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OCEANIA BOMB TESTS

AUSTRALIA AND CHRISTMAS ISLAND

On 3 January 1985, Australia created a new landmark in her relations with her former colonial masters and a legal precedent in the history of the Commonwealth. The Australian Royal Commission which had been established to investigate the conduct of the British atomic bomb test series in Australia opened its hearings in London. British Government employees, scientists and servicemen were to be cross-examined in their own country during a judicial inquiry instigated by another government. There was little doubt in the minds of those who witnessed the scene that the Australians relished their task. In his opening address the Commissioner, Mr Justice James McClelland, upbraided the British Government for 'dragging its feet' over the Australian investigation. He accused Britain of being a 'proud country' and of using secrecy about nuclear weapons as a 'convenient alibi for failure of disclosure'. Later he charged the man responsible for agreeing to British nuclear tests in Australia, Robert Menzies, with being a 'lickspittle of the British'. As far as this former Australian Prime Minister was concerned, it had been a question of 'ask and thou shalt receive'.

The bench of Australian lawyers sitting with the Commission in London enjoyed the outburst. Back home, Mr Justice 'Diamond Jim' McClelland was known as a rebel and admired for his outspokenness. They had expected something like this. The more sober British lawyers, the Treasury solicitors acting for Her Majesty's Government, were taken aback and embarrassed. They had not expected to be harangued by a Commonwealth judge. Members of the Australian and British press were delighted. The speech made excellent copy and a dramatic start to the commission. The members of the British Nuclear Test Veterans' Association who had travelled to London for the first day's hearings felt that they were rewarded at last. The British Government had steadfastly refused to hold its own inquiry and the Australian judge's call for Britain to 'come clean' on the tests would provide ample ammunition for their cause. Representatives of the British forces who had served in Australia were being asked to come forward to testify; the commission had already received hundreds of submissions from veterans in Australia. The British veterans regretted only that the Commission's brief did not extend to an examination of the servicemen who had taken part in the Pacific 'H' bomb tests on Christmas Island. 

About twenty thousand British servicemen and two thousand British civilians took part in the twenty-one atmospheric nuclear tests in Australia and Christmas Island between 1952 and 1958. Fifteen thousand Australians were involved in the atomic bomb tests held on the Australian mainland and on the Monte Bello Islands. The majority of the men involved were conscripts, many of them teenagers. A few hundred Australian and British servicemen also took part in the so-called 'minor trials' - experiments with radioactive and toxic materials held at the Maralinga testing range in south Australia during the late fifties and early sixties. One of the purposes of the six hundred minor trials was to discover the effects of fire and chemical explosions on the materials that make up nuclear bombs. They may also have been a way of circumventing the international moratorium on atmospheric testing to which Britain became a party in 1958. The procedure for witnessing the tests did not vary greatly between 1952 and 1958. The men were assembled in groups on the decks of their ships, in the scrub of the Australian bush or on the beaches of Christmas Island, which would give them a grandstand view of the explosion, sometimes no further than seven miles away. Each test was awaited with excitement and fear by the servicemen: the extraordinary sight of an atomic or hydrogen explosion from so close was often the one event of interest in an extremely uncomfortable and tedious tour of duty.

At the moment of detonation approached, orders were called out over tannoys to the assembled men, and the countdown was broadcast simultaneously. Apart from the selected few in the 'indoctrination force' who stood within a few thousand yards of ground zero (the point immediately below the explosion), the majority of men did not wear protective clothing. Later, for the seven hydrogen bomb tests at Christmas Island, the men were issued with 'zoot suits', white anti-flash gear with over-arm and over-head protectors and, in some cases welder's goggles to protect the eyes from the blinding flash at the instant of detonation. Whether dressed in protective clothing or not, all the men were ordered to take up the same position shortly after the countdown had begun. Turning their backs to ground zero, they flattened their hands and pressed their palms hard into their eye sockets. with the cry of 'zero' at the end of the countdown, a brilliant flash of blue-white light split through the heads of the witnesses. It was so bright that they could see quite clearly the bones of their hands pressed into their eyes, as if highlighted by X-ray. This flash was followed by a wave of intense heat - 'like standing against an open oven'. Seconds later, the men were told to turn to view the explosion and brace themselves for the shock wave. The hydrogen bombs were so powerful that the force of the blast often knocked men over who were watching twenty-five or more miles away.

