.

There were numerous tests carried out in South Australia, which ranged from large scale nuclear bombs to ‘minor’ ones which contaminated miles of land.

The actual amount of tests carried out in Australia and at Maralinga varies. The numbers depend on where the tests took place, or whether they were atomic bombs, nuclear tests, nuclear atmospheric explosions, development trials, or the hundreds of ‘minor’ tests.

The British exploded nine atomic bombs, the final being twice as powerful as the bomb that flattened Hiroshima
Site 04: http://www.abc.net.au

There were 15 nuclear tests which contaminated Aboriginal lands with plutonium and uranium
Site 05: http://www.ippnw.org.

Nine major nuclear atmospheric explosions took place within the site, including two US tests that were conducted under a sub-leasing arrangement.

Three other British tests were held in Western Australia.
Site 03: http://www.atimes.com.

There were many development trials conducted within Maralinga. A further 15 of these were far more damaging.
Site 05: http://www.ippnw.org.

The ‘minor’ tests consisted of about 500 experiments, such as crashing aeroplanes with nuclear bombs on board, and setting fire to atom bombs and placing them in conventional explosions.

These tests actually left far more radiation than the others, and resulted in large amounts of plutonium spreading over a wide area
Site 06: http://www.greenleft.org.au

It is therefore no surprise to find the death rates and cancer rates higher than ever in these areas.

So far, from the Australian Electoral Commission there’s been over 9,000 people deceased from the 10,700 names listed on the Maralinga nominal roll.

The national average for cancer is 25 per cent, but at Maralinga, the death certificates are recording 75-85 per cent cancer.

Terry Toon, Atomic Ex-servicemen’s Association said “At one test, the kite explosion, the scientist said the mushroom cloud would go away from us, but instead of going north away from us, it came directly south over us. We went into some steelbound huts … and when the mushroom cloud went over us, it was like a hailstorm”
Site 04: http://www.abc.net.au

According to Asia Times, Britain has admitted for the first time that troops were used as human guinea pigs for a testing program in Australia in the 1950’s that helped it join the United States and the Soviet Union in the nuclear club. The admission came grudgingly, and only after it had been independently confirmed in released Australian military records that servicemen were deliberately exposed to nuclear fallout to test their levels of tolerance to illness.

Lawyers representing veterans in the UK and Australia contend that safety was so lax that scores were exposed to radiation illnesses. Often the only protection they were offered was “a quick wash under a hose.” One mixed unit of soldiers were told to walk through the test zone three days after a detonation, for what was termed “clothing tests.” Dressed in heavy woolen garments the soldiers – none of them volunteers – were given a battery of medical tests to check which type of clothing offered “the best protection against radioactive contamination in conditions of warfare.”

Both Britain and Australia deny that the men were in danger
Site 03: http://www.atimes.com

Not only was the Australian and British government negligent, but they actually used the troops for their own power and gain, plus they have failed to effectively do anything for the Aborigines and their land.

Britain failed to provide for the welfare of the Aborigines who were deprived of their heritage by the tests. It has declined to foot the bill for cleaning up the site, which remains highly contaminated despite the removal of some radioactive material in 1997 and will be partly uninhabitable for at least another 30 years
Site 03: http://www.atimes.com

At the time, the Australian government displayed very little interest in the possible long-term effects of the tests. However, by the 1980’s these effects started to become clear.

Australian servicemen and the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land were suffering blindness, sores, and illnesses like cancer
Site 06: http://www.greenleft.org.au

The Aboriginals wish to return to the land providing it is safe to do so. They have been advised that some of the land is not suitable for permanent occupation and 450 km² is encircled by boundary markers to remind them that this is so. The boundary markers might have a life of 50 years, but half of the plutonium will still be there in 24,000 years
Site 05: http://www.ippnw.org

The troops used by the British government as a testing program have been stricken with a range of cancers and deformities, some of the soldiers have been fighting for decades to have their plight accorded official recognition, which might open the door to compensation. More than 200 Australian veterans or their families have lodged claims for compensation for illness or death due to radiation exposure
Site 06: http://www.greenleft.org.au

Now that the law suits are flooding in, usually in response to second-generation birth defects, Australia has been quick to shift the compensation burden to Britain. London argues that there is no medical evidence linking the defects with Maralinga.

In September 1997, it had informed the European Court of Human Rights that servicemen were never allowed into the testing areas, a statement that now has a decidedly hollow ring
Site 03: http://www.atimes.com

There were 220 recommendations of the Royal Commission which investigated the damage that had been caused to the land. One of these recommendations was for group compensation for all of those people affected by the testing. The commission had found that while Aboriginal people were supposed to have been removed from the area during testing, many were actually in the area during and after the tests and had been exposed to high levels of radiation. For the last 10 years, the Maralinga Tjarutja people have been fighting a long battle to win group compensation.

Angelina Wonga, an Indigenous person who lived through the experience of the nuclear testing at Maralinga, explains at http://www.irantiwanti.org (Site 07):

“I was in Wantjapila, with all the family. Sitting down. And when we seen a bomb went out from the South. And said, ‘Eh, what’s that?’ And when we see the wind blowing it to where we were sitting down. Nobody got a warning, nobody.

That was the finish of mother and father. They all passed away through that. I was only there. Buried the grandmother. I was the only one left. I went back to where I was born. People there were passing away, some type of flu. And I was the only one left. I lost everything. And the Government never pay me anything, loss of mother.

