Author Archives: ausmap

Barndioota / Flinders Ranges

Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners Heather Stuart, Enice Marsh and Regina McKenzie.

Proposed national nuclear waste dump

After the plan to build a national radioactive waste dump in the NT was abandoned in June 2014, the Australian Federal Government called for site nominations from across the country. There was no requirement for landholders to consult with or gain consent from Traditional Owners, neighbours or the broader local community.

From twenty-eight nominations received and accepted, a shortlist of six was announced in November 2015. The sites were Hale (NT), Oman Ama (Qld), Hill End (NSW), Cortlinye and Pinkawillinie (Kimba, SA) and Barndioota (Flinders Ranges, SA).

After launching campaigns in each area, representatives from the communities linked up to develop a coordinated response. A joint lobbying trip to Canberra was undertaken, which generated significant media and political attention and solidified friendships across the affected areas.

In April 2016, former Minister Josh Frydenberg announced that only one site was to be further pursued for the national radioactive waste facility ‒ Barndioota in the Flinders Ranges (SA). More recently, two others sites in SA ‒ both in Kimba ‒ were added so three sites are under consideration as of January 2019.

Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners were devastated to hear the news, with Elder Enice Marsh stating she was ‘shattered’ by the decision. Traditional Owner and neighbouring landholder Regina McKenzie said “We don’t want a nuclear waste dump here on our country and worry that if the waste comes here it will harm our environment and muda, our lore, our creation.”

Representatives from the other nominated communities released a statement offering ongoing support to their friends at the Barndioota site, stating they “stand shoulder to shoulder” with the community and “will offer whatever support [they] can.”

The nominated site is located adjacent to Yappala Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) and contains thousands of cultural artefacts. The country’s first registered storyline travels through right through the targeted area.

The community has built a strong local campaign, holding events in the nearby towns of Quorn and Hawker and developing a vibrant online and social media presence. Representatives have travelled to Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne to meet with politicians, conduct media interviews and speak at public events.

Supporters across the country have continued to build on the lessons of the Irati Wanti (SA) and Muckaty (NT) campaigns in supporting Adnyamathanha people and the broader community near the Flinders site. Networks have also been reactivated with key allies ‒ such as trade unions and health groups ‒ quickly stepping up to support the campaign.

For over two decades there has been a search for a single remote site to build a national facility. Targeted communities, key national environment and health groups and many trade unions have called for a new approach in the form of an independent inquiry into radioactive waste production and management that looks at a broader range of options and includes all stakeholder voices.

As of January 2019, Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners (through the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association) are pursuing legal action, launched in December 2018, to try to stop the dump. Barngarla Traditional Owners are also pursuing legal action to try to stop the proposed dump sites in Kimba.

More information:

Fight to Stop Nuclear Waste Dump in Flinders Ranges SA

Friends of the Earth

Federal government lies and racist propaganda

Videos: Beyond Nuclear Initiative

Videos at Vimeo

Videos at youtube

[This web-page last updated January 2019.]

Ranger Uranium Mine

The Ranger uranium mine operates on the lands of the Mirarr Traditional Owners. The mine lease sits within the bounds of the Kakadu National Park and has been in place for over 30 years. In that time there have been over 200 leaks, spills and breaches of licence conditions. The Ranger mine has generated over 30 million tonnes of liquid tailings waste.

Rio Tinto subsidiary Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) runs Ranger. In 2005, ERA was found guilty and fined for a contamination incident in March 2004 where 150 people were exposed to drinking water containing uranium levels 400 times greater than the maximum Australian safety standard. Twenty-eight mine workers suffered adverse health effects including vomiting and skin irritation as a result of the exposure.

In 2009, it was revealed that around 100,000 litres of contaminated water is leaking daily from the tailings dam.

In December 2013 a leach tank collapsed spilling over one million litres of radioactive acid with the Ranger site. The accident prompted a production shutdown for six months while a joint NT and Federal investigation took place. Operations restarted in June 2014 but independent expert recommendations for a comprehensive overhaul of the failed regulatory system have not been acted on.

ERA is pressing ahead with plans for an underground mine to access a 34,000 tonne deposit known as Ranger 3 Deeps (R3D). Environmental and other approvals are currently being sought but no investment decision is expected before mid 2015.

