Australian news, and some related international items

Media secrecy allowed Australian territory to become highly radioactively contaminated

text-from-the-archivesDig for secrets: the lesson of Maralinga’s Vixen B The secret-agent-AustConversation, Liz Tynan, 26 July 13  “……lack of knowledge about the British nuclear tests in Australia is not surprising. The tests were not part of the national conversation for many years. Even when older people remember that nuclear tests were held here, no-one knows the story of the most secret tests of all, the ones that left the most contamination: Vixen B.

Maralinga is a particularly striking example of what can happen when media are unable to report government activities comprehensively. The media have a responsibility to deal with complex scientific and technological issues that governments may be trying to hide. While Maralinga was an example of extreme secrecy, the same kind of secrecy could at any time be enacted again. With the Edward Snowden case, we have seen what can happen when journalists become complicit in government secrecy, and we have learned the press must be more rigorous in challenging cover-ups.

At Maralinga, part of our territory became the most highly contaminated land in the world. But the Australian public had no way of granting informed consent because no-one knew it was happening. Remediating the environmental contamination was delayed for decades for the same reason. While arguments might be mounted for the need for total secrecy at the time (although these arguments are debatable in the case of Vixen B), there was no reason to keep the aftermath totally secret as well.

The British nuclear test program ran for 11 years, from 1952 to 1963, at the Monte Bello Islands off the Western Australia coast, and Emu Field and Maralinga in the South Australian desert. A total of 12 “mushroom cloud” bombs were exploded: three at Monte Bello, two at Emu Field and seven at Maralinga. These were known as the major trials.

The tests of far greater consequence were the 12 Vixen B tests, only held at Maralinga ………

The errors perpetuated by the Pearce report resulted in considerable confusion and misinformation about plutonium contamination at Maralinga for many years.

The contemporary media missed Vixen B completely. The authorities had prepared a carefully-worded media statement to issue if any journalist became curious about the continued activity at Maralinga long after the major tests had ended. That statement was not used, because no-one came looking for many years.

By the late 1970s, the Menzies era compliance was gone and some resourceful investigative journalists who would not follow the official line were rising. Maralinga would not stay secret for much longer……../

Ian Anderson’s 1993 New Scientist story, “Britain’s dirty deeds at Maralinga”, revealed the extent of plutonium contamination at the site and the fact that the true level of contamination had been known by the British authorities but covered up.

Australia was not a nuclear power. The country was in a highly ambiguous position – the staging ground for nuclear weapons testing carried out with great secrecy and control by another nation, the “mother country” herself. This made Australia, at least initially, curiously powerless and inept in dealing with the tests, particularly the most dangerous tests held at Maralinga, Vixen B.

The absence of media coverage and public debate created a gap in most people’s understanding of Maralinga that persists to this day.

December 9, 2016 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, history, media, reference, South Australia

1 Comment »

  1. […] Australia has an infamous history of involvement in the nuclear weapons race, from the […]


    Pingback by They’ve resuscitated the plan for South Australia as the world’s nuclear waste dump | noelwauchope | April 20, 2014 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: