Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

Nuclear testing in Maralinga, sixty years on

Nuclear testing in Maralinga, sixty years on, First Nations communities have borne the brunt of nuclear testing carried out by the British Government in the 1950s. Forced off their land for 30 years, they have since been tasked with monitoring operations as part of their bid for land back. http://honisoit.com/2022/03/nuclear-testing-in-maralinga-sixty-years-on/?fbclid=IwAR3I0PK-6iZhEgsBzkE4ojkVf9PjgS7h0xJ1fLubi2raItB6A bKatarina Butler. March 17, 2022  In the wake of Hiroshima, every major power on Earth scrambled to develop nuclear weapons to maintain military relevance. One such country was Britain, and in a bid to strengthen Australia’s relationship with Brits, the Menzies government offered swathes of land for nuclear testing. The areas chosen were predominantly inhabited by First Nations people.

Testing in Australia was carried out in three locations: Montebello Islands, Emu Field, and Maralinga, between 1952 and 1957. A total of twelve major atomic detonations occurred, creating large fireballs and mushroom clouds that released radioactive debris that is still detectable today. The explosions were similar in size to those seen at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

March 17, 2022  In the wake of Hiroshima, every major power on Earth scrambled to develop nuclear weapons to maintain military relevance. One such country was Britain, and in a bid to strengthen Australia’s relationship with Brits, the Menzies government offered swathes of land for nuclear testing. The areas chosen were predominantly inhabited by First Nations people.

Testing in Australia was carried out in three locations: Montebello Islands, Emu Field, and Maralinga, between 1952 and 1957. A total of twelve major atomic detonations occurred, creating large fireballs and mushroom clouds that released radioactive debris that is still detectable today. The explosions were similar in size to those seen at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

For the surrounding communities, the testing also posed, and poses, significant health risks.

Nuclear fallout is a mix of unfissioned material and radioactive material produced during the explosion (such as cesium-137). Radioactive chemicals do not degrade the way that other explosives byproducts do. Instead, they have ‘half-lives’ which denote the time taken for half of the radioactive material to decay and become inactive (or decay into another lower-weight radioactive compound). Large amounts of plutonium-239 were dispersed during these tests.

Initially, unfissioned plutonium-239 was thought to be relatively harmless. However, recent research from Monash University indicates otherwise. When larger plutonium particles enter the atmosphere, they can release radioactive nanoparticles which spread across the environment attached to dust or rain. As wildlife take up this plutonium from the soil, it is believed to slowly release into other flora and fauna — with dangerous implications for people living on Country. This is particularly concerning considering the 24,100 year half-life of plutonium-239.

In the lead up to the tests, British Armed Forces failed to warn First Nations people of the dangers associated with the program. Only one officer was responsible for covering the thousands of square kilometres to inform whoever he could find. The officer, Walter MacDougall, was then criticised by the Chief Scientists, who wrote that “he is apparently placing the affairs of a handful of natives above those of the British Commonwealth of Nations.”

From 1955 to 1985 the Anangu people of Maralinga Tjarutja were displaced to the nearby Lutheran Mission. While the British’s Operation Brumby attempted to dilute the high concentrations of radioactive material now embedded in the land, concerns about remaining contamination lingered.

In 1985, the McLelland Royal Commission proved that further decontamination efforts were needed. The Royal Commission also criticised the complicity of the Australian Government and its lack of safety concerns. Eight years later, the British Government made a $35 million payment to the $101 million cleanup cost. The process involved the removal and off-site decontamination of hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of soil before its reburial.

The Maralinga Technical Advisory Committee was thus formed to oversee remediation. Decontamination efforts were hindered by the reluctance of the British to accurately disclose the location and extent of testing. Fortunately, only 120 square kilometres of the contaminated 3200 remained unremediated in the year 2000, with clean up and monitoring efforts ongoing today.

Between 2001 and 2009, the South Australian and Federal governments entered negotiations with the Anangu people, ensuring that they would be able to safely return to Country. Anangu people had to prove that they could monitor for erosion, damage or contamination before being officially granted land back.

The disaster of Maralinga is disturbingly familiar. Today, just like in the 1950s, the settler-colonial state of Australia is abusing Country, leaving it victim to climate change-induced fires and floods. We see the deferral of responsibility to Traditional Owners who, yet again, are cleaning up the mess of ongoing colonial violence. In both cases, the struggle for Indigenous land rights must also be a struggle to restore what has been socially and environmentally lost to centuries of colonial damage and abuse.

March 19, 2022 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, reference, wastes | Leave a comment

Uranium miner BHP under criticism for guzzling precious artesian water, and for not keeping its word to Aboriginal native title holders

Environment campaigner and consultant David Noonan, who provided submissions to the Juukan Inquiry, is sceptical of the desalination plant announcement.

Mr Noonan says even if it was built, BHP could be taking GAB water until the end of the decade. He wants to hear a formal commitment about alternative water sources.

Why BHP is facing a minefield, CHRIS MITCHELL, Adelaide Now, 4 Mar 22,

AUSTRALIA’S biggest company and the world’s secondbiggest miner, BHP, may disappoint conservationists and Aboriginal native title holders who had hoped for commitments to reform of heritage issues and underground water use at its Olympic Dam mine before the March 19 state election BHP, the Big Australian, with market capitalisation of $230bn, paid the state government royalties of $136m last year. Its Olympic Dam project 560km north of Adelaide is South Australia’s largest mining venture and the world’s biggest uranium mine, a global top-four copper mine and producer of gold and lead. BHP is powerful in SA.

Premier Steven Marshall is Aboriginal Affairs Minister but it would be fair to say native title holders do not wield the sort of power in Adelaide that big miners do.

Yet BHP has flagged some changes to the way it operates that could reduce its own power over its own asset.

Under the 1982 Roxby Downs (Indenture Ratification) Act signed with former mine owner Western Mining, BHP, which bought the mine in 2005, has almost unprecedented powers over resources and water within its 12,000sq km Stuart Shelf exploration lease.

BHP has been criticised by conservation groups and Aboriginal interests in last year’s report into rival Rio Tinto’s destruction of Juukan Gorge in Western Australia. The report includes criticism from the Arabana tribe of the mine’s heavy reliance on water from the Great Artesian Basin (GAB), and particularly from the so-called “Mound Springs” Aboriginal heritage sites north of the mine.

On February 15, The Advertiser revealed BHP would back a new $15m study, partly funded by state and federal governments, into a Spencer Gulf desalination plant to pump water to SA’s northern mines. But BHP is still far short of publicly committing to end its use of GAB water.

Conservationists say BHP is trying to control the water agenda, to maintain its privileges under the Indenture Act. But some hope it will be pragmatic enough to cut water demand from the GAB if it eventually decides to proceed with its Oak Dam copper-gold-uranium mine 65km southeast of Olympic.