Rehabilitation at Ranger must commence in 2021 but in its 2013 annual report the company acknowledged that without the underground expansion it may not be able to fund full rehabilitation of the Ranger site, estimated to cost over $600 million. The company is required to spend five years rehabilitating the site to a state that could see it incorporated into the Kakadu World Heritage Area.

View 45 minute documentary Dirt Cheap: 30 years on. The story of uranium mining in Kakadu. The film includes rare footage of Mirarr Senior Traditional Owner Toby Gangale stating clear opposition to mining on his country and documents his prescient concerns about uranium. It shows how the Australian Federal Government overrode the human rights of Kakadu’s Traditional Owners in order to impose a toxic industry in a World Heritage Area.

More information:

[This webpage last updated in November 2014]

Harold E Holt Communications Station

Normally known as North West Cape, the base is used for low frequency communications. It was very likely a high-priority nuclear target during the Cold War.

The Nautilus Institute provides the following summary:

The Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt is presently made up of three sites some 60 kilometres apart running the length of the narrow peninsula separating the Exmouth Gulf from the Indian Ocean. The original primary purpose of the US Naval Communication Station North West Cape when it opened in 1967 was to enable the US Navy to communicate with submerged submarines (and surface vessels) in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific Ocean. Two important qualities of Very Low Frequency signals is that they follow the curvature of the earth and hence can be received at great distances, and that they can be detected by receivers more than twenty metres underwater.

Transmission of such Very Low Frequency radio signals required more than a million watts of power and the construction of twelve towers more than 300 metres high to support a network of antenna wires for the transmission of these powerful signals. This 400 hectare site, known as Area A, lies at the very tip of the Cape, and for more than two decades was a key link in US Navy communications, with its Polaris and other strategic nuclear missile submarines. Areas B and C hold high frequency transmission and receiving facilities further south on the peninsula, and until 1998, a Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS) satellite communications ground station.

Polaris submarines were retired from the Pacific in 1982, and were replaced by Ohio-class submarines carrying Trident nuclear ballistic missiles of much greater range, which relied principally on Jim Creek in Washington for VLF communications. But until that point, Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt would have been a high priority Soviet nuclear target.

Following the signing in May 1963 of the Agreement with the Government of the United States of America Relating to the Establishment of a United States Naval Communications Station in Australia [North West Cape – Exmouth WA], it became clear that the Australian government had no control over or access to the contents of those communications. In March 1974 the Whitlam Labor government subsequently renegotiated the base treaty, leading to the dropping of the ‘US’ from the name of the facility, and an increased but still for many years insignificant Australian presence. “In the Communications Centre, the only thing the Americans and Australians shared was the coffee pot.”

During the 1980s “joint” operation came to have more substance. By 1992, the United States no longer needed direct access to the base and the long-resident Naval Security Group detachment was withdrawn in October of the year, and full command passed to the Royal Australian Navy. In 1999 Australia took over responsibility for the facility, although US involvement and funding continued
In AUSMIN 2008, as part of the gathering wave of new US military, intelligence and military communications co-operation with Australia, Fitzgibbon and Gates’ signing of the Harold E. Holt Treaty, with Fitzgibbon announcing that: “[T]his Treaty is yet another example of the breadth of the Australia–US Alliance. From the mountains of Afghanistan to the depths of the oceans, Australia and the United States are working together across a wide range of Defence activities aimed at maintaining a secure world.”

PR language apart, Fitzgibbon was quite right. AUSMIN 2007 saw the announcement of a new ‘US strategic and military satellite communications system at the Australian Defence Satellite Communication Station (ADSCS) located at Geraldton in Western Australia’. ACDS at Kojarena, 30 km west of Geraldton, is a major signals interception station operated by the Defence Signals Division, and contributes to the worldwide Echelon system. The new joint Kojarena facility will play a key role in the Pentagon’s complex and continuously developing Global Information Grid.

