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The Maralinga Rehabilitation Project (DPIE Issues Paper)
Britain actively used Australian soil and people to conduct it's nuclear testing program during the 1950s and 1960s. The 5 areas it conducted the tests are at Monte Bello Islands in north-western Western Australia (just off the mainland, near Monkey Mia); Emu Field in north-western South Australia; the infamous Maralinga in south-western South Australia; Christmas Island and Malden Island, both due south of Hawaii, on either side of the Equator. After the Grapple series of tests, the British lent the site to the US in 1962 for the Dominic series of 25 explosions.
Britain detonated its first nuclear device, Hurricane, on Monte Bello Island on October 3, 1952, followed by tests on May 16 and June 19, 1956. The June blast had a 60 kiloton capacity. At one monitoring point, over 3,200 kilometres to the east, radioactive iodine concentrations increased a hundredfold.
Two further atomic bomb tests, Totem 1 and 2, were carried out at Emu Field on October 15 and 27, 1953. The next series of atomic bomb tests were carried out at Maralinga between September 27, 1956 and October 9, 1957, along with a series of "minor" trials up to 1963. The Grapple series of tests were undertaken at Malden and Christmas Islands May 15, 1957, to September 23, 1958.
During the mainland tests many army personnel were deliberately exposed to the blasts just to see what effect radiation had on troops. Security at the test sites was lax. The testing range boundaries were not properly monitored, allowing people to walk in and out. Any signs were in English, which the local Aboriginal population could not read. Fallout from the ground blasts led to massive contamination of the Australian interior. The fallout from Maralinga even reached Adelaide and Melbourne. Some places are still heavily radioactive due principally to the presence of 20 kg of plutonium, the most toxic element known to humans.
Maralinga is Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal dialect for "Field of Thunder". Aborigines may have been directly affected by the blasts. Compensation is currently being sought in Australian courts.
Fallout pattern from the Maralinga tests.
Fifteen thousand Australians were involved in the work at the three British test sites over the twelve years in Australia.
British Nuclear Testing in Australia
UK ATMOSPHERIC NUCLEAR TESTS IN AUSTRALIA
AND AT CHRISTMAS ISLAND 1952-58We have made a successful start. When the [nuclear] tests are completed, as they soon will be, we shall be in the same position as the United States or Soviet Russia. We shall have made and tested the massive weapons. It will be possible then to discuss on equal terms.
Harold Macmillan, U.K. Prime Minister, 1957.
Code-name Location Date Yield Explosion Conditions Hurricane Monte Bello
(off Trimouille Is)
3 Oct 1952 25kt Ocean surface burst (HMS Plym) Totem 1 Emu Field 15 Oct 1953 10kt Tower Totem 2 Emu Field 27 Oct 1953 8kt Tower Mosaic G1 Monte Bello
(off Trimouille Is)
16 May 1956 15kt Tower Mosaic G2 Monte Bello
(off Alpha Is)
19 June 1956 60kt Tower Buffalo Maralinga
27 Sept 1956 15kt Tower Buffalo Maralinga
4 Oct 1956 1.5kt Ground Buffalo Maralinga
11 Oct 1956 3kt Airburst over land Buffalo Maralinga
22 Oct 1956 10kt Tower Grapple 1 Malden Is, Pacific
15 May 1957 ~2Mt Airburst over ocean Grapple 2 Malden Is, Pacific
31 May 1957 1Mt Airburst over ocean Grapple 3 Malden Is, Pacific
19 Jun 1957 1Mt Airburst over ocean Antler Maralinga
14 Sept 1957 1kt Tower Antler Maralinga
25 Sept 1957 6kt Tower Antler Maralinga
9 Oct 1957 25kt Balloon-burst over land Grapple X Christmas Is
8 Nov 1957 1Mt Airburst over ocean Grapple Y Christmas Is
28 Apr 1958 1Mt Airburst over ocean Grapple Z Christmas Is
22 Aug 1958 ~1Mt Balloon-burst over land Grapple Z Christmas Is
(Flag Pole 1)
2 Sept 1958 1Mt Airburst over ocean Grapple Z Christmas Is
11 Sept 1958 1Mt Airburst over ocean Grapple Z Christmas Is
23 Sept 1958 1kt Balloon-burst over land
Source: Australian Ministry of Defence, 20 March 1984
Aust Test Photos: Courtesy Department of Primary Industries and Energy, 1995
Web photos with thanks to Kym Horsell.
Last updated October 24, 1998.
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