Asked last week if BHP was formally committed to ending GAB water use, a spokesman said: “We continuously monitor and publicly report our water draw under a program approved by the SA government.”

BHP is not just under pressure for environmental reasons.

It is in discussion with three native title groups about the Olympic Dam Agreement it settled in 2008 with the Kokatha, Barngarla and Kuyani.

Of these, only the Kokatha have been granted formal native title over parts of BHP’s Stuart Shelf.

BHP’s problem now is how to balance the very valuable 40-year-old legal rights it has under the indenture with rights found in a native title determination in favour of the Kokatha in 2014……….

The Kokatha fought a long, 18-year battle to win their native title in 2014. Kokatha directors say dealing with BHP on the ODA before and after their native title court win has been challenging.

At this point, they are not receiving mining royalties and are unhappy with employment opportunities for Kokatha people.

Michael Turner, a former Kokatha director and current adviser on the Kokatha Native Title Compensation Settlement and Kokatha Charitable trusts, says he has been dealing with BHP for much of his adult life.

At this point, they are not receiving mining royalties and are unhappy with employment opportunities for Kokatha people………

negotiations on BHP’s Olympic Dam Agreement had been disappointing.

“We have been calling for a review of the ODA for many years and it has constantly been deferred,” he said.

“They’re refusing to move forward. It would be great if BHP could keep to its word and respect the wishes of the Kokatha people and review the ODA for the benefit of generations to come.”…………….

The final report into the May 24, 2020 destruction by Australia’s second-biggest miner, Rio Tinto, of the Juukan Caves in Western Australia’s Pilbara was released in October. In it, Arabana chair Brenda Underwood says: “Unfortunately, our springs are disappearing. The cause … is water taken from the GAB by BHP’s mine at Roxby Downs.”

BHP and the state government believe the springs remain healthy but environmentalists fear a possible expansion to the Oak Dam could take daily GAB water use well beyond 50 million litres a day. BHP says it is averaging 34 million litres a day.

Environment campaigner and consultant David Noonan, who provided submissions to the Juukan Inquiry, is sceptical of the desalination plant announcement.

Mr Noonan says even if it was built, BHP could be taking GAB water until the end of the decade. He wants to hear a formal commitment about alternative water sources.

BHP’s Aboriginal engagement team is mindful expectations have changed across the industry since Juukan and BHP will need to be seen to be engaging seriously with traditional owners. Some believe an ODA negotiated before the Kokatha achieved native title should be written off and a new agreement established………………………………………

more  https://todayspaper.adelaidenow.com.au/infinity/article_popover_share.aspx?guid=23a5b7bd-e6d5-4a82-972e-347f65874b3a&fbclid=IwAR11bzLNHD6mcfZaJkwLcs7cvtfeJQbEhz9btfDFZeFDTsE-BvpWFcuXQnw

March 5, 2022 Posted by | aboriginal issues, environment, South Australia, uranium, water | Leave a comment

Ranger uranium mine rehabilitation costs could blow out to $2.2 billion, Energy Resources tells ASX

Ranger uranium mine rehabilitation costs could blow out to $2.2 billion, Energy Resources tells ASX,  https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2022-02-02/ranger-uranium-mine-cleanup-cost-blowout-to-2-2-billion/100798666ABC Rural / By Daniel Fitzgerald  The rehabilitation of a decommissioned uranium mine in Kakadu National Park could cost up to $1.2 billion more than expected and take two years longer than initially planned. 

Key points:

  • Rehabilitation of Ranger uranium mine to cost between $1.6 billion and $2.2 billion
  • Timeline of clean-up pushed out by two years 
  • Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation concerned ERA won’t be able to fund extra costs

Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) — a subsidiary of mining giant Rio Tinto — shut down production at its Ranger uranium mine, 250 kilometres east of Darwin, in January last year and has since been working to return the mine site to its original state.

The rehabilitation was originally estimated at $973 million, but in a statement to the ASX on Wednesday, ERA revised costs to be approximately between $1.6 and $2.2 billion.

The company also said clean-up works could continue until the end of 2028, more than two years longer than planned.

The Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, which represents Mirarr traditional owners, had been seeking clarity on the expected cost blowouts from ERA.

“We knew it would cost more, but a doubling — to probably the biggest rehabilitation exercise in the history of Australian mining — took us by surprise,” chief executive Justin O’Brien said.

“It’s not good news, but at least we now have a much greater picture of the true cost.”

ERA’s statement outlined a number of reasons for the revised cost, including engineering issues, emerging technical risks and additional water treatment costs.

“It is a complex operation and it is in a very sensitive, world-heritage-listed national park, upstream of Aboriginal communities and the Arafura Sea,” Mr O’Brien said.

Federal changes needed to extend time frame

ERA’s current lease stipulates the company must complete the rehabilitation and be off the mine site by 2026, a condition legislated by the Atomic Energy Act 1953.

With the rehabilitation time frame now stretching into 2028, ERA said it “has been engaging with government and key stakeholders to amend the Atomic Energy Act 1953 and extend the expiry date of ERA’s tenure on the Ranger Project Area”.

Mr O’Brien said a two-year extension to the rehabilitation was “pretty ambitious”.

“If you’re going to amend the legislation in Canberra you don’t just do it for two years, you give them lots of space to do this,” he said.

“If they [ERA] relinquish within another 26 years, then fine.”

Can ERA afford the cost blowout?

In light of the cost revision, ERA said it was “currently reviewing all available funding options to ensure that the increased forecast cost of the rehabilitation of the Ranger Project Area will be adequately funded”.

As of December 31, 2021 the company had $699 million in cash funding and $535 million held by the Commonwealth government as part of the Ranger Rehabilitation Trust Fund.

ERA’s parent company, Rio Tinto said in a statement to the ASX, “it is committed to working with [ERA] to ensure the rehabilitation of the Ranger Project Area is successfully achieved to a standard that will establish an environment similar to the adjacent Kakadu National Park”.