The sight of the H bombs, burst several thousand feet up in the atmosphere, was especially beautiful and terrible. Shaped like an enormous billowing halo; and coloured orange, white and red by chemical reactions, the clouds rose rapidly into the upper atmosphere. As each ascended a white plume formed underneath which slowly grew until the explosion took on the familiar mushroom shape. The Australian atomic bombs were mostly burst at ground or sea level; only two were exploded in the air. The ground bursts sucked up huge quantities of earth and water, and lacked the immediate beauty of the H bombs. They were black and oily clouds, often misshapen by the tonnage of debris raised - which was later to fall back to earth as radioactive fallout.

Each of the twelve major atomic bomb tests in Australia has had questions raised about its safety. After the first detonation of 1952, on the Monte Bello Islands off the north-western coast, men claim that they were sent into the forward areas to collect radioactive samples without sufficient protection or monitoring procedures. The following year the tests were held at Emu near the Woomera rocket range in South Australia. One of the bombs was fired in unsafe weather conditions and produced the 'black mist' that passed over Aboriginal settlements, allegedly causing death from radiation sickness. The Mosaic tests which followed in 1956, once more on the Monte Bello Islands, contaminated the Australian mainland. The Buffalo tests in the same year on the permanent test range at Maralinga were used to measure the effects of nuclear weapons on the morale and operational capacity of troops: members of the 'indoctrination force' stood within a few thousand yards of the detonation. The antler test series in Maralinga in 1957 again raised doubts about the safety of Aborigines, and the so-called 'minor trials' on the range held between 1957 and 1963 spread quantities of radioactive materials including plutonium across the bush. The frequent dust storms in the Australian bush have been blowing potentially lethal carcinogens hither and thither now for neatly three decades.

Recent investigations into the monitoring procedures, both close in and at long range, have shown them to be inadequate. It may never be known how much radioactive material was deposited over Australia. Fallout clouds were not properly traced and sampling stations were few and inefficient. Servicemen in Britain and Australia now claim that they were being used in 'guinea-pigs' in an experiment to discover the effects of radiation. Although the British hydrogen bomb tests in the Pacific did not produce local fallout, the same lackadaisical attitudes to the safety of those exposed to radiation are reported. The crews who flew their aircraft through the H bomb clouds were exposed to even higher doses of radiation than the men in Australia, and those who decontaminated the planes on the ground were liable to be sprayed with radioactive water. Men wandered, out of curiosity, into areas with known radioactive hazards.

In Australia there are now ten thousand test veterans who have joined organizations fighting for compensation. 'A former Australian serviceman or his widow may claim compensation for damages against the government under the commonwealth Employees Act, and six veterans or their widows have so far received awards under this scheme. Five more are holding out for larger sums by sueing their Government under common law. The thirteen hundred members of the British Nuclear Test Veterans' Association are also dedicated to the fight for compensation but in Britain an Act of Parliament makes it impossible for an ex-serviceman to claim compensation for injuries received as a result of service in the armed forces. A test ex-serviceman or his widow may only apply for the small discretionary disability pension which is made available to members of the armed forces instead of compensation. The different legal positions in the two countries mean that an Australian veteran who served alongside a British serviceman in the same tests may today be given compensation for his injuries while his British colleague receives nothing. As a British MP remarked to the House of commons, 'It is ironic that while Britain and Australia should share the same sovereign, each nation is applying different ground rules to the atom test controversy.'