Renewed and heightened US involvement in the Kojarena and North West Cape facilities for space surveillance and global military signals intelligence and communication has followed on from a decade of rapid technical and organisational developments in the global US signals intelligence interception system of which the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap is a key part. The result is that Pine Gap, and most likely in turn Kojarena and North West Cape, are increasingly closely tied to US military operations worldwide, but particularly to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The facility first known as U.S. Naval Communication Station North West Cape,  is once again to become a joint Australia-United States facility. The details of the space surveillance sensor systems and radars to be installed at North West Cape and elsewhere are vague at this stage, but AUSMIN 2010 brought us a new “Space Situational Awareness Partnership” with every sign of a Chinese target.

Academic Richard Tanter provides further detail on recent developments:

The Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt at North West Cape, which was originally a US-only facility, then a joint station and, with the end of the Cold War, an Australian-controlled facility, has returned to a primarily US war-fighting role with a vengeance, by two distinct pathways.

The first leads from US concern to retain naval dominance in the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia. North West Cape’s original function was communication with submerged US nuclear missile submarines. Australia took effective control of the station in 1992 and has used the facility to communicate with its own submarines ever since. US submarine-launched ballistic missiles had developed longer ranges some time before, making reliance on missile submarine access to the Indian Ocean less crucial. Until that point, however, Naval Communication Station Harold E. Holt would have been a high priority Soviet nuclear target.

Today the main US concern is communication with US attack submarines.

North West Cape’s return to ‘joint’ status formally began at AUSMIN 2008, with Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon and Secretary of Defence Gates signing the Harold E. Holt Treaty. The treaty required Australia to operate a naval communications station, allowed the United States ‘all necessary rights of access to and use of the station’, and split the costs between the two.

The most important aspect of the emphatic US return to this VLF (very low frequency) communications base, given that it had retained access to three of the four communication channels at the facility (with the RAN having the remaining one) was, as Greens Senator Scott Ludlam put it, that North West Cape continues to facilitate, enable and support nuclear armed submarines, offensive attack weapons platforms, thereby legitimising the retention and deployment of nuclear weapons.

The second and quite new pathway derives from Australia’s decision to support the United States’ quest for military dominance in space. Through a new Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Partnership signed in 2010, the United States intends to establish a powerful space surveillance sensor in Western Australia, preferably at North West Cape.

This will be part of the US global Space Surveillance Network (SSN), which will have two principal functions. The first, emphasised by theAustralian government, is to provide a global public good through detection and location of the large volume of space debris orbiting the earth and threatening to damage the satellites on which our networked society depends. However, the SSN has another and equally, if not more important role, for the US military, which is to use the same capacities to detect objects in space for offensive and defensive aspects of war-fighting in space.

More information:

Robertson Barracks

Robertson Barracks in Darwin is a major Australian Army base located in the outer Darwin, Northern Territory suburb of Holtze in the Municipality of Litchfield. The barracks was built during the 1990s. The Barracks are home to the 1st Brigade and the 1st Aviation Regiment. Robertson Barracks has a helicopter airfield, similar to Holsworthy Barracks.

Robertson Barracks is to be a future site of a United States Pacific Command Marine deployment, and its current capacity of 4,500 troops will be upgraded in the near future. Currently, the size and the accessibility of key facilities in Darwin follows closely with other US deployment sites around the globe.

Kojarena ECHELON Base

Academic Richard Tanter summarises the Kojarena ground station:

The Australian Defence Satellite Communications Ground Station (ADSCGS) is located at Kojarena, 30 km east of Geraldton in Western Australia. It is operated by the ADF Defence Signals Division (DSD). As of November 2005, the base was staffed by seventy-nine personnel, and housed five radomes and eight satellite antennas. The Kojarena station is a major Australian DSD signals interception facility, and is part of a worldwide system of satellite communications keyword monitoring known as Echelon, which operates within the wider UKUSA signals intelligence system.

Under an agreement initiated in 2007, Geraldton figures in the US–Australia partnership in the Wideband Global SATCOM system, which provides Australian access to the principally US-funded constellation of at least seven (and possibly nine) high-capacity global war-fighting communications satellites. Under the agreement, Australia funded the sixth satellite, due to be launched in 2012–13. The first three satellites were launched between 2007 and 2010, and Australia gained operational access by June 2010.

In November 2007 the Australian government announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the United States (MUOS) for the building of an additional but separate facility within the grounds of the ADSCGS. This is to consist of three small buildings, three 19 metre antennas, and two smaller antennas, making up a joint US–Australian ground station for the US Department of Defense Mobile User Objective System, a narrow-band networked satellite constellation for Ultra-High-Frequency satellite communications enabling secure all-weather and all terrain 3-G mobile telecommunications.

