Maralinga - Our Own Shame

Timeline and Photos - jump here!

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


We 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 10ktTower
Totem 2 Emu Field 27 Oct 1953 8ktTower
Mosaic G1 Monte Bello
(off Trimouille Is)
16 May 1956 15ktTower
Mosaic G2 Monte Bello
(off Alpha Is)
19 June 1956 60ktTower
Buffalo Maralinga
(One Tree)
27 Sept 1956 15ktTower
Buffalo Maralinga
4 Oct 1956 1.5ktGround
Buffalo Maralinga
11 Oct 1956 3ktAirburst over land
Buffalo Maralinga
22 Oct 1956 10ktTower
Grapple 1 Malden Is, Pacific
(Short Granite)
15 May 1957 ~2MtAirburst over ocean
Grapple 2 Malden Is, Pacific
(Orange Herald)
31 May 1957 1MtAirburst over ocean
Grapple 3 Malden Is, Pacific
(Purple Granite)
19 Jun 1957 1MtAirburst over ocean
Antler Maralinga
14 Sept 1957 1ktTower
Antler Maralinga
25 Sept 1957 6ktTower
Antler Maralinga
9 Oct 1957 25ktBalloon-burst over land
Grapple X Christmas Is
(Round C)
8 Nov 1957 1MtAirburst over ocean
Grapple Y Christmas Is
(Grapple Y)
28 Apr 1958 1MtAirburst over ocean
Grapple Z Christmas Is
(Pennant 2)
22 Aug 1958 ~1MtBalloon-burst over land
Grapple Z Christmas Is
(Flag Pole 1)
2 Sept 1958 1MtAirburst over ocean
Grapple Z Christmas Is
(Halliard 1)
11 Sept 1958 1MtAirburst over ocean
Grapple Z Christmas Is
(Burgee 2)
23 Sept 1958 1ktBalloon-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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