February 3, 2022 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, business, environment, uranium, wastes | Leave a comment

Australia Day honours for services to environment and conservation.

from Maelor Himbury, 26 Jan 22
Australia Day honours
We congratulate the following Australia Day honours recipients for services to the environment and conservation (apologies to anyone I may have missed)
Victoria
Tom BEER
Brunswick
Alan Simon FINKEL
South Yarra
Kenneth Ian GUTHRIE
Clifton Hill
Victoria Fay MARLES
Northcote
Josephine Louise JONES
Rye
Eve KANTOR
Hensley Park
John Desmond KOEHN
Ivanhoe
Kevin Charles MASON
Healesville
Lee Alexander MIEZIS
Ballarat
Sarah Jane STEPHEN
St Kilda
Madeline Jane TOWNSEND
Ballarat
Mark WOOTTON
Hensley Park
NSW
Roslynne Elizabeth HANSEN
Merimbula
Ross Anthony JEFFREE
Alfords Point
Austrelle Susan (Sue) LENNOX
Bellingen
Margaret Joy BAKER
Winmalee
Matthew Peter HANSEN
Dubbo
Roz HOLME
Joan REID
WA
Claire Lynette BRITTAIN
Claremont
Anthony Arthur FOWLER
Lynette Joan SERVENTY
Margaret River
QLD
Jo-Anne BRAGG
West End
Gordon Paul GUYMER
SA
Roger Bartram GRUND
Mary Louise SIMPSON
Burnside
John William WAMSLEY
Aldgate
Tas
John Alexander CHURCH
Battery Point

January 26, 2022 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment | Leave a comment

Environmental protection prevails over uranium in Western Australia, with expiration of a third mining approval


Extinction threat over for Yeelirrie as uranium mine approval expires, 
https://www.miragenews.com/extinction-threat-over-for-yeelirrie-as-uranium-710566/  The controversial Yeelirrie uranium mine in Western Australia is no longer able to proceed after the proponent missed a deadline to commence works at the site in WA’s Goldfields.

The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) and the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) welcomed the news, saying community resistance and environmental protection had prevailed.

Global uranium mining giant Cameco, headquartered in Canada, had five years to demonstrate ‘substantial commencement’ on the Yeelirrie uranium mine before environmental approvals expired on 20 January 2022.

Yeelirrie is the third of four WA uranium projects to have had its approval lapse after Cameco’s Kintyre uranium mine expired in March 2020 and Toro Energy’s Wiluna project expired earlier this month.

The federal environment minister infamously gave the green light to the Yeelirrie project knowing it was likely to send up to 11 species of unique subterranean fauna to extinction and would harm the Malleefowl, Princess parrot and Greater bilby.

Plans to mine uranium at Yeelirrie have been widely opposed by the Indigenous community around the site, which is on Tjiwarl Native Title determined country.

The Cameco proposal threatened an area which forms part of the Seven Sisters Dreaming songline and is referred to as ‘a place of death’. The word Yeelirrie translated to the word Yullala – which means to weep or mourn.

Vicki Abdullah, a Tjiwarl woman who has long campaigned against uranium mining on Tjiwarl country, said “Yeelirrie is an important cultural site, our families and old people have fought against mining at Yeelirrie for 50 years. There is a strong feeling of responsibility to keep the uranium there at Yeelirrie and we’re happy that as of today Cameco cannot mine that place.

“We’ve spoken to the Government many times and we hope they will do the right thing and withdraw the approval all together. Yeelirrie should never be mined and this government can make sure it is safe forever.”

Dave Sweeney from ACF said “There have been no new uranium mines started in Australia for a decade and with only two still operating it is increasingly clear there is no economic case for uranium mining in Western Australia.

“The sector has never made sense, now it doesn’t even make dollars.”

Mia Pepper from CCWA said “After 50 years of tireless campaigning to protect Yeelirrie we are now looking forward to the introduction of lasting protections against uranium mining in WA.”

January 22, 2022 Posted by | environment, uranium, Western Australia | Leave a comment

Environmentalists and Traditional Owners very dissatisfied with Western Australia’s Environment Department ‘s ruling supporting uranium project.

Green groups angry over uranium project milestone, Stuart McKinnonThe West Australian, 16 Dec 21,

Environmentalists are livid after Vimy Resources was deemed to have met a key milestone in its approvals process that allows it to pursue the development of its Mulga Rock uranium project.

The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation has ruled that the company has begun “substantial commencement” of the project 290km east of Kalgoorlie, an essential component of its approval five years ago.

The former Barnett Government approved the controversial project on December 16, 2016, but ordered that Vimy must have substantially commenced work within five years.

The company had submitted to the DWER that substantial works had begun last month based on the recent clearing of about 143ha, expenditure of more than $20 million over the past five years and a further $8m to be spent on early works before the end of January.

But green groups and Traditional Owners say the decision to allow the project to proceed is unjustified and inconsistent with the evidence.

A statement released jointly by the Upurli Upurli Nguratja claimants and the WA Conservation Council argued the company had failed to meet with the registered Native Title claim group, which is entitled to negotiate a land use agreement.

They say to advance the project without consulting with the group is disrespectful and out of step with community expectation and best industry practice.

Vimy’s works to date have been a clumsy last-minute attempt to hold on to controversial environmental approvals for a toxic commodity that has no social licence.

Upurli Upurli Nguratja claimant Debbie Carmody said the decision had sidelined the group’s voice and undermined the Native Title process.

“We will continue to fight this project and stand up for our country and culture,” she said.

CCWA Nuclear Free campaigner Mia Pepper said it was fanciful to say the project had substantially commenced.

“Vimy’s works to date have been a clumsy last-minute attempt to hold on to controversial environmental approvals for a toxic commodity that has no social licence,” she said.

Ms Pepper said the clearance work completed to date represented just 4.27 per cent of the intended clearing and the company’s expenditure represented just 2.2 per cent of the total estimated capital costs.

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Nuclear Free campaigner Dave Sweeney said the mine would cause unacceptable harm to the environment, including damage to vital habitat for the endangered sandhill dunnart, which is found in only a handful of locations across Australia.

The CCWA and the ACF, which have opposed uranium mining in WA for decades, said they were reviewing today’s decision and exploring all avenues to stop the mine from proceeding.

Vimy executive director Steven Michael said the confirmation of substantial commencement was testament to careful planning and executive by the company and was consistent with the Mulga Rock Project Implementation Plan.

“Vimy can now advance Mulga Rock to the next stage of development and will continue to work closely with State and Federal departments to secure the remaining approvals required to bring the project into production by 2025,” he said.

However Vimy is yet to make a final investment decision or nail down a funding solution for the $US255m ($355m) project.

Its shares closed up 1.5c, or 8 per cent, at 20.5c on Thursday.

December 17, 2021 Posted by | environment, politics, uranium, Western Australia | Leave a comment

Australians should remember our past and continuing uranium/nuclear environmental disasters

Australia has a nuclear past, we just like to forget it, St George and Sutherland Shire Leader, Chris McLennan,  29 Oct 21, No sooner did Australia announce it was going to buy a nuclear submarine fleet, there was talk of nuclear power plants as well.

Am I the only one who fears they unknowingly contracted COVID-19 or some other nasty and it has somehow warped their mind?

Nuclear this and nuclear that – everyone needs to have a nice lie down.

Australia has a poor record when it comes to nuclear power………….

One of the biggest fans of nuclear power in this country is a Senator from the Northern Territory, a veterinarian in her former life, Sam McMahon.

As someone from the Territory, she should know better

I’ll explain why in a bit.

One of the biggest fans of nuclear power in this country is a Senator from the Northern Territory, a veterinarian in her former life, Sam McMahon.

As someone from the Territory, she should know better.   There are quite a few thumping great holes in the ground in her patch which need mending first.