The Kojarena MUOS facility will be one of four MUOS ground stations, with the others being located in Niscemi, Sicily, Virginia and Wahiawa, Hawaii.

Narangba food irradiation plant

Narangba is home to one of Australia’s food irradiation plants. In Australia all irradiation plants use cobalt-60, a nuclear material that emits gamma rays. Herbal teas, spices and some tropical fruits are permitted for irradiation in Australia.

Irradiation changes food in ways that have not been adequately tested for safety. Irradiation depletes food and vitamins and causes the formation of radiolytic products whose effect on human health is not known.

In 2009 the irradiation of cat food was banned in Australia after nearly one hundred cats became ill and many died. This has prompted many pet food companies to review their policies regarding irradiation, recognising pet health concerns. The Australian government has yet to recognise that similar risks exist for human health.

Under Australian law, pet food, animal feed, therapeutic goods and complementary medicines are not classified as “food”.  These products can, therefore be irradiated with no labelling requirements. Many of these products are packaged and sold in a similar manner and on the same retailer shelves as products that are classified as “food”. Consumers have no way to discern that the products fall under different regulatory bodies and therefore have differing labelling requirements.

More information:

Below – short video about the problems with irradiation:

[This webpage last updated May 2012]

Dandenong Irradiation Plant

South Gippsland is home to one of Australia’s food irradiation plants. In Australia all irradiation plants use cobalt-60, a nuclear material that emits gamma rays. Herbal teas, spices and some tropical fruits are permitted for irradiation in Australia.

Irradiation changes food in ways that have not been adequately tested for safety. Irradiation depletes food and vitamins and causes the formation of radiolytic products whose effect on human health is not known.

In 2009 the irradiation of cat food was banned in Australia after nearly one hundred cats became ill and many died. This has prompted many pet food companies to review their policies regarding irradiation, recognising pet health concerns. The Australian government has yet to recognise that similar risks exist for human health.

Under Australian law, pet food, animal feed, therapeutic goods and complementary medicines are not classified as “food”.  These products can, therefore be irradiated with no labelling requirements. Many of these products are packaged and sold in a similar manner and on the same retailer shelves as products that are classified as “food”. Consumers have no way to discern that the products fall under different regulatory bodies and therefore have differing labelling requirements.

More information:

Below – short video about the problems with irradiation:

[This webpage last updated March 2012]

Pine Gap

#ClosePineGap 2016 – Alice Springs Peace Convergence (Australia) 19th Sep – 3rd Oct 2016

A national gathering of peace makers and anti war activists during the 50 Year Anniversary of Pine Gap. A series of independently organised events and artful non violent protest actions in and around Alice Springs. Themed on closing the U.S. spy and drone base at Pine Gap.

More info on #ClosePineGap

The ‘Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap’ is a satellite tracking station 18 kms south-west of Alice Springs. It consists of a large computer complex with eight radomes protecting antennas and has over 800 employees. It is believed to be one of the largest ECHELON ground stations.

Pine Gap is controversial because it is an important element of the broader US-Australian military alliance and collaboration during wars such as those on Iraq and Afghanistan. Pine Gap is also an important element of the US-Australian nuclear weapons alliance (and related programs such as missile defence) and was a likely target for nuclear attack during the Cold War.

Academic Richard Tanter notes that “new operational capacities at the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap outside Alice Springs, which brought the work of that facility to the front line in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and which, together with a new US space surveillance radar planned for North West Cape, have cemented Australia’s role in US missile defence and space operations.”

