A former nuclear test site in Australia is now a growing tourist attraction. Though, few know about the devastating, long-term, consequences the test had on the nearby indigenous population and test workers.
In The News:
“Maralinga, Australia, a barren stretch of land in South Australia’s remote western desert, is the country’s only former nuclear test site open to tourists. ‘Yes, there is still radiation here,’ Mr. Matthews said as he drove a minibus to the sites where the Australian and British governments dropped seven bombs between 1956 and 1963, which dotted the earth with huge craters and poisoned scores of Indigenous people and their descendants. Back then, the government placed hundreds of human guinea pigs — wearing only shorts and long socks — in the front areas of the test zones. The effects of large doses of radiation were devastating”.
Support From Peace Science:
Between 1952 and 1957, the Australian government allowed British nuclear weapons tests in the Monte Bello Islands, and in Maralinga and Emu Field in Southern Australia. The highest post-test radiation doses were recorded in local Aboriginal communities. Residents were often not evacuated or informed of the testing and, in some cases, were allowed to stay in contaminated areas for up to six years before monitoring organizations warned them of their risk to radiation exposure. Personnel working on the nuclear tests were also at high risk of radiation exposure and often lacked vital protective equipment or occupational safety standards. Workers were routinely exposed to radiation doses 80 times higher than the health standards of 1950. Compared to current safety standards, a single nuclear weapons test exposed workers to 20 times today’s acceptable yearly limit. Three decades after the nuclear testing, a government-funded study found test veterans had 23% higher cancer rates and were 18% more likely to die of cancer than the general public. Unresolved long-term issues are indigenous dispossession, remaining contamination, inadequate clean-up and lack of compensation for indigenous people and workers exposed to hazardous radiation.
“It wasn’t long after that a black smoke came through…we all got crook, every one of us. We were all vomiting; we had diarrhea, skin rashes and sore eyes. I had really sore eyes. They were so sore I couldn’t open them for two or three weeks. Some of the older people, they died. They were too weak to survive all the sickness. The closest clinic was 400 miles away”.
– Yami Lester, Yankunytjatjara elder and nuclear test survivor, referring to the “Black Mist” radioactive fallout after a nuclear test in South Australia on 15 October 1953.
Australia’s Least Likely Tourist Spot: A Test Site for Atom Bombs. By Ben Stubbs for the New York Times. April 15, 2018.
Peace Science Digest Volume 2, Special Issue on Nuclear Weapons: “Long-Term Human Costs of Nuclear Weapons Tests in the Pacific”