It’s one of our dark secrets and remains one of the biggest environmental disasters in Australian history…..

Australia’s first large scale uranium mine was dug at Rum Jungle on behalf of our “Allies” in the UK and USA to fuel their nuclear weapon programs in the 1950s….

The NT Government has recently lodged plans for another go at the rehabilitation of the old mine which is today filled with water.

If it goes ahead, this will be the second go.

The mine was the first large industrial enterprise undertaken in the NT……

At Rum Jungle, a total of 863,000 tonnes of uranium ore was mined in a project under the ownership of the Commonwealth Government through the Australian Atomic Energy Commission.

The 200 hectare site closed in 1971 and was abandoned.

About $20 million was later spent trying to clean up the NT site, but the pollution continues and may continue for thousands of years.

Large volumes of radioactive mine waste (tailings) are still on the site.   In 2003, an investigation of the tailings piles found that capping which was supposed to help contain this radioactive waste for at least 100 years, had failed in less than 20 years.

The latest rehabilitation efforts at Rum Jungle from 1983 to 1986 cost $18.6 million.   Although at the time of the 1980s works the objectives were deemed to have been achieved, more recent studies have documented the gradual deterioration of the original rehabilitation works.

The NT and Federal Government agree there needs to be an improved rehabilitation strategy for the site.

These latest plans say the clean up would take at least five years.

No estimate was given for how much it would cost or who is going to pay for it.

The soil is contaminated, as is the groundwater and there is still waste rock needing disposal on the site.

In short, it’s a mess…….

There’s Ranger.

There is still no logical explanation as to how a big uranium mine could be allowed in the middle of perhaps Australia’s most famous national park, Kakadu, but it was.

Ranger has recently been closed and the site is somehow to be rehabilitated after more than 130,000 tonnes of uranium oxide was pulled from the place over the past three decades.

Energy Resources Australia, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, says it has spent more than $642 million in the past eight years on rehabilitation of the mountains of tailings complicated by a lake created from a vast flooded pit.

Their work is only a few years from being finished.

Only time will tell if that scar ever heals…………. https://www.theleader.com.au/story/7485098/australia-has-a-nuclear-past-we-just-like-to-forget-it/?cs=9676

October 30, 2021 Posted by | environment, Northern Territory, uranium | Leave a comment

There must be a Conservation Plan before uranium mining operations are permitted at the fragile ecosystem of Mulga Rock, Western Australia

 

Nuclear-Free W,A, 28 Oct 21, We focus on Vimy Resources Mulga Rock environmental approvals, expiring on the 16th of December.  The State environmental approval states under condition 3, that the company must, ‘substantially commence’ by 16 December 2021. Vimy have had five years to get up and running and now we are seeing the unnecessary and unwanted clearing of an airstrip and re-establishment of the mine camp at Mulga Rock in an attempt to demonstrate ‘substantial commencement’.  This is deeply disturbing when we have argued that the project still lacks crucial information and approvals such as; 

they have not entered negotiations with the Upurli Upurli Nguratja registered native title claimant group and do not intend to negotiate with them;  

they do not have a final investment decision to develop the mine;they do not have a Works Approval that they require from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation;

they have not completed the Sandhill Dunnart Conservation Plan – a Federal requirement for the endangered species that has been recorded at the Mulga Rock area.

We are of strong view that no substantial works should be allowed at the site in the absence of a Conservation Plan for the increasingly vulnerable Sandhill Dunnart. 

October 28, 2021 Posted by | environment, uranium, Western Australia | Leave a comment

‘It makes us sick’: remote NT community wants answers about uranium in its water supply


‘It makes us sick’: remote NT community wants answers about uranium in its water supply,  
Laramba’s Indigenous residents fear they are at risk of long-term illness and say they need to know who is responsible for fixing the problem, Guardian, by Royce Kurmelovs and Isabella Moore, Mon 18 Oct 2021,

Jack Cool is looking to hitch a lift out of town.

The 71-year-old former stockman has lived in Laramba, a remote Indigenous community in the Northern Territory, for most of his life

Since his partner, Jennifer, 57, and his youngest daughter, Petrina, 35, started kidney dialysis at the end of last year, he has been trying to make the two-and-a-half hour trip south into Alice Springs whenever he can.

Cool, who also takes medication for kidney issues, says he doesn’t know why this has happened to his family but he thinks it has something to do with the water.

“When we drink the water it makes us sick,” he says.

Problems with Laramba’s water supply have been known since at least 2008 but the scale of the issue was not revealed until 2018, when testing by the government-owned utility company Power and Water Corporation (PWC) found drinking water in the community of 350 people was contaminated with concentrations of uranium at 0.046mg/L.

That is nearly three times the limit of 0.017mg/L recommended in the Australian drinking water guidelines published by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Follow-up testing in 2020 found the problem was getting worse as uranium concentrations – which occur naturally in the area – had risen to 0.052mg/L, and the water also contained contaminants such as nitrate and silica.

A stream of conflicting advice

Prof Paul Lawton, a kidney specialist with the Menzies School of Health Research who has been working in the Territory since 1999, says there is no good evidence to say for sure whether the water at Laramba is safe to drink…….

Assoc Prof Tilman Ruff from the Nossal Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne says uranium contamination also delivers “relatively low but relatively frequent doses” of radiation

“The overall consequences from a radioactive point of view is that this will widely dispose in the body and organs, and will contribute to a long-term risk of cancer,” Ruff says.

Because children are particularly vulnerable, with girls 40% more likely than boys to be affected over their lifetime, Ruff says there is “no good amount of radiation”.

Though there are still many unknowns, authorities elsewhere have addressed similar situations by acting with caution. In Eton, Queensland, a bore supplying the community was turned off when concerning concentrations of uranium were found in the water supply……….

A permanent holding pattern’

Laramba is just one of many among the 72 remote Indigenous communities in the Territory whose water is contaminated with bacteria or heavy metals.

This year the NT government promised $28m over four years to find “tailored” solutions for 10 towns, including Laramba, after a campaign by four land councils for laws to guarantee safe drinking water across the territory.

Asked what was being done to fix the problem, a spokesperson for PWC directed Guardian Australia to sections of the company’s latest drinking water quality report that discuss pilot programs for “new and emerging” technologies to “potentially” clean water of uranium and other heavy metals……….

What little information that is available has filtered through in the media or highly technical language that many people, for whom English is a second language, can’t understand.

In the meantime both men say several people, including some in their own families, have been diagnosed with kidney problems or cancer.

“We have to drink, so we are drinking it,” Hagan says. “We don’t know anything about $28m. We’re still here drinking the same water. Nothing’s changed.”

The co-director of the Environment Centre NT, Kirsty Howey, says communities such as Laramba have been left in a “permanent holding pattern” and the lack of engagement is a “feature of a flawed system”.

Boiling point

Andy Attack, a non-Indigenous man who runs the Laramba general store, says in the three years he has lived there he has noticed a change in the community.

“People here are just so respectful and polite and calm,” he says. “The water is something that makes them really angry, and they don’t like being angry. It’s not nice seeing them like that.”

Attack says the first thing he was told when he moved to Laramba was not to drink the water. He installed reverse osmosis filters normally used in hospitals, which cost $130 a year to maintain, on the taps in his house.

Those who can’t afford such sums must either rely on rainwater or buy expensive 10L casks. ……….https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/oct/18/uranium-in-the-water-remote-nt-community-wants-answers-about-safety

October 18, 2021 Posted by | aboriginal issues, environment, health, Northern Territory, uranium | Leave a comment

Maralinga nuclear bomb tests – British and Australian governments’ callous cruelty to First Nations people.

Australia’s Chernobyl: The British carried out nuclear tests on Indigenous land. It will never heal.   https://www.mamamia.com.au/maralinga-nuclear-testing/ CHELSEA MCLAUGHLIN, JULY 5, 2021  For tens of thousands of years, the Aṉangu people lived on the warm, red earth of their country.

The land provided them with food, water and shelter as they travelled around an area we now know as outback Far North South Australia.

But after colonisation, they were moved off their land: forcibly removed, sent into missions across the region and displaced by train lines linking Australia’s east and west that impacted their water supply. 

Much of the information around the tests was highly classified, and some information remains so.

For tens of thousands of years, the Aṉangu people lived on the warm, red earth of their country.

The land provided them with food, water and shelter as they travelled around an area we now know as outback Far North South Australia.

But after colonisation, they were moved off their land: forcibly removed, sent into missions across the region and displaced by train lines linking Australia’s east and west that impacted their water supply. 

Much of the information around the tests was highly classified, and some information remains so.

Thirty per cent of the British and Australian servicemen who were exposed during these tests died of cancer, though a Royal Commission in 1984 was not able to reach a conclusion linking their health issues directly to the blasts. 

Similarly, many locals died prematurely, went blind and suffered from illness that may have been linked to radiation.

British nuclear scientists, wanting to determine the long-term effects of the tests on Australia and its citizens, ordered the testing of dead Australian infants and children for radiation contamination.

Between 1957 and 1978 in hospitals around Australia, bones were secretly removed from 21,830 bodies. They were reduced to ash and sent away to be analysed for the presence of Strontium 90, a radioactive isotope produced by nuclear fission.

Unsurprisingly, none of the First Nations people of the region were told about the tests and many of the bones were taken without permission.

Associate professor Liz Tynan, the author of Atomic Thunder: The Maralinga Story, told Mamamia‘s The Quicky First Nations people were still in the area during the periods of testing, and this led to disastrous consequences.

Tynan said the Milpuddie family – Charlie, Edie, two kids and their dogs – were found by British service personnel in 1957, camped on the crater left by the bomb Marcoo soon after it had been detonated. 

They were rounded up and most of the family, not Edie, but most of them, were given showers. Edie didn’t wish to have a shower,” Tynan explained.

“They were tested for radioactivity and the geiger counters did detect radioactivity, particularly on the young boy Henry. Anyway, there were rather insensitively treated I suppose, given showers, had clothes put on them and then take off down south to a mission.”

Their dogs were shot in front of them. Edie was pregnant at the time, and she later lost her child.

“It was a tragic story and indicative of the callous approach to Indigenous people that was displayed by both the British government and their officials that were conducting the tests, and by the Australian government as well,” Tynan said.

Following the testing, many Aṉangu people returned to the area, but the lands that had previously sustained and protected them were now poison.

We still don’t know the truth impact of the bombs at Maralinga, as well as nearby Emu Fields and the Montebello Islands off the coast of Western Australia.

“The South Australian Department of Health commissioned a fairly extensive study, [but] that study was hampered by the fact there was no base-line data from which to understand the general health of the population before the tests,” Tynan said.

The study did show an increase in various cancers, but most of the findings were inconclusive due to a lack of information. Indigenous Australians were not counted in the census at the time and there was very little known about the health of the populations.

In 1964, a limited cleanup of the Maralinga site, named ‘Operation Hercules’, took place. 

A year after a 1966 survey into the level of contamination at the site, a second clean-up titled ‘Operation Brumby’ filled 21 pits with contaminated equipment and covered them with 650 tonnes of concrete.

Tynan said it was later found the survey data was drastically wrong, and the contamination was 10 times worse than thought.

It wasn’t until decades later, with the help whistleblowers and scientists, that the government began to realise the true, horrifying extent of the damage done to the land at Maralinga.

Under an agreement between the governments of the United Kingdom and Australia in 1995, another clean-up took place. And while this was more thorough than the previous, it still came with issues.

Whistleblower Alan Parkinson, who wrote the 2007 book Maralinga: Australia’s Nuclear Waste Cover-up, exposed the unsatisfactory methods.

The plan had been to treat several thousand tonnes of debris contaminated with plutonium by a process called situ vitrification. Against the advice of Parkinson, the government extended the contract of the project manager, even though that company had no knowledge of the complex process of vitrification.

Parkinson was let go from the project.

The government and the project manager then embarked on a hybrid scheme in which some pits would be exhumed and others treated by vitrification. After successfully treating 12 pits, the 13th exploded and severely damaged the equipment. The government then cancelled the vitrification and simply exhumed the remaining pits, placed the debris in a shallow pit and covered it with clean soil.

Parkinson told The Quicky another, complete clean-up of Maralinga could take place, but it was unlikely because of the cost and the courage it would take to admit the previous attempts were insufficient.

Around the same time as the 90s clean up was the Australian government push for a nuclear waste dump to be located nearby. 

Fearing even further poisoning of their country, First Nations woman Eileen Wani Wingfield co-founded the Coober Pedy Women’s Council to campaign against the proposal.

The plan was eventually abandoned, but has popped up again in many forms over the decades. Currently, the Coalition is amending a bill that could see a site set up near Kimba.

Glen Wingfield, Eileen’s son, has spent his life working and learning from his parents’ tireless campaign for protection of their country.

The theme of NAIDOC Week 2021 is Heal Country! but as Wingfield told The Quicky, much of the Aṉangu lands in and around Maralinga are beyond healing.

“A lot of the Aboriginal communities that live in and around that area, they just will not and do not go back near that country. I think that’s a word, healing, that we can’t use in the same sentence with that area.”

Tynan agreed, saying there are parts of the area that will be uninhabitable for a quarter of a million years.

“There are parts of the site that you can’t go to, that are still very dangerous,” she said.

“The real problem at Maralinga was the plutonium which was detonated in a series of trials… The particular type of plutonium they used, plutonium 239, has a half-life of 21,400 years which takes hundreds of thousands of years for that radioactivity to diminish.”