Protests over the years include:

  • On 11 November 1983, Aboriginal women led 700 women activists to the Pine Gap gates where they fell silent for 11 minutes to mark Remembrance Day and the arrival of Pershing missiles at Greenham Common in Britain. This was the beginning of a two-week, women-only peace camp, organised under the auspices of Women For Survival. Women trespassed onto the military space and on one day 111 were arrested and gave their names as Karen Silkwood, the American anti-nuclear campaigner. There were allegations of police brutality and a Human Rights Commission Inquiry ensued.
  • In 1986 the base was issued with an eviction notice to be “closed by the people” in a Close the Gap campaign; there was a protest by both women and men in which bicycles featured strongly.
  • In 2002 about 500 people protested at the gates of Pine Gap, including some politicians. They were objecting to its use in the then impending Iraq war and missile defence, with a massive police presence. A few people were arrested after a scuffle with police.
  • In December 2005 six members of the Christians Against All Terrorism group staged a protest outside Pine Gap. Four of them subsequently broke into the facility and were arrested. Their trial began in October 2006 and was the first time that Australia’s Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952 was used. In June 2007 the four were fined $3250 in the Northern Territory Supreme Court with the possibility of a seven year jail term. The Commonwealth prosecutor appealed the decision saying that the sentence was “manifestly inadequate”. The Pine Gap four cross-appealed to have their convictions quashed. In February 2008 the four members successfully appealed their convictions and were acquitted.
The ‘Pine Gap 4’ peace activists entering court in June 2007.

Pine Gap is shrouded in secrecy. Federal Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties noted in a 1999 report that: “To argue that elected representatives of the Australian community cannot be entrusted with any more information than has been provided to us during this review displays … profound disregard for the fundamental principles of public accountability that underpin our parliamentary system. The absurdity of this argument is highlighted by the fact that members of a good many US congressional committees are routinely allowed access to such information without apparent jeopardy to US national interests.”

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons argues that Australia is in breach of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in respect of Nuclear Weapons in four ways: by supporting preparations for nuclear war carried out at Pine Gap; by allowing US nuclear-armed vessels to enter our waters; by relying on the “protection” of US nuclear deterrence; and by exporting uranium to nuclear-armed countries.

More information:

[This webpage last updated August 2012.]

Port Pirie

The Combined Development Agency (CDA) was established in 1948 by the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom to ensure adequate supplies of uranium for nuclear weapons development programs. In Australia, uranium ore was processed at the Port Pirie Uranium Treatment Complex (PPUTC), which was operated by the South Australian government’s mines department under contract to the CDA.

The PPUTC was situated north of the township of Port Pirie, approximately one kilometre west of the Port Pirie River. The £1.8 million complex commenced operations in August 1955 and closed in February 1962. It processed ore from Radium Hill and Wild Dog Hill (Myponga), 64 kms south of Adelaide.

The PPUTC was designed to produce 160 tonnes of uranium oxide per year. It produced 852 tonnes of U3O8 from 1956 to 1962, valued at A$36 million or ₤15 million. The Myponga mine contributed just over one tonne of U3O8 in 1954-55, from 340 tonnes of ore; thus Radium Hill was by far the main source of uranium ore.

The PPUTC consisted of three parts:

  • Leaching of uranium concentrate to dissolve the uranium-bearing mineral using 98% sulphuric acid.
  • Separation of the liquid carrying the uranium from spent ore after leaching (counter current decantation plant). In this process, the uranium-rich liquid was separated from the solids by passing through thickeners. The washed, spent ore was mixed with waste liquid from the plant and pumped to the tailings dams.
  • Recovery of the uranium by precipitation of the uranium salt. This material was dried using a hot blast type unit. The outgoing air passed through an electrostatic precipitation unit to remove uranium dust before discharging to the atmosphere.


Six clay-lined dams were constructed for the storage of tailings and waste water generated in the uranium extraction process.

Additional tailings material was produced from the processing of rare earths (e.g. scandium and yttrium). During the early 1960s, the Rare Earth Corporation (REC) operated on the site, extracting scandium, yttrium oxide and other rare earths from the uranium tailings and some imported material. As part of the operations, four smaller dams were built immediately to the east of the uranium tailings dams. A monazite cracking plant was later set up on the site and operated from 1969 to 1972. The by-products from this industry, which include monazite residues containing elevated levels of radionuclides (mainly thorium), were deposited in the REC dams.

Thus the site has the six original uranium tailings dams and four smaller rare earth tailings dams − in total these cover approximately 26 hectares and contain about 200,000 tonnes of tailings.

A number of significant management issues have arisen from the storage of tailings at the PPUTC:

  • first, from the close proximity of homes to the dams (within 300 metres);
  • second, due to the lack of fencing, the site was used as a playground for children over a number of years; and
  • third, from the insufficient height of the tailings walls which failed during the high tides of 1981.