The British Government has always denied that there is any truth in the claims that negligence in the conduct of the tests had led men to suffer radiation-induced illnesses. The number of test veterans developing cancer, it says, is no higher than normal, and not is the number of their offspring with birth defects. To prove this, the British Government has commissioned the National Radiological Protection Board to survey the health records of test participants. Indeed, the British Defence Minister, Adam Butler, has publicly cast doubt on the wisdom of the Australian Government in serving up the royal Commission. In the House of commons in December 1984, he questioned the benefit of collecting anecdotal evidence from test veterans and test planners The report by the National Radiological Protection board would, he said, be 'statistical and objective. That is the importance as compared with the work of the royal Commission.' Despite the evidence emerging from the Australian royal commission, the British Ministry of Defence and the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) - the Government bodies that supervised the test programme - dismiss the allegations by ex-servicemen that the tests took place without proper safeguards. They point out that radiation safety procedures followed well-established practice and conformed to international standards of the day. However, an examination of the veterans' anecdotes dismissed by the British authorities raises many doubts. Most veterans agree that there were strict procedures and rules on the test ranges but that 'all the rules laid down were not enforced and some were broken outright'. Many of them remember sharing a light-hearted, even contemptuous, attitude to radiation precautions and few of them recall being properly briefed about the hazards.

There is, furthermore, evidence that servicemen were subjected to radiation in order to increase contemporary knowledge about its effects: the Ministry of Defence wanted to establish the operational usefulness of the armed forces in the event of nuclear war. Servicemen were told to 'march, crawl and lie' in radioactive dust. A ship was instructed to sail into a fallout area. An RAF Canberra flew into the atomic cloud four minutes after each detonation. The British authorities argue, however, that most of the men involved in the tests did not even experience radiation exposures above the levels of everyday life. Those who did receive higher doses were within the 'prescribed limits' and were 'given appropriate protection'. If this is the case, the authorities have behaved very strangely about revealing all the test details. For six months the Australian Royal Commission asked the British Ministry of Defence for details of individual radiation doses received by servicemen. They were consistently refused. Many British veterans tell stories which suggest official attempts to stifle the truth. One man, for example, told the royal commission that his medical records had been stripped of all the details relating to his life in the services and that doctors had told him his files were classified. In another instance, a former RAF man was denied a body scan by the Government nuclear establishment at Harwell 'in case he should use the results in proceedings against the government', and a widow of a test veteran related that when she had contacted the Ministry of Defence about her husband's death, she was told that the bomb tests in Australia had never taken place.

there has been as much anger in Australia about the permanent scars left on the country by the bomb tests as there has been about injuries to veterans. Although the British 'cleaned up' after they left the ranges, and even returned in 1979 to retrieve half a kilo of plutonium, some 800 kilos of radioactive materials remain buried at the test sites and in recent years surveyors have found particles of plutonium scattered over the bush area. The Australian Government is unlikely to wish to finance and carry out further clean-ups, the cost of which could run into billions of Australian dollars, if, as is quite possible, the topsoil of large areas of the Australian bush needs to be removed to rid it of contamination. Britain, however, is equally unlikely to want to take on the cost and difficulties of tracing and removing every piece of radioactive rubbish strewn over the Australian bushy. As a result, relations between the two Governments may be strained far more by the recommendations of the royal Commission than they were by its inception.

The Australian people have always been sensitive to what they consider to be the patronising behaviour of their old colonial rulers and the nuclear tests are a classic example of the attitudes they have grown to resent so deeply. The initial agreement to the use of Australian locations as atomic bomb test sites was gained within a few days of a telegrammed request from Clement Attlee to Robert Menzies, and the first tests took place without any formal consultation. When dissident voices were raised among members of the Australian Labor Party, the Minister for supply, Howard Beale, issued a statement proclaiming: 'The whole project is a striking example of inter-Commonwealth co-operation on the grand scale. England has the bomb and the know-how, we have the open spaces, much technical skill and a great willingness to help the Motherland.' the Australian people are thus not merely concerned with Britain's conduct of the tests but with the behaviour of their own authorities; particularly of such men as Sir Ernest Titterton, the physicist on the Australian Weapons Test Safety Committee whose job it was to protect the interests of the Australian people during the test programme, and Sir Howard Beale, the Minister responsible.

