Australian news, and some related international items

Nuclear tourism- a pretty sick idea, really

Nuclear tourism is so hot right now,

Matthew Abraham, Sunday Mail (SA), August 10, 2019   It was 3.40am precisely on March 1, 1954, when the great Adelaide earthquake rumbled into town, looking for a fight.

Rattled awake, Mum and Dad leapt out of bed, grabbed my older brother from his bedroom, and raced outside. They forgot something.


I was three weeks old at the time, bouncing around but still sound asleep at the foot of their double bed.

While the Home Alone moment is part of our family folklore, a far more sinister threat to babies in our sleeping city came just over two years later.
It was silent, invisible and a dirty little secret.

The UK Government began merrily blowing up South Australia’s backyard, detonating atomic “devices” on the Maralinga lands in a series of trials stretching from 1956 to 1963.

In radiation lingo, some of these trials were particularly “dirty”.

On October 11, 1956, an unexpected southerly wind shift carried a radioactive cloud from one such blast right across Adelaide. Almost a year to the day later, on October 9, 1957, radioactive rain from an even dirtier nuclear blast – a 25-kilotonne bomb detonated at Maralinga’s Taranki test site – fell on Adelaide.

We were all blissfully ignorant, and that’s how the UK and Australian Governments liked it. The full extent of these trials was covered up for more than 30 years. The denials and callous disregard for the lives of the indigenous people of the Maralinga lands remains an unmitigated disgrace.

You’d think that soaking up a little Strontium-90 with the Farex as a two-year-old might have been more than enough nuclear joy for anyone.

Strange then, that in 1984 I became a nuclear tourist, strolling across the ground zero sites of three of the Maralinga atomic blasts – Taranki, TM100 and TM101.

This is how it happened.

The then Labor premier, the late John Bannon, was pushing hard for the UK to pay for cleaning up the radioactive mess it’d left blowing around our desert.

Much of the credit for what proved to be a successful campaign should really go to his then press secretary, later premier, Mike Rann.

In May 1984, Rann invited journalists to fly to Maralinga to cover an inspection tour by Bannon and Labor’s resources minister, Peter Walsh.

As then political reporter for The Advertiser, I was on the jaunt.

Despite evidence of uncovered plutonium particles, nobody wore masks, protective clothing or special footwear. I wore my trusty, lightweight Dunlop KT-47s.

Before heading back to the airstrip, I pocketed a small piece of aluminium that had been melted out of shape, almost certainly from one of the towers erected to hold the bombs.

Of all the dumb things I’ve done in my life, this was by far the dumbest.

We were issued with monitoring badges but discovered these only measured background radiation, not airborne plutonium particles.

On arriving home I binned the Dunlops and all my clothes from the trip – including the nuked souvenir.

Later we were flown to the Australian Radiation Laboratories in Melbourne for a four-hour scan of our lungs and livers for any evidence of ingested plutonium particles.

They were negative, which is terrific, because plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years and the tiniest particle lodged in a lung will give you cancer.

Last Tuesday marked 74 years since the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. We’re all so much wiser now. Aren’t we? Nah.

In Ukraine, tourists are reportedly flocking to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the focus of a recent TV drama dealing with the 1986 explosion that turned the nearby city into a ghost town.

The Ukrainian Government has announced it’s transforming the 30km exclusion zone around the still-melting reactor No.4 into a “tourist magnet”, improving mobile phone reception, lifting video bans, and creating walking trails and waterways.

The disaster quickly claimed the lives of 31 workers from direct radiation, while an estimated 5000 people developed thyroid cancer.

Now tourists are posting Chernobyl selfies on Instagram, including a young lady semi-naked in a white contamination suit. It’s all good clean atomic cataclysmic fun.

Nuke tourism? Been there, done that. Give me a small earthquake any day.

August 12, 2019 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, personal stories

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