After six years of community pressure and after high tides breached the walls of the tailings dam in 1981, the dam wall was increased in height; the tailings were covered under a metre of slag, clay and topsoil; the area was re-fenced; and a trench was constructed to drain run-off water into an evaporation pond. It took 30 years to take these stop-gap remedial measures. The financial cost to the South Australian public was about $1 million.

Jenny Lewis (pictured) was a prominent member of the local campaign group that succeeded in getting the Port Pirie tailings fenced off and partially remediated. To hear Jenny talk about her experiences click here.

According to the 1997 Senate Select Committee on Uranium Mining and Milling report: “The Committee is not convinced, on the evidence before it, that rehabilitation and remedial work has been satisfactorily completed. It recommends a full public evaluation of the work as soon as possible and that the sites be reappraised at intervals of not more than two years.”

The SA government’s 2003 ‘Audit of Radioactive Waste‘ recommended that long-term management plans be developed as required by conditions of registration of the Port Pirie site under the SA Radiation Protection and Control Act 1982. The report states: “In the mid 1980s, slag from the adjacent Pasminco smelter was used to cover dams 2, 3 and 4 and parts of dams 1 and 5 to minimise radon emissions and any potential for dust emission. From 1989 to 1990 the plant area was surveyed and partially decontaminated, and contaminated soil and other material was deposited in the eastern end of dams 5 and 6. The slag coverage was recently extended to cover the northern end of the former processing plant area following the demolition of the original processing tanks.”

The SA government established a Community Focus Group in 2005 in collaboration with the Port Pirie Regional Development Board. The purpose was to establish an effective forum to provide a review process and communication link between the project management team and the community of Port Pirie relating to the management and potential remediation of the PPUTC.

Further work was carried out in 2005−2006 including

  • assessment of the structural integrity of the tailings impoundments;
  • identification and sampling of radiometric and other contaminant anomalies;
  • radiological testing of buildings prior to demolition, then demolition and dismantling of all buildings and infrastructure, and removal of the majority of the original foundations;
  • quantification of all existing wastes, covers etc.;
  • work to determine what economic value and potential remain (if any) in the residue products on-site, namely the tailings resulting from the original extraction of uranium; and
  • hydrogeological investigation.

As of June 2012 the SA government’s website indicates that the following work is in progress:

  • groundwater sampling and monitoring to determine what mechanisms and processes are occurring with respect to hydrogeological conditions at the site;
  • plant site cleanup − disposal of remaining plant and equipment; and
  • risk assessment and control scoping study to quantify and assess the level of risk associated with the site with respect to both radiological and non-radiological impacts.

June 2012 correspondence from the SA Department of Manufacturing, Innovation, Trade, Resources and Energy states: “The site assessment works were undertaken to inform the department in developing the long term planning and management of the sites. As a follow on from these works, the sites are actively monitored to provide additional information to assist with the ongoing development of management plans and potential remediation.”

Thus there are outstanding environmental and public health issues 50 years after the closure of the PPUTC, and Port Pirie can be added to the list of uranium mines and plants with ongoing problems and concerns decades after their closure.

Although the uranium grades at Radium Hill were moderate to low, the rare earths grade was exceptional, with values up to 7% rare earth oxides. A proposal was made public in the late 1980s to mine and extract the rare earths from the remnant tailings at Port Pirie. However the project was abandoned due to intense public opposition.


Above: A 1958 photograph. Ore concentrates were leached in boiling sulphuric acid to dissolve the uranium, which was precipitated, after further processing, as yellowcake. Leaching vats were housed in the tall building to the right of the four thickening tanks. The tanks were used to settle out solids from the waste material, and water was returned to the plant for re-use; the thickened solids were pumped into the tailings dams at left.

[This webpage last updated June 2012.]


The British government / military conducted seven nuclear weapons tests at Maralinga in 1956-57 (and two tests at nearby Emu Fields). Maralinga was also the site of a large number of ‘minor trials’ or ‘safety tests’ which resulted in extensive local radioactive contamination.

