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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2791


Senator MASON —by leave-The report of the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council on British nuclear tests in Australia is truly a massive document of 77 pages. As the report has just been tabled by the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Walsh) it is not possible at this time to deal with it at length. However, I wish to pursue a point to which I have given some attention in recent weeks. I refer to the circumstances which occurred between the Buffalo explosions of 1956 and the Antler explosions of 1957. I recently drew the attention of the Senate to the recent 16-day report of the Expert Committee on the Review of Data on Atmospheric Fallout Arising from British Nuclear Tests in Australia-the Kerr Committee-into those incidents which noted that there had been a planned intrusion into a contaminated area after the Buffalo tests.

The story goes further because another document indicates that there are a few inconsistencies or at least misunderstandings. Table 4.1 in the January 1983 AIRAC No. 9 document indicates the yield of the bombs which were exploded at that time. The last Operation Buffalo explosion for the year, code named Breakaway, took place in October 1956. Breakaway was a tower drop which means that the explosion was close to the ground and the yield is expressed as being in the kiloton range. I, and many other people who have read this report, have interpreted that as a one kiloton bomb. That, however, appears not to be the case because the British document which sets out the chronology of British atomic tests in Australia states:

October 22 The fourth Buffalo atomic device, tower-mounted, is exploded on the Breakaway site at 0005 hours CST giving a yield of about 10 kt.

There is a great difference between the expected radiation and the fallout, particularly the dust fallout and ground disturbance, of a 10-kiloton bomb compared with a one kiloton bomb and I think that is a point that deserves to be made abundantly clear.

The AIRAC No. 4 report contains a map which shows, interestingly enough, that the ground zero on the range position of the 10-kiloton Buffalo test we are now considering was located almost exactly half way between Taranaki and Biak, which were two of the major tests in the ensuing Antler series. These tests were carried out less than a kilometer from each other. That means, of course, that any work that was done in that area for those 1957 tests was carried out in preparation for ground zero positions which were only a kilometre or less away from the place at which a 10-kiloton weapon had been exploded as a ground explosion from a tower.

In the next few pages of the chronology we find an account of a great deal of activity that was carried out at the Maralinga range at that time. So I think that even the 77-page report deserves some further explanation as to what is happening. For instance, the following comment is made in the chronology for January 1957:

The UK army medical officer who arrived with a group in Sydney on June 19, 1956 reports on his four-month tour of duty at Maralinga.

He points out:

. . . on the whole personnel were very healthy except for a few hacking coughs probably as a result of all the dust around. On the dust question, he remarks that the temporary tent camp provided quite adequate medical facilities except for the dust and dust storms which were a great problem because it was difficult to keep the equipment clean without it being well covered.

I make the point here to honourable senators that the original reason this matter was raised was because my informant had told me that there had been an appalling dust problem on the Maralinga range at that time. Here we have confirmation of that. The dust problem, of course, is not merely a problem of dust itself; it is dust which almost certainly would have contained the unburnt plutonium and fission products of that 10-kiloton weapon which was exploded there only a few months before.

Page 59 of the chronology contains a series of views about what would happen to the range after those tests. This indicates that considerable numbers of people were working at this location and that a great deal of work was going on. The comment is made in relation to 25 October:

It is evident that the UK programme would produce Range activities where considerable importance is to be placed on 'Minor Trials', involving the employment of a large number of people over almost the whole year.

A little later the document states:

A paper is to be prepared for Cabinet as to the services required to support Maralinga after the Buffalo series, the contributions to be made by Australia, and the division of responsibility between Australia and the UK for management of the range.

If I may make a suggestion to the Minister, I think that that paper which was prepared for the Cabinet-which I presume is the British Cabinet-as to the services required to support Maralinga after the Buffalo series ought to have come into the hands of this Government because I think it is the one way we have of getting a highly relevant idea of just what was going on after those Buffalo tests at the time when, according to my information, between 400 and 800 Australian civilians were operating in a contaminated area. Of course, as the Kerr report says, there was a planned intrusion at that time into a contaminated area. The chronology also states:

As Sir William Penney is present at the meeting with his Trials Superintendent, he gives an account of the work which has to be done to complete the Range buildings and roads. He emphasises the excellent work done by the Task Force under the direction of the Range Commandant.

It would be interesting for us to have more information of just what that work was. We know that there were range buildings to be put up; we know that there were roads to be put in. My information is that additionally heavy earthmoving equipment and jackhammers were used particularly to create instrument lanes which presumably would have had a clear line of sight to the ground zero positions of the 1957 tests. Some of those works must then have been possibly as close as a few hundred yards from the ground zero of the 10-kiloton explosion Breakaway which took place on 22 October 1956, only a few months before.

I suggest that every document that is released makes this story more intriguing and interesting and indicates the need for further study. I commend the Government's idea of having an investigation into all of what took place. If such an investigation is carried out I suggest that this time span and what is said about it in the chronology from which I have quoted ought to be the subject of close study by expert people and further information should be requested from the British Government along the lines I have suggested.

Debate (on motion by Senator Walsh) adjourned.