How the nuclear/uranium industry bulldozed its way into Australia, secretly

. all manner of consumer and industrial goods were arrayed as icons of the coming atomic utopia.

ON THE BEACH: AUSTRALIA’S NUCLEAR HISTORY, Discontents Tim Sherratt, 7 Dec 12

“…..The crossroads of destiny At 8.00 am on the 1 July 1946 the inhabitants of eastern Australia tuned in to the atomic age. In a live radio broadcast from Bikini Atoll, they listened as the world’s fourth atomic bomb was exploded – ‘Bomb’s away! Bombs away!’ came the excited radio announcer’s call.

Some weeks later, a fifth atomic bomb was detonated, again at Bikini.
The blue waters of the atoll’s idyllic lagoon erupted skyward with the
force of the explosion, signalling a dramatic end to the USA’s first
peacetime atomic ‘test’ programme. The ‘target’ for these tests was a
fleet of retired American and captured enemy warships, ‘manned’ by
pigs, goats and other animals – some in uniform. By blowing up this
junkyard menagerie the USA confirmed its status as the world’s only
atomic power. In another attempt to win the favour of the bouncers
guarding the doors of the atomic club, Australia offered up one of its
own disused battleships for the honour of irradiation. The offer was
refused, but Australia was allowed an official observer.

While the first three atomic explosions were planned and executed in
secret, the Bikini atomic tests were conducted amidst well-organised
publicity. The responsible authority, Joint Task Force One, arranged
for extensive media coverage, aiming to make the test programme ‘the
best-reported as well as the most-reported technical experiment of all
participating in progress
In 1948, the Australian public was given the chance to fall into line
when the ‘Atomic Age Exhibition’ rolled into town. Sponsored by the
major newspapers, the exhibition toured Brisbane, Sydney and
Melbourne. Although it had been originally designed and built in the
UK, the exhibition was modified for Australian audiences, even
including a sample of local uranium. In Sydney, the exhibition formed
part of the Royal Easter Show, though popular demand forced it to
continue beyond the Show’s usual closing. In Melbourne, where it was
considerably expanded and renamed the ‘Atomic Age and Industrial
Exhibition’, many thousands attended.[6]

The exhibition’s pin-up boy was the atomic genie, who made his
appearance in a diorama depicting the first atomic explosion at
Almagordo, New Mexico. Emerging from the atomic cloud, electrons
whizzing around his head like bush flies, the atomic genie was another
manifestation of the ‘choice’. Having been released from his prison
within the atom, the genie awaited our command, would it be for good
or evil?……..
…. all manner of consumer and industrial goods were arrayed as icons
of the coming atomic utopia.

Such visions of progress abounded in the fifties, promulgated by
advertisers, encouraged by governments. Progress in the Atomic Age
meant a modern household, full of the latest appliances, inhabited by
a nuclear family (a term first used in 1945). It meant economic
growth, industrial development, the investment of overseas dollars,
and the growing dominance of multinational companies. Atomic energy,
through the image of the crossroads, helped to confirm this route as
necessary, as inevitable, even though atomic energy itself failed to
live up to expectations.

defending democracy
Not even ASIO’s best efforts were enough to convince the Americans and
the British to start the flow of atomic information, but there were
other ways to prove ourselves worthy of initiation into the atomic
club. Selling uranium didn’t do the trick, even though it was often
stressed that the uranium was being supplied for the defence of the
Free World. So why not go that one step further? In 1950, the British
were looking for somewhere to test their own atomic bomb. The
Americans wanted to place too many conditions on the use of their test
facilities, so the British Prime Minister asked his Australian
counterpart, Menzies, if Australia could provide a site. With little
hesitation or consultation, Menzies said yes.[16]

The first test was held in 1952 in the Monte Bello Islands off the
coast of Western Australia. The following year two more atomic devices
were exploded at Emu Field, part of the Woomera Rocket Range in South
Australia. The first of these, Totem I, is thought to have been
responsible for the ‘black mist’ – a mysterious cloud that descended
upon aboriginal communities to the north-east of the test site,
causing vomiting, diarrhoea, skin rashes and sore eyes. The long-term
health effects have never been determined.

Two more bombs were exploded in the Monte Bello Islands in 1956,
before testing was transferred to a permanent site – Maralinga. Seven
atomic tests were conducted at Maralinga between 1956 and 1958.
So-called ‘minor trials’ continued on until the early sixties. While
these trials did not involve the detonation of fission devices, they
did result in the distribution of large amounts of radioactive
Ever optimistic, the Australian authorities looked upon the British
atomic tests as another opportunity to gain access to information
about atomic energy. However, for the first three tests they insisted
on no formal scientific involvement. No doubt they realised that this
would place the British in a difficult position, as any such
arrangement would be frowned upon by the Americans. After much
negotiation, three scientists were permitted to attend the tests on
Australia’s behalf. Their background and connections made them
politically acceptable, but they had no formal authority. Despite the
grudging nature of Australia’s scientific involvement, the Australian
government went to some lengths to stress the cooperative nature of
the undertaking.

With the establishment of the Maralinga test range, it was decided to
formalise arrangements somewhat, and an Atomic Weapons Test Safety
Committee was established. This Committee comprised primarily the
three scientists who had attended the previous tests. While the
committee was supposed to ensure the safety of the tests, it was
wholly dependent on information provided by the British. The Safety
Committee’s main role seems to have been as a means of public
reassurance. Concerns about fallout could be diffused by reference to
these eminent scientists who were conscientiously protecting
Australia’s interests.

But what of the interests of the Australian servicemen carelessly
exposed to dangerous levels of radioactivity. Or of the aboriginal
people, relocated, irradiated and ignored. Attempts to clean up the
Maralinga range continue, but the stain can never be removed. Health
and freedom were sacrificed for the protection of democracy, and in
the name of progress. The images of the crossroads and the secret
provided distorting lenses through which such perverse equations
somehow seemed to make sense. The momentum of the atomic bulldozer
carried us beyond reflection, beyond caring….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: