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Wednesday, 20 August 1980
Page: 561

Mr Hayden asked the Minister for Science and the Environment, upon notice, on 1 5 April 1980:

(1)   Has his attention been drawn to reports of a suspected nuclear explosion near South Africa on or about 22 September 1979.

(2)   Do facilities exist in Australia which could have detected such an explosion; if so (a) what are they and (b) could they have detected such an explosion if it were an atmospheric explosion of a neutron bomb.

(3)   Is any information available to the Government, either from these facilities or from other sources, which can confirm or deny the reports referred to in part (1); if so, what information is available.

Mr Thomson - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1)   My attention has been drawn to a report in the US Journal Science of 30 November 1979 of a light signal reported by the US VELA satellite at about 3.00 a.m. (local time, South Africa) on 22 September 1979.

(2)   (a) and (b) There are facilities in Australia that can assist in detecting nuclear events:

(i)   Seismic monitoring stations operated by or in association with the Bureau of Mineral Resources are presently located at Adelaide, Alice Springs, Armidale, Bellfield, Broken Hill, Canberra, Charters Towers, Darwin, Hobart, Kalgoorlie, Kununurra, Marble Bar, Meekatharra, Mount Isa, Mundaring, Narrogin, Riverview and Toolangi. In addition, an acoustic and seismic monitoring station operated by the ANU is located at Tennent Creek, and seismic facilities are operated by other academic institutions elsewhere in Australia.

(ii)   The Australian base at Mawson in Antarctica also samples air in support of French radioactivity measurements, and operates a seismic recorder.

(iii)   Radioactive fallout monitoring takes place at a number of sites in Australia.

It would be within the capability of some of these facilities to detect an atmospheric explosion of a neutron bomb under certain circumstances, but they would not be assured of detecting every such event.

(3)   The Government is unable to say whether the light signal was the product of a nuclear explosion. Careful study of seismic records, analysis of air samples and vegetation, and monitoring for radioactive fallout have so far left the matter indeterminate. It is understood that other countries with an interest have not been able to confirm that there was a nuclear explosion.

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