The indifference that Britain showed towards the welfare of Australia during the fifties still appears to prevail today, judging by the British press, whose coverage of the royal commission hearings in London was largely confined to the judge's outburst interest i the contamination in Australia caused by the tests, although when, on the last day of the hearings, it was revealed that Britain's nuclear scientists had considered holding some of the 'minor trials' in Scotland, on the north-east coast at Wick, the press woke up to a sensational story. Articles entitled 'Rain saved Scotland from atom tests' and 'A-test story horrified Wick' commanded more column inches than the previous three months' hearings. Nonetheless, members of all British political parties have urged that the British government should make amends. Britons still believe that commonwealth ties are important and their opinions were echoed in the London Times on the day the Royal commission returned to Australia: 'We owe Australia a considerable debt which, it turns out, is being paid in slow installments. Although Britain may have already fulfilled its formal liabilities to the land and people affected by the tests, it will not pay us to quibble mean-mindedly over reasonable requests for reparation.'

The men who took part in Britain's H bomb programme believe that they were just as much the victims of the nuclear tests as their Australian counterparts. Instead of a royal commission, however, they have to make do with their own collection of anecdotes as evidence and await the NRPB's statistical survey, the results of which are expected in 1986. It is no surprise that they feel frustrated by the weight of evidence available about the Australian trials while their own case is ignored. Yet the action of the Australian "royal Commission in gaining access to so many documents about Britain's tests may benefit all the veterans. As the documents are read and understood, so the tide of public feeling in support of the British veterans' case grows, for while it is no doubt true that the majority of the men who witnessed the tests thirty years ago were not put at any great risk, the evidence shows that the tests ere carried out in a spirit of complacency and with frequent dangerous disregard for the safety of servicemen. These men may now be paying the price of their loyal service in the successful development of Britain's independent nuclear deterrent with their health and even with their lives.

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The British authorities were determined to use the tests of the fifties to discover as much as possible about the effects of nuclear weapons. As a circular issued in May 1953 by the Defence Research Policy Committee tot he Chiefs of Staff stated: 'Many of these tests are of the highest importance to departments, since on their results depend the design of equipment, changes in organisation and administration, and offensive and defensive tactics'. In particular, it went on, the army 'must discover the effects of various types of explosions on equipment, stores and men with and without various types of protection'. Ministry of Defence Officials have argued that such information was gained by the use of instruments and not by the deliberate exposure of men to radiation. The evidence , however, points to servicemen being used at very possible opportunity to discover the nature and effects of nuclear warfare. If they were expose to radiation, the 'fortuitous' occurrence was used as a chance to establish the workings of this little known but revolutionary new ingredient in the services' armory. 

The tests were not merely a scientific experiment. They were an opportunity for the military and civil defence forces to learn about a completely new form of warfare. Men were exposed to nuclear bombs in order that monitoring and decontamination exercises could be assessed, and their ability to function as disciplined troops could be studied by military strategists. Although there is no firm evidence of deliberate exposure of men to high doses of radiation, there is no doubt that the servicemen at the tests were part of an experiment from which the authorities were determined to learn everything they could. Early in 1985 the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, categorically denied that there was any truth in the allegations that servicemen were used as 'guinea pigs'. No British servicemen, the said, were 'exposed unnecessarily to levels of ionising radiation in excess of the prescribed limits'. The distinction between a serviceman being exposed to high doses of radiation as a guinea pig and his being in necessary, carefully monitored contact with radiation and nuclear weapons in order to benefit scientific and military knowledge is clearly a fine one.

When a nuclear weapon is detonated, the resulting fireball almost instantaneously reaches a temperature nearly as high as that of the sun's interior, and causes an enormous radiation of heat and light energy. This flash of heat, which lasts about twenty seconds, can cause burns and start fires at considerable distances. some of the energy produced within the first minute of the explosion takes the form of intense 'ionising' radiation, made up of penetrating gamma waves and a stream of fast neutrons, and is called 'prompt' or 'initial' radiation. Both the gamma rays and neutron particles of this initial radiation are rapidly absorbed in the atmosphere and the range within which they may damage humans is quite limited: even for the largest bombs no harmful effects of prompt radiation are expected beyond a radius of four miles. It was thus as simple matter for those in charge of the tests to ensure protection against this initial radiation by placing the men at a safe distance.