Wingfield said the broken connection between these people and their lands is “just downright disgraceful and horrible”.

“No amount of conversation will ever cover what’s been done for people in and around. The lasting effects of health issues on people have been passed through people who were there to generational abnormalities… I think when you talk compensation and stuff, I don’t think we’ll ever get close.”

July 5, 2021 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, civil liberties, environment, health, history, personal stories, reference, secrets and lies, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Remote communities affected by uranium in drinking water


Uranium in Australian Drinking Water Snapshot,
Friends of the Earth Australia, JUN 12, 2021

THOUSANDS OF REMOTE RESIDENTS EXPOSED TO LEVELS OF URANIUM ABOVE GUIDELINE LEVELS.   The recently published WA Auditor Report “Delivering Essential Services to Remote Aboriginal Communities” has raised more concerns regarding water quality in remote Aboriginal communities in three regions of Western Australia: The Goldfields, the Pilbara and Kimberleys……….

Uranium is a radioactive heavy metal where exposure has been associated with kidney damage. Uranium has also been linked to reproductive problems and DNA damage.

Impacted Western Australian communities

The total number of WA remote residents impacted by uranium above guideline levels in drinking water probably now totals around 500 people (with perhaps an additional 500 – 1000 people in the Northern Territory). There have also been hundreds more people in Queensland and New South Wales exposed to relatively high levels of uranium in their drinking water over the past few years. The majority of people impacted will be Aboriginal.

Uranium in drinking water can be difficult to treat if no alternative supplies can be found. The source of the uranium in impacted communities is sourced from local geological formations and groundwater………

Uranium breaches were confined to four communities in the Pilbara in 2018/20: Pia Wadjari (8), Burringurrah (5), Parngurr (3) and Kiwikurra (1). Crocodile Hole in the Kimberley also reported one breach. …..

Despite problems in Western Australia, the Northern Territory also continues to suffer from uranium in drinking water in a number of communities. Chronic breaches have occurred in 3 communities, Laramba, Willowra and Wilora over the past decade and probably much longer.

The three communities where uranium levels consistently exceed Australian drinking water guidelines in the Northern Territory. Laramba residents have most likely been exposed to uranium at levels 2-3 times higher than the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines for many years. The highest recorded levels at Laramba each year also appear to be increasing……

Uranium in drinking water has also recently occurred in three Queensland communities. The highest levels were detected in January 2021 at Dajarra (population 200 located 1000km west of Mackay) in western Queensland at 0.046mg/L, almost three times higher than the safe guideline…….

In October 2016 uranium above guideline levels was also detected in the New South Wales communities of Kootingal, Moonbi and Bendemeer. Tamworth Regional Council apologised for the “oversight”, which had left residents’ drinking water with high levels of uranium for at least two years…..

Radionuclides or radiating emitting elements in drinking water (breaching 1mSv/yr) over the past decade or so have included the communities Kings Canyon, Alice Springs, Borroloola and Binjari in the NT. The Victorian community of Goorambat also recorded levels of Alpha activity for radionuclides over guideline levels in 2012/13.

Wilmington SA, had radon (a radioactive gas produced from decay of radium 226 in soil and minerals) detected in the community above guideline levels of 500Bq/L in October 2018. In South Australia uranium guidelines were breached at Saltia Creek (October 2019) and Woolshed Creek over 2016/17, however at both of these locations water is deemed to be non-potable.

Existing and “Decommissioned” uranium mines also continue to leach radioactive water into the environment and will continue to do so for thousands of years. BHP’s Olympic Dam mine has a history including seepage from tailing impoundments into underlying groundwater. Ranger Uranium Mine (where toxic tailings are currently being dumped into pits) has leached contamination into Kakadu National Park, Rum Jungle uranium mine (1954-71) caused Acid Mine Drainage pollution to the East Finniss River where 640,000 tonnes of tailings were discharged damaging 100sqkm of floodplains. Mary Kathleen Mine and Ben Lomond Mine in Queensland have also caused downstream pollution. Anyone downstream of these leaking mine sites could also be jeopardised through exposure to waterways downstream of the mines. Nuclear blasts at Maralinga and Emu Field in the 1950’s also lead widespread contamination of Australia through nuclear fallout, including drinking water reservoirs and water tanks.  https://www.foe.org.au/uranium_in_australian_drinking_water_snapshot

June 14, 2021 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, health, uranium | Leave a comment

Tough environmental regulation brings economic benefits. Australia lags behind all OECD countries

Using the example nations – Australia, Germany, United States and United Kingdom – against the OECD average, Denmark had the highest and Germany the second-highest average score over the 17 years of all 22 OECD countries (see

And Australia had the worst.

TOUGHER ENVIRONMENTAL POLICIES CAN CREATE ECONOMIC WINNERS

There seems to be a working assumption that if Australia adopts tougher environmental policies, our economic growth will be undermined. But new research finds the opposite is true , Pursuit, By Dr Ou Yang, University of Melbourne  31 May 21, No longer concerns for a distant future, climate change and environmental degradation are an urgent challenge facing the planet. And they’re happening now.

According to the 2019 United Nations Climate Change report, between 1990 and 2016, global aggregate greenhouse gas emissions increased by 46.7 per cent. In 2018, the global mean temperature had risen about 1°C above the pre-industrial baseline.

As the US and EU move forward with their green recovery, there was little talk of the climate crisis or the environment in Australia’s 2021 Federal budget.

While Australia’s largest trading partners make bigger and bolder commitments to decarbonisation and use their COVID-19 recovery budgets to maximise the opportunity to boost a clean energy transition, the Australian government has committed to a gas-fired recovery over a green one, pouring billions into fossil fuel projects.


Instead of adopting a wide range of more effective and efficient environmental policies, like price and tax mechanisms, the government has pinned its hopes on a low-emissions technology plan.

The Morrison government’s increasing support for fossil fuel projects seems to have some elements in common with former US president Donald Trump’s 2020 Executive Order which allowed US federal agencies to bypass environmental protection laws and fast-track pipeline, highway and other infrastructure projects.

Trump declared regulatory delays would hinder “our economic recovery from the national emergency”.

Likewise, in 2017, Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement for international climate action for the same reason. The Agreement, he said, would undermine the US economy “and put us at a permanent disadvantage to the other countries of the world”.

All of these recent policy moves seem to be made with the notion that greater action on environmental policy harms a nation’s productivity growth. But experts like Australian economist Ross Garnaut argue that taking greater action on climate change now could actually benefit our economy in the long run.

And this is a position our recently published research supports.

Our study looked at the environmental policies of 22 countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), alongside their productivity growth, finding some positive evidence of the economic effect of environmental policies.

Using the OECD’s Environmental Stringency Policy Index, we rated each nations’ environmental policies including Australia and the US, between 1990 and 2007, in order to investigate the impact of greater environmental policy actions on a nation’s productivity.

