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Friday, 1 June 1984
Page: 2369

Senator MASON —My question is addressed to the Minister for Resources and Energy . Is the Minister aware of claims that as many as 400 people carried out earth works on the Maralinga atomic bomb test range following the 1956 series of bomb explosions and that the use of machinery in these works created heavy clouds of dust? Does a map published by the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council show that these earthworks, in preparation for the ensuing 1957 tests, were only one kilometre from the site of the immediately preceding explosion? Was the final 1956 test a one kiloton ground burst which must have created heavy fallout around its ground zero positions? Hence, is it not a fact that Australian workers worked in an area in dusty conditions which must have contained fallout and alpha radiation emitters? Since plutonium 239 is a toxic and highly dangerous alpha emitter, will the Government ask the British Government to confirm or deny that the breakaway test for any of the Buffalo series of 1956 involved plutonium based bombs? Since it is known that alpha emitters in dust inhaled or ingested into the human body--

The PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's question is too long.

Government senators interjecting-

Senator MASON —It is delightful for me to know that members of the Government want to duck out on this issue. From their reaction, they do not want these facts to emerge.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask the honourable senator to restrict himself to the question.

Senator MASON —My final point, which I suggest Government senators ought to listen to, since it involves their constituents--

The PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator will ask his question.

Senator MASON —Since it is known that alpha emitters in dust inhaled or ingested into the human body can cause cancers which develop some 30 years later, what steps is the Government taking on behalf of those Australians likely to have been affected?

Senator WALSH —I am mystified at the cause of that petulant outburst just before the end of an extremely long question. On the information currently available, I am not able to confirm whether roads were constructed during the time frame which was suggested by Senator Mason and which has had some publicity in the Press. That matter, along with a number of others, is being investigated. Senator Mason made a couple of other points. He said that following the possibly relevant one kiloton explosion there would have been heavy fallout in the area. This will be subject to far more detailed checking later on. I was advised last week that although there was probably heavy fallout of shorter lived radioactive material, even with a relatively weak atomic explosion of that size-one kiloton- there would be negligible plutonium contamination of the area, and it is plutonium with which Senator Mason is clearly primarily concerned.

As I have indicated to the Senate before, Professor Kerr and his committee have now completed their report. I propose to table that in the Senate next week. In that report-I have read most of it-the Committee addresses the question of fallout of the United Kingdom tests, weapons tests and others, held in Australia . The Committee has made recommendations which I intend to consider or put to the Government for possible action at the earliest possible time.

Regarding the aspect of the question on information from the British, I have already asked the British High Commissioner for detailed information as to the amounts of radioactive material which were contained in all of the tests-again, weapons and other tests-between 1952 and 1963.

Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Has the Minister asked the British Government whether the bomb was a plutonium bomb?

Senator WALSH —I do not have a copy of the information requested with me, but as I recall it I asked the British to supply details of the amount of plutonium, if any, which was in all of the bombs and other devices which were tested and the amount which they believe would have been deposited nearby. Obviously, of course , the rest would have been either fissioned or blasted into the upper atmosphere .