The vast majority of servicemen were placed well beyond the danger zone during the tests but in the autumn of 1956, selected servicemen from Australia and Britain were placed as close as possible to two nuclear explosions as part of a programme of 'indoctrination'. At the first explosion the programme required the 'exposure of the indoctrinees to the flash, heat and blast effects at a distance of about four and a half miles'. There was no mention of exposure to radiation at at a range of four and a half miles the men were not in danger of any damage from initial radiation. At the second 'indoctrination' test, the men were placed much closer to a very low yield weapon of 1.75 kilotons (a 'trigger' device for a Christmas Island H bomb). According to the Australian Ionising radiation Advisory Council (AIRAC) 'UK scientists and service personnel were included at locations about 2.5 km and 4 km respectively from ground zero', which would still not have put the men in range of dangerous initial radiation. The group nearest the detonation were placed under cover. It is now known that the AIRAC report is mistaken, and the men were in fact closer: 2000 and 3000 yards respectively. At such close ranges the men would have been at risk of exposure to low doses of prompt or initial radiation. It is stated in the AIRAC report that their recorded doses averaged less than 0.5R, though higher than average doses would probably have been received by the men who took cover in slit trenches, since in all the tests these men were the most likely to be closest to a blast and thus to have been exposed to initial radiation. 

As well as the pulse of initial radiation emitted within a minute of the explosion, energy is also released in the form of 'residual' radiation one minute or more afterwards. This can be a deadly hazard, either as fallout or as 'induced radioactivity'. The latter occurs when the stream of neutrons which are part of the initial radiation make naturally occurring minerals in the area around the explosion radioactive. After all the tests in Australia and at Christmas Island, anyone going into areas close to the sites of the nuclear explosions would have been at risk of exposure to this form of residual radioactivity. All such areas were therefore meant to be clearly marked out of bounds and only those in suitable protective clothing under the direction of health physicists permitted access. Almost all the nuclear devices detonated in Australia were exploded on, or near, the surface of the earth, causing an added hazard of residual radiation in the form of fallout, both locally and at longer ranges. Local fallout could not be avoided in the early days of weapon testing because the technology for preventing it by dropping the bombs from RAF aircraft did not exist. The devices were too large and the bombers too small. The first successful air-drop was in 1956, code-named Kite. Before then the nuclear weapons were either placed in ships or mounted on towers about thirty feet from the ground. These tests were, of necessity, 'groundbursts', i.e. their fireballs touched the surface of the earth.

When the intensely hot and swirling gases of the fireball touch the ground, the heat is so great that a giant crater is formed, and huge quantities of earth and rock are sucked up by the fireball as it rises. The heat causes the millions of tons of debris to vaporize and be drawn up through the radioactive cloud. As the fireball cools and takes the form of a mushroom-shaped cloud, the debris becomes incorporated with, and contaminated by, the radioactive products of the explosion, and it slowly falls back to earth as dust, made up of millions of particles of highly radioactive fallout. Most of the fallout from a groundburst is deposited around the crater of the bomb but if the mushroom cloud drifts downwind, it can be deposited over a broad area, extending several hundred miles. The sort of fallout is called 'local'.