These policies include taxes on carbon and subsidies for renewable energy, as well as regulations like limits on sulphur content in diesel.

The model we used is flexible enough to capture country-specific effects of taking greater environmental action on a nation’s productivity growth.

We can also identify the causal impact of environmental policies on productivity by exploiting the time-series variation within each country, which basically measures the movements of productivity caused by changes in policy stringency.

Our research, published in Energy Economics looking at 22 OECD countries, found that all of this group had gradually tightened their environmental regulation between 1990 and 2007.

Using the example nations – Australia, Germany, United States and United Kingdom – against the OECD average, Denmark had the highest and Germany the second-highest average score over the 17 years of all 22 OECD countries (see Figure 1 on original).

And Australia had the worst.

By examining short and long-term effects, our results show that while environmental regulations do increase the cost of production initially – for example, a carbon tax makes coal more expensive, which increases the costs of metal production – adopting tighter environmental policies boosts a country’s productivity in the long run.

This positive effect is more noticeable in countries that showed leadership on environmental protection and adopted tougher environmental policies.

According to our estimates, during the 17-year sample period, if an average OECD country had increased the stringency of its environmental policies by one unit, its annual productivity growth rate in three years’ time would have increased by about 0.71 percentage points from -0.09 per cent to 0.62 per cent………….

Our findings show that while there might be a short-term hike in cost, countries whose governments implement strong environmental regulations reap the productivity – and economic growth – rewards in the long term.  https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/tougher-environmental-policies-can-create-economic-winners

June 1, 2021 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment | Leave a comment

Environmentalists and Aboriginal traditional owners object to rocket launching on South Australian protected heritage land, at Whaler’s Way.

Rocket launching proposals worry traditional owners, environmentalists, but company committed to holistic care of the land, ABC Eyre Peninsula / By Evelyn Leckie 28 May 21,  Popular South Australian tourist spot Whalers Way could become the site of three test rocket launches later this year, causing concern among some environmentalists and traditional owners.

Key points:

  • Traditional owners and conservationists have raised concerns about the proposed site for three rocket launches this year
  • Nature Conservation SA holds concerns over two threatened species
  • Southern Launch says it’s committed to a holistic approach to care for the area during its testing program.

SA space industry leader Southern Launch is looking to conduct test launches on privately owned land, with a view to making the area a permanent launching site in the future to send satellites into space. 

Nature Conservation Society of SA advocate Julia Peacock said the area, on the state’s rugged southern coast, wasn’t the right site to conduct test launches.

“It’s a really special conservation area,” she said.

“It’s actually specifically protected under environment legislation that’s called a heritage agreement, which means a private landholder agreement to protect that area so we would really like to see that agreement honoured.

We’re also really concerned that it is habitat for a number of species of conservation concern.”

Ms Peacock said the society was worried about threatened species in the area such as southern emu wrens and white-fronted whip birds.

“They’re very small and shy birds, so they’re quite hard to see,” she said. 

We’re concerned that we’re building an industrial facility that involves explosions that are noisy and causes vibrations —  that those species are going to be frightened.

“It’s going to change their behaviour and impact the way they want to move through this area.”

‘Let it be natural’

Nauo elder Jody Miller said there were a lot of cultural issues out at Whalers Way.

“It’s significant culturally, there are stories [out there] and we don’t want to destroy anything,” Mr Miller said. 

“If it’s just left alone, let it be natural, people can see this for the next generation — everybody’s children as well as my children.”

Holistic protection

Southern Launch CEO Lloyd Damp said the testing program would provide the chance to specifically measure what the noise effect would have on local species.

“We’re working with one of the best universities in Australia to undertake the measurements and then provide that for the environmental impact statement assessment,” Mr Damp said………..   https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-05-28/rocket-launching-proposals-worry-environmentalists/100173472

May 29, 2021 Posted by | environment, South Australia, technology | Leave a comment

New research highlights need for international standards to safeguard against plutonium ”hot” particles.

New study delves into issues relating to soils around Maralinga region,  https://www.portlincolntimes.com.au/story/7262167/study-shows-radioactive-particles-from-nuclear-testing-persist-at-maralinga, Luca Cetta,  

A new study has highlighted the first international standards needed to safeguard against contamination from nuclear testing, and a Kokatha Elder says the impact of nuclear testing at Maralinga cannot be forgotten.

More than 100 kilograms of highly toxic uranium and plutonium was dispersed in the form of tiny ‘hot’ radioactive particles after nuclear tests were conducted by the British in remote areas of South Australia, including Maralinga.

Scientists have new evidence these radioactive particles persist in soils to this day, more than 60 years after the detonations.

The British detonated nine nuclear bombs and conducted nuclear tests in South Australia between 1953 and 1963.

There had previously been limited understanding in how plutonium was released from the particles into the environment for uptake by wildlife around Maralinga.

The new study, published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, led by Monash University researchers, warns the hot particles are more complex and varied than previously thought.

Currently, there are no international best practice standards for the environmental impact or risk assessment of plutonium and uranium-rich hot particles released during nuclear testing.

This study provides the first mechanism for future modelling to predict the environmental life cycle of plutonium from hot particles, including how they are slowly broken down in the environment over a long period, and potentially exposed to animals and humans through inhalation, soil or ground water.

“The resulting radioactive contamination and cover-up continues to haunt us,” lead study author from Monash University’s School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment Dr Megan Cook said.

“The results of our study profoundly changes our understanding of the nature of hot particles at Maralinga – despite the fact that those were some of the best studied particles anywhere in the world.”

Sue Haseldine, who grew up in the Koonibba district in the 1950s and 1960s, has long campaigned against nuclear testing and weapons.

She has been part of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), an organisation awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, and has spoken about her experience growing up in the shadow of nuclear testing at Maralinga.

Ms Haseldine said the people in the area had long-suspected there were health issues deriving from those tests.

“Experts would tell you that radiation will not last for 60 years, nor 60,000, but for a long, long time, and it is still causing troubles today,” she said.

“The old ladies told me these cancers and illnesses were not around before the bomb and over the years I have seen the rates go up.

“There are a lot more younger people with heart problems – it is known that radiation problems can cause heart diseases – and it is coming down through the generations.”

Ms Haseldine said the testing and fallout from Maralinga was not spoken about enough and that was why her campaigning with ICAN was so important.

“It is important to let people know what the government’s legacy is to us through their testing and we have to keep the past alive to protect the future, so they don’t do it to future generations,” she said.

“I grew up in the Koonibba district, but the radiation didn’t just stay in the Maralinga area.”

Study co-author professor Joël Brugger said the study invited a revisit of the implications of earlier results for the fate of plutonium at Maralinga.

“Understanding the fate of hot particles in the arid environment setting of the Australian outback is critical for securing Australia in case of nuclear incidents in the region, and returning all the native land affected by the British tests to the traditional Anangu owners of the Maralinga Tjarutja lands.”