The smoke went right through the land. Everybody was sick. I’ve got damages too, with my eyes. Can’t see far. Memory no good. Can’t think properly. Asthma trouble, can’t talk and sing properly. Because of that. It’s time they gave me compensation, pay me back.”

Finally in November 2003 the indigenous people won settlement of $13.5 million from the federal government. They are now communicating to the people what has been done and discussing ways of using the funds for resettlement of the community and development of useful resources. Sixteen people from the Aboriginal community are also seeking individual compensation Site 06: http://www.greenleft.org.au.

The Indigenous people of South Australia have finally been given compensation for the damage done to their lives and the decades of fighting have finally paid off, although it won’t ever alleviate the contamination.

Plutonium and uranium fallout from the nuclear tests contaminated Aboriginal lands. Even while cleaning up these sites, further contamination occurred (refer to appendix 02 & 03).

Although the government declared the Maralinga site safe following a 1967 cleanup, surveys from the 1980s proved otherwise, prompting a new clean-up project. Conflicts of interest, cost-cutting measures, shallow burials of radioactive waste, and other management ‘compromises’ have left hundreds of square kilometres of Aboriginal lands contaminated and unfit for rehabilitation (refer to appendix 04).

Clearly, Dr. John Loy, CEO of the Australian nuclear regulatory organization was incorrect in saying that the Maralinga cleanup project represented the “world’s best practice.”

The project was a compromise from the beginning and was never intended to be a total clean up. There are still hundreds of square kilometres of land contaminated with plutonium. The government says that all but 120 km² are now safe, but this is misleading. What they mean is that 120 km² of land is still contaminated which would leave an Aboriginal person living a semi-traditional lifestyle receiving an effective dose of 5 mSv/a (five times that allowed for other Australians). Within the 120 km², the effective dose would be up to 13 times greater Site 05: http://www.ippnw.org

For decades after the British weapons tests in Australia, body parts were taken from corpses for tests to ascertain how widely nuclear contamination had spread, without the next of kin being asked for permission or even informed. In Britain, there is newly released evidence that baby bodies were delivered to American laboratories, and in Australia authorities now freely admit to the undertaking of an extensive program from 1957-78 which saw bones removed from up to 5000 bodies for use in their research
Site 09: http://www.geocities.com

Overall, the nuclear testing in South Australia revealed nuclear fallout and government cover-ups. There was total negligence towards the future effects the nuclear testing would have on the Indigenous people of Australia, the workers and the land which has been contaminated beyond repair. Neither Britain nor Australia will accept full responsibility for the damage done.

Whoever accepts responsibility for the site should recognize that they will have to rely for several thousand years on assurances from a government that has not kept to agreements made only 10 years ago
Site 05: http://www.ippnw.org

Appendix:

Appendix 01:
The Taranaki nuclear test site. The largest testing site located within Maralinga.
(Site 05: http://www.ippnw.org/MGS/V7N2Parkinson.html)

Appendix 02 & 03:

Only “some grams” of plutonium-contaminated dust were blown away during the Maralinga ‘clean-up’ because of inadequate dust suppression, according to a government official (Senate, 3/5/00). Thousands of tonnes in fact.
(Site 08: http://www.geocities.com/jimgreen3/)

Appendix 04:
Fallout contamination from the nuclear tests at Maralinga.

(Site 01: http://www.iratiwanti.org/iratiwanti.php3?page=atomic_tests)
Bibliography:

Document on World Wide Web:
N/a. N/a, Brief History of the Bombs [Online]. URL:
Site 01: http://www.iratiwanti.org/irantiwanti.php3?page=atomic_tests

Document on World Wide Web:
N/a. 2001, British nuclear tests at Maralinga [Online]. URL:
Site 02: http://www.naa.gov.au/publications/facts_sheets/FS129.html

Document on World Wide Web:
Boyd, A. 2001, Fallout from nuclear amnesia [Online]. URL:
Site 03: http://www.atimes.com/oceania/CD16Ah02.html

Document on World Wide Web:
Sexton, M. 2000, 7.30 Report – Maralinga finally cleaned up [Online]. URL:
Site 04: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/stories/s105126/htm

Document on World Wide Web:
Parkinson, A. N/a, Maralinga: The Clean-Up of a Nuclear Test Site [Online]. URL:
Site 05: http://www.ippnw.org/MGS/V7N2Parkinson.html

Document on World Wide Web:
Fernades, S. N/a, Maralinga: nuclear testing in Australia [Online]. URL:
Site 06: http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/1995/196/196p11.htm

Document on World Wide Web:
N/a. N/a, Irati Wanti – Kungkas [Online]. URL:
Site 07: http://www.iratiwanti.org/iratiwanti.php3?page=kungkas

Document on World Wide Web:
Green, J. N/a, Nuclear and Environmental Research [Online]. URL:
Site 08: http://www.geocities.com/jimgreen3/

Document on World Wide Web:
Colin, J. May 5, 2003, Answers for 300 mothers URL:
Site 09: http://www.geocities.com/jimgreen3/bodyparts.html

Document on World Wide Web:
Green, J. N/a, Maralinga: govt covers-up nuclear contamination [Online]. URL:
Site 10: http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2002/511/511p24.htm

Document on World Wide Web:
Borschmann, G. 2000, Maralinga: The Fall Out Continues [Online]. URL:
Site 11: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/bbing/stories/s120383.htm



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