All the tests at Christmas Island and Malden in the Central Pacific were 'airbursts'. The fireballs were not meant to touch the ground at all and therefore local fallout would be avoided completely. The only danger from radioactivity to those nearby during airbursts was thought to be from induced radioactivity and prompt radiation. However, traces of induced radioactivity at Christmas Island remain to this day in the areas directly beneath the airbursts, and although local fallout was voided, there was little understanding of the dangers of 'global' fallout resulting from airbursts. This comes from the vaporized bomb castings and the uranium or plutonium that has not been used up in the chain reaction of the atomic explosion and it stays in the high atmosphere for months or years before coming down to earth as global fallout. The residual radiation caused by local fallout from groundbursts was a major hazard of the tests in Australia. Made up of alpha particles, beta particles and gamma rays, it presented two separate hazards: the gamma rays could irradiate the whole body, and the alpha and beta particles if ingested, or lodged in the skin and hair, could give a high dose to a specific part of the body. The greatest danger was in the immediate vicinity of the explosion, and although all areas where such 'local' fallout occurred were patrolled and signposted and, as with the induced radioactivity areas, entrance unless supervised was strictly prohibited, almost all the rules and regulations appear to have been breached in some way or other at each of the tests. Men working in conditions of extreme heat are reported to have removed their protective clothing in desperate attempts to cool themselves and see what they were doing. Others, merely inquisitive, claim to have wandered into controlled areas in order to satisfy their curiosity. And Aborigines, unable to understand the warning signs, are said to have been found even in the bomb craters, where there would have been both fallout and considerable induced radioactivity.

Fallout comes down locally within twenty-four hours and contains half the total radioactivity of the bomb. Just where it lands depends on weather conditions: the wind direction, which carries it in a 'plume' from ground zero, and rain, which can bring down fallout rapidly and in strong concentrations called 'hot spots'. Because of the danger of the 'plume' and 'hot spots', a safety zone was extended a hundred miles around the Emu and Maralinga testing ranges and all Aborigines were meant to be cleared from these areas, their ancient tribal lands. The nearest Aboriginal settlements were just on the edge of the hundred mile limit; there were thirteen within two hundred miles. The authorities at first believed that the risks of any delayed fallout contaminating the Aboriginal settlements outside the safety zones were zero. In this they were wrong, and on one occasion at least, after the totem I test in 1955 at Emu, it is feared that freak weather conditions deposited dangerous levels of fallout at a settlement beyond the limit. Despite recommendations that the safety zone be extended to 240 miles because of the vulnerability of the Aborigines living in the open, the hundred mile limit remained. 

The radioactive particles which are too light to come down as local fallout are carried to great heights with the fireball as it rises into the troposphere and stratosphere. They come down days or weeks later as 'delayed' or 'long range' fallout, the time and position being dependent on wind and rain conditions. Delayed fallout after the passage of weeks or even months is not such a risk to health as local fallout, but if it is brought down relatively rapidly by rain or other weather conditions, it can pose a significant hazard. The safety of a nuclear test depended, therefore, on accurate weather forecasting and responsible decisions based on the calculated risk of wind changes and rain. it was recognized by the Australian Atomic Weapon Trials Safety Committee after the first two blasts that the meteorological measurements before and after the first two blasts were not satisfactory. Despite improvements, weather conditions seem to have continued to be inaccurately forecast before tests, or else dangerous risks were knowingly taken. Both in Australia and at Christmas Island it has been alleged that weather conditions brought about substantial unexpected contamination.

The monitoring of the pattern of fallout clouds after tests has also been dismissed as inadequate. This involved the royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force in flying through the mushroom clouds to collect samples of airborne fallout or following the clouds to monitor the direction in which they travelled. 'scientists on the ground were thus able to estimate the size and nature of the blast, and the direction of travel of the fallout cloud. The modified aeroplanes, often called 'sniffers', used for the cloud sampling operations had ducts fitted to the wings into which baskets with filter bags were placed. After a mission, the baskets in which the samples had collected were removed from the ducts by men wielding long-handled calipers; who placed them in lead-lined boxes. The samples were then taken away for radiochemical analysis. 

In the early days of the tests the aircraft were highly polished in the vain hop that radioactive particles would not stick to the bodywork. Later the jets were painted white and, before each mission through the nuclear cloud, covered with a waxy barrier paint to which any fallout particles were supposed to adhere. After a mission, once the samples had been removed, the aircraft was immediately taxied to a wash-down pad where the barrier paint was washed off. The radioactive paint and water were then meant to flow into a soak-away. All those who took part in this procedure - and during every test the cloud sampