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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2789


Senator WALSH (Minister for Resources and Energy) —by leave-I table a document entitled 'British Atomic Tests in Australia Chronology of Events: 1950-1968' and seek leave to make a statement relating to the document.

Leave granted.


Senator WALSH —Tabling of this document has been delayed because of British concerns that some of the information it contains is drawn from British documents which remain classified. Those difficulties have now been resolved. While certain British sourced references have been deleted, for the most part it has proved possible to add new and similar material drawn from Australian sourced documents. The report has been prepared by a consultant to my Department , Dr J. L. Symonds. His principal task is to prepare a fully documented history of the British atomic tests in Australia and that report will be available later this year. However, in view of recent public concern about the test, I asked some weeks ago that Dr Symonds produce a summary version of the significant events for public release as soon as possible.

I have only two comments to make on the report. The first is in relation to the Mosaic series of tests at Monte Bello Islands in 1956. Dr Symonds's report indicates that although some of the light elements characteristic of a thermonuclear or hydrogen explosion were used in these tests, the resultant explosion could not be classed as a hydrogen bomb. However, in the September 13, 1955 entry in chapter 4 of Dr Symonds's report, the larger yield weapon, the 19 June test which produced a yield of 60 kilotons, is stated to be, 'a fission weapon containing no uranium with which the light elements can react''. I am advised that this may not be entirely correct scientifically since a fission weapon does contain fissile material, whether it is plutonium 239 or uranium 235 . The product of the light element reactions would interact with this fissile material to some degree. The relative contribution to the total explosive force of the nuclear interactions which may have occurred is unclear.

My second comment is in relation to the minor trials covered in chapter 7 of Dr Symonds's report. It is clear that it is these trials, and particularly the Vixen B series, which involved the use of plutonium, that produced the major source of radiological contamination which remains of concern at Maralinga today . One would assume that the Australian Governments of the day were aware of the nature of these tests. However, Australian documents examined to date do not enable us to determine this. Ministers of those governments or the then chairman of the board of management may be able to clarify this point. It is principally for this reason that a recently completed radiological survey at Maralinga concentrated on the question of residual plutonium contamination and why I have asked a series of questions of the British Government about the quantities of plutonium used, dispersed and buried at Maralinga. As I have already announced, some plutonium 'hot spots' were identified during the recent survey. I am awaiting a full report to enable consideration to be given to the management regime in those areas so as to ensure that members of the public are not exposed to any radiological hazard and also to determine whether any further action should be taken.

Finally, Mr President, I apologise to honourable senators that in the short time available it has not proved possible to print sufficient copies of the report for distribution. Pending printing I have arranged for a limited number of copies-about 20-to be placed in the Parliamentary Library.