Maralinga’s radioactive fallout still blowing in the wind

Australia, dust storms and the fallout Britain left behind
Idealist.ws 1 Oct 09 “………What is Maralinga? How did plutonium get there?

In the 1950s and 1960s, Australia was the host of a handful of U.K.-sponsored atmospheric nuclear tests and related nuclear experiments on the Montel Bello Islands (off the northwest coast) and at Emu Field and Maralinga, both located in the Great Victoria Desert in South Australia. At Maralinga2 between 1957 and 1963, the U.K. conducted several plutonium dispersal experiments, dubbed ‘minor trials’ (very similar to the ones conducted at the Nevada Test Site; see: safety experiments), which scattered radioactivity (tens of pounds of Plutonium 239) far and wide into the bush.

Through the 1990s, the Emu and Maralinga sites were physically blocked off by a 100-mile radius security zone, which might have been a good enough barrier for un-remediated (not cleaned up) nuclear sites but in reality is no match for a dust storm the size of several hurricanes. (If the same sized-radius were blocked off around the Nevada Test Site, it would force the evacuation of Las Vegas.)

Although the ‘Maralinga Rehabilitation Project’ – finished in 2000 – cleaned up some of the ‘minor trial’ plutonium, not all of the plutonium is cleaned up and the waste burial practices have been SERIOUSLY3 called into question mostly because the plutonium was buried only 3 to 4 meters deep. Australia’s Senator Lyn Allison noted in 2003: “No matter how many reports are produced, the fact of the matter is that 22kg of plutonium is buried in simple, unlined earth trenches, some of it just a couple of metres below the surface.” The Sunday Age article titled “Agenda – Maralinga’s Afterlife” on May 11, 2003, stated that: ‘The vitrification method was abandoned by MARTAC three-quarters of the way through the project, in favour of the much cheaper trench-method. Most of the waste – including broken-up vitrified material – was then buried in unlined pits covered with just three metres of clean soil. The rest was left on the desert surface. As a result, an area the size of metropolitan London – 300 square kilometres – remains infected with lethal plutonium that will stay active for a quarter of a million years.’ That section of land is dubbed the ‘North West Plume,’ located northwest of Taranaki and contaminated largely from the ‘Vixen B’ trials …………. Australian authorities have denied there is any radiological health problem with the red dust………………………………. Although it is commendable that ARPANSA acknowledged that radioactive material was in the red dust that coated most of the populated areas in Australia and New Zealand, ARPANSA’s Burns is saying more to allay fears than educating Australians about the consequences of their actual radiation exposure to the dust…………… Even if the winds significantly diluted and reduced the concentration of the Maralinga soil-laden plutonium in the red-dusty air, it will still be extremely toxic because it takes just one millionth of a gram of plutonium to deliver a lethal dose and even more minute quantities (billionths of a gram) might induce cancer. Theoretically, even a single atom (particle) of plutonium has the ability, from its extremely strong alpha radiation (like a very strong, mini X-ray machine), to produce free radicals and alter DNA in our body’s cells – both are precursors to cancerous growth.

Since any population exposure to radiation increases the risk of cancer in a population, the dispersion of plutonium dust from Maralinga over thousands of miles of populated Australia has increased Aussie’s cancer burden………. In the Southern Hemisphere, wherever this red dust is now lingering, if it is brought down to Earth by rain it will contaminate surface areas (shingles, pavement, cars, crops, etc…) and water supplies as long as the radiation’s half-life, which can be hundreds or thousands of years. Ingesting radiation from contaminated foodstuffs and water constitutes the greatest danger from radiation exposure. http://idealist.ws/australia.php

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