A number of Aboriginal people were moved from Ooldea to Yalata prior to the 1956-57 series of tests at Maralinga, and this included moving people away from their traditional lands. Yet movements by the Aboriginal population still occurred throughout the region at the time of the tests. It was later realised that a traditional Aboriginal route crossed through the Maralinga testing range. There are tragic accounts of Aboriginal families sleeping in atomic bomb craters. Native Patrol Officers had the impossible task of patrolling thousands of square kilometres of land.

Operation Buffalo (Maralinga, South Australia)
One Tree – 27 September, 1956 – 12.9 kilotons – plutonium
Marcoo – 4 October, 1956 – 1.4 kilotons – plutonium
Kite – 11 October, 1956 – 2.9 kilotons – plutonium
Breakaway’ – 22 October, 1956 – 10.8 kilotons – plutonium
Operation Antler (Maralinga, South Australia)
Tadje – 14 September, 1957 – 0.9 kilotons – plutonium

Biak – 25 September, 1957 – 5.7 kilotons – plutonium
Taranaki – 9 October, 1957 – 26.6 kilotons – plutonium

A Valiant bomber used to drop a nuclear bomb at Maralinga.

In relation to the Buffalo series of tests in 1956, the Royal Commission found that regard for Aboriginal safety was characterised by “ignorance, incompetence and cynicism”, and that the site was chosen on the false premise that it was no longer used by the Traditional Owners. Aboriginal people continued to inhabit the Prohibited Zone for six years after the tests. The reporting of sightings of Aborigines was “discouraged and ignored”, the Royal Commission found.

The British Government paid A$13.5 million compensation to the Maralinga Tjarutja in 1995. Other Aboriginal victims – including members of the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta – have not been compensated and have not received an apology.

In the mid 1990s, another ‘clean up’ of Maralinga was carried out – the fourth one so far. Before this latest ‘clean up’, kilograms of plutonium were buried in shallow, unlined pits in totally unsuitable geology … and after the ‘clean up’, kilograms of plutonium are still buried in shallow, unlined pits in totally unsuitable geology. The plan was to vitrify contaminated material, turning it into a solid glass-like monolith. But the government later realised that there was far more contaminated material than they had originally estimated and budgeted for. So, to cut costs, they curtailed and then abandoned vitrification and simply dumped the plutonium-contaminated material in shallow pits.

Senator Nick Minchin said the Maralinga Tjarutja agreed to deep burial of the contaminated material – but the burial was not deep and the Tjarutja did not agree to it. Nuclear engineer Alan Parkinson, who advised the Maralinga Tjarutja on the clean-up and then became a whistleblower, said on ABC radio in August 2002: “What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land”. US scientist Dale Timmons said the government’s technical report on the ‘clean up’ was littered with “gross misinformation”. Geoff Williams, an officer with the Commonwealth nuclear regulator ARPANSA, said the ‘clean up’ was beset by a “host of indiscretions, short-cuts and cover-ups”. Nuclear physicist Peter Johnston said there were “very large expenditures and significant hazards resulting from the deficient management of the project”.

Above: Australian Financial Review, 20 August 2002 – responding to Science Minister Peter McGauran’s statements regarding the Maralinga ‘clean-up’.

More information on the British nuclear tests in Australia:

Above: Maralinga veteran Avon Hudson, 2011. Photo by Jessie Boylan.

Below: Maralinga village, 2011. Photo by Jessie Boylan.

Below (three videos): Nuclear engineer Alan Parkinson discusses the problematic ‘clean up’ of Maralinga under the Howard government:

Plutonium at Maralinga – Alan Parkinson

Dust at Maralinga ‒ Alan Parkinson

Maralinga Mystery – Alan Parkinson

Kevin Buzzacott, Lake Eyre, 2011 from jessie boylan on Vimeo.

Avon Hudson – nuclear veteran 2011 from jessie boylan on Vimeo.

Avon Hudson – Nuclear Veteran pt2 from jessie boylan on Vimeo.

The video below is a 50-minute documentary focussed on scientific whistleblower Hedley Marston who undertook independent radiation measurements during and after nuclear tests at Maralinga

Below: Australia’s Atomic Confessions

More videos about the British nuclear bomb tests in Australia:

Monte Bello Islands

The British government / military conducted three nuclear bomb tests at Monte Bello Islands off the coast of Western Australia . While the Islands were uninhabited, the nuclear tests conducted there spread radioactivity across large portions of mainland Australia – for example one test resulted in ‘radioactive rain’ on the Queensland coast.

