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Tuesday, 1 May 1984
Page: 1359


Senator MAGUIRE —My question is directed to the Minister for Resources and Energy. I refer to the recent allegations made about atomic testing at Maralinga , including the new allegation that there are 15 to 20 unmarked dumps containing radioactive material in the former nuclear test area. I ask the Minister: As the records held by the British Government, which the Minister referred to in his reply to Senator Elstob, appear central to any full investigation of these and other disturbing allegations, will the Commonwealth Government be making an approach to the British Government for the release of documentary evidence on nuclear testing at Maralinga and elsewhere?


Senator WALSH —I will take the last part of the question first. We are continuing to try to obtain relevant factual material from the British Government and other sources. I think the latest allegations to which Senator Maguire refers are probably about Mr Burke's comments or allegations about previously undisclosed dumping sites for hot rubbish or, in other words, what is unequivocally radioactive rubbish or radioactive material, including some which may have been fairly highly radioactive.

As I mentioned to Senator Elstob, the location and contents of burial pits were documented by the United Kingdom authorities during clean-up operations in 1964 and 1967. All the pits containing radioactive materials at Maralinga, with the caveat that there is at the margin perhaps some dispute as to what is and what is not radioactive material, are located within the boundaries of four fenced areas, some of the pits being capped with concrete, depending on the nature of the contents or its degree of radioactivity. None of the pits can be identified at surface level without instruments or detailed documentation. The evidence given to Senate Estimates Committee C yesterday by, I think, Mr Daniels or Mr Garran from the Department, who visited the area recently was that the radioactivity is very difficult to detect at all outside those fences and does not give a very high reading on instruments inside the fences.

As I indicated earlier to Senator Elstob, there is some other material which was classified as non-radioactive buried at the test sites Emu, Maralinga and Monte Bello. The Department is aware of the location of those pits and following recommendations from the Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Councl all those burial areas have been covered with topsoil and cannot be distinguished from surrounding areas without reference to documents which are currently held by the Department. The Department is unaware of any other burial sites outside the three test sites and the condition of those areas is regularly monitored by scientists and officers of the Department. I understand that the next Australian Ionising Radiation Advisory Council check of those sites is to take place this month.


Senator Sir John Carrick —Next month.


Senator WALSH —It is May, according to my note here. I think I ought to say again just in case somebody reads this in isolation that, because of the wide dispersal of these records and prima facie evidence I think of some carelessness at the time, it is difficult to be absolutely categorical about the incidents that took place or the precise nature of what is buried and where and whether, with certainty, it can be stated that we know the location of everything that is buried. But from the best available information the conclusion by my Department is that it does know where all the relevant material is buried and that the monitoring and checks of those burial sites confirm that the disposal has been adequate and safe.