The research team used synchrotron radiation at the Diamond Light Source near Oxford in the United Kingdom to decipher the physical and chemical make-up of the particles.

At Monash, they dissected some of the hot particles using a nano-sized ion beam, and further characterised the complex make-up of these particles down to the nano-size.

“It’s a major breakthrough,” study co-author associate professor Vanessa Wong said.

“Our observations of the hot particles from Maralinga provide a clear explanation for the complex and variable behaviour of different hot particles with respect to the chemical and physical weathering that has hindered predictive modelling to this day.

“This study provides a mechanistic foundation for predicting the future evolution of hot particles from high-temperature nuclear events and the likely exposure pathways.”

The researchers demonstrated the complexity of the hot particles arose from the cooling of polymetallic melts from thousands of degrees Celsius in the explosion cloud during their formation.

“We found that the particles contained low-valence plutonium-uranium-carbon compounds that are typically highly reactive – which is unexpected for particles that survived for over 30 years in the environment,” corresponding author Dr Barbara Etschmann said.

May 27, 2021 Posted by | environment, South Australia, wastes, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Plutonium ”hot particles” are not as stable as we assumed. Research on contaminated landscape around Maralinga in outback South Australia

We sliced open radioactive particles from soil in South Australia and found they may be leaking plutonium  https://theconversation.com/we-sliced-open-radioactive-particles-from-soil-in-south-australia-and-found-they-may-be-leaking-plutonium-161277

Barbara Etschmann, Research officer, Monash University

Joel Brugger, Professor of Synchrotron Geosciences, Monash University

Vanessa Wong, Associate Professor, Monash University

May 21, 2021 Almost 60 years after British nuclear tests ended, radioactive particles containing plutonium and uranium still contaminate the landscape around Maralinga in outback South Australia.

These “hot particles” are not as stable as we once assumed. Our research shows they are likely releasing tiny chunks of plutonium and uranium which can be easily transported in dust and water, inhaled by humans and wildlife and taken up by plants.

A British nuclear playground

After the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, other nations raced to build their own nuclear weapons. Britain was looking for locations to conduct its tests. When it approached the Australian government in the early 1950s, Australia was only too eager to agree.

Between 1952 and 1963, Britain detonated 12 nuclear bombs in Australia. There were three in the Montebello Islands off Western Australia, but most were in outback South Australia: two at Emu Field and seven at Maralinga.

Besides the full-scale nuclear detonations, there were hundreds of “subcritical” trials designed to test the performance and safety of nuclear weapons and their components. These trials usually involved blowing up nuclear devices with conventional explosives, or setting them on fire.

The subcritical tests released radioactive materials. The Vixen B trials alone (at the Taranaki test site at Maralinga) spread 22.2 kilograms of plutonium and more than 40 kilograms of uranium across the arid landscape. For comparison, the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki contained 6.4 kilograms of plutonium, while the one dropped on Hiroshima held 64 kilograms of uranium.

These tests resulted in long-lasting radioactive contamination of the environment. The full extent of the contamination was only realised in 1984, before the land was returned to its traditional owners, the Maralinga Tjarutja people.

Hot potatoes

Despite numerous cleanup efforts, residual plutonium and uranium remains at Maralinga. Most is present in the form of “hot particles”. These are tiny radioactive grains (much smaller than a millimetre) dispersed in the soil.

Plutonium is a radioactive element mostly made by humans, and the weapons-grade plutonium used in the British nuclear tests has a half life of 24,100 years. This means even 24,100 years after the Vixen B trials that ended in 1963, there will still be almost two Nagasaki bombs worth of plutonium spread around the Taranaki test site.

Plutonium emits alpha radiation that can damage DNA if it enters a body through eating, drinking or breathing.

In their original state, the plutonium and uranium particles are rather inactive. However, over time, when exposed to atmosphere, water, or microbes, they may weather and release plutonium and uranium in dust or rainstorms.

Until recently, we knew little about the internal makeup of these hot particles. This makes it very hard to accurately assess the environmental and health risks they pose.

Monash PhD student Megan Cook (the lead author on our new paper) took on this challenge. Her research aimed to identify how plutonium was deposited as it was carried by atmospheric currents following the nuclear tests (some of it travelled as far as Queensland!), the characteristics of the plutonium hot particles when they landed, and potential movement within the soil.

Nanotechnology to the rescue

Previous studies used the super intense X-rays generated by synchrotron light sources to map the distribution and oxidation state of plutonium inside the hot particles at the micrometre scale.

To get more detail, we used X-rays from the Diamond synchrotron near Oxford in the UK, a huge machine more than half a kilometre in circumference that produces light ten billion times brighter than the Sun in a particle accelerator.

Studying how the particles absorbed X-rays revealed they contained plutonium and uranium in several different states of oxidation – which affects how reactive and toxic they are. However, when we looked at the shadows the particles cast in X-ray light (or “X-ray diffraction”), we couldn’t interpret the results without knowing more about the different chemicals inside the particles.

To find out more, we used a machine at Monash University that can slice open tiny samples with a nanometre-wide beam of high-energy ions, then analyse the elements inside and make images of the interior. This is a bit like using a lightsaber to cut a rock, only at the tiniest of scales. This revealed in exquisite detail the complex array of materials and textures inside the particles.

Much of the plutonium and uranium is distributed in tiny particles sized between a few micrometres and a few nanometres, or dissolved in iron-aluminium alloys. We also discovered a plutonium-uranium-carbon compound that would be destroyed quickly in the presence of air, but which was held stable by the metallic alloy.

This complex physical and chemical structure of the particles suggests the particles formed by the cooling of droplets of molten metal from the explosion cloud.

In the end, it took a multidisciplinary team across three continents — including soil scientists, mineralogists, physicists, mineral engineers, synchrotron scientists, microscopists, and radiochemists — to reveal the nature of the Maralinga hot particles.

From fire to dust

Our results suggest natural chemical and physical processes in the outback environment may cause the slow release of plutonium from the hot particles over the long term. This release of plutonium is likely to be contributing to ongoing uptake of plutonium by wildlife at Maralinga.

Even under the semi-arid conditions of Maralinga, the hot particles slowly break down, liberating their deadly cargo. The lessons from the Maralinga particles are not limited to outback Australia. They are also useful in understanding particles generated from dirty bombs or released during subcritical nuclear incidents.

There have been a few documented instances of such incidents. These include the B-52 accidents that resulted in the conventional detonation of thermonuclear weapons near Palomares in Spain in 1966, and Thule in Greenland in 1968, and the explosion of an armed nuclear missile and subsequent fire at the McGuire Air Force Base in the USA in 1960.

Thousands of active nuclear weapons are still held by nations around the world today. The Maralinga legacy shows the world can ill afford incidents involving nuclear particles.

May 22, 2021 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment, reference, weapons and war | Leave a comment