Operation Hurricane (Monte Bello Islands, Western Australia)

  • 3 October, 1952 – 25 kilotons – plutonium

Operation Mosaic (Monte Bello Islands, Western Australia)

  • G1 – 16 May, 1956 – Trimouille Island – 15 kilotons – plutonium
  • G2 – 19 June, 1956 – Alpha Island – 60 kilotons – plutonium

The 1983-84 Royal Commission (p.261) concluded: “The presence of Aborigines on the mainland near Monte Bello Islands and their extra vulnerability to the effect of fallout was not recognised by either [Atomic Weapons Research Establishment – UK] or the Safety Committee. It was a major oversight that the question of acceptable dose levels for Aborigines was recognised as a problem at Maralinga but was ignored in setting the fallout criteria for the Mosaic tests.”

Operation Hurricane, 3 October 1952, the first nuclear bomb test in Australia.

More information on the British nuclear tests in Australia:

Here is a (soundless) video of the first nuclear bomb test carried out in Australia, 3 October 1952:


Atom bomb veterans remember life-changing blast

Brendan Trembath, 3 Oct 2012,

Sixty years since Britain tested its first atom bomb in Australia, those who witnessed the blast – many who now have cancer – have reunited to talk about how it changed their lives. The veterans are still seeking an apology from the Federal Government and appropriate health care for them and their children.

Official records say those serving on the HMAS Murchison on October 3, 1952, were 70 miles away when Britain successfully detonated an atomic bomb on the Monte Bello islands, off the coast of the Pilbara in Western Australia. But to this day, many who were there say they were much closer.

Michael Rowe was on board the ship and remembers the moment the bomb went off. “We were told to face east, which we did, and then we were told we could turn around and face west and we saw the first British atom bomb go off,” he said.

Mr Rowe is among those who attended a lunch at a Navy base in Sydney with other veterans and their families to mark the anniversary. “I think it’s an important day in our lives. It’s 60 years after we were at Montebello when the Brits set off their bomb,” he said.

He smiles when he recalls how underdressed they were. “We were clothed to protect ourselves in a pair of shorts and sandals. That’s all,” he said.

Mr Rowe is also among those who say they were much closer to ground zero than what is officially recorded and he has photos which he says proves it.

“There’s been big arguments over the years about how far away the Murchison was from the actual bomb site, but I had a little tiny camera that I had hidden down inside my shorts and I took a photograph of that bomb going off, a very clear photograph of the bomb going off,” he said.

“All the records show that we were 70 miles away and there was no way in the world you could’ve taken this photograph from 70 miles.”

Mr Rowe says he and others onboard the ship think they were about 12 to 15 nautical miles east of the blast site.

I’ve had a great life. Done lots of things, been lots of places but I always seem to have something wrong with me and it was only on September 19 that I was diagnosed with multiple cancers, terminal cancers.

He is one of the 23 known surviving national servicemen from HMAS Murchison. But like many who were there that day, Mr Rowe now has cancer.

“I’ve had a great life. Done lots of things, been lots of places but I always seem to have something wrong with me and it was only on September 19 that I was diagnosed with multiple cancers, terminal cancers,” he said.

Fellow crew member Ken Palmer was not well enough to attend the lunch but his wife Robyn came in his place.

“He has secondaries from thyroid cancer as a result of the blast. They were exposed to the radiation, but he’s doing well, yes, he’s doing well,” she said.

But some veterans are reluctant to make the link between what they witnessed and health problems later in life.

Ross McPhee has cancer but does not think it is from witnessing the atom bomb.

“I had a wonderful time in the national service. I can’t blame them for any ill effects that I might have suffered in my subsequent life,” he said.

“That was probably just through my own indiscretion – lung cancer from smoking, et cetera.”

Mr McPhee does acknowledge the nuclear test affected him another way.

He said expressed his fear in a rare letter to his mother.

“At that time we were in conflict with the Russians and I thought if they get their hands on this weapon and they fire it, this could affect mankind as we knew it at the time and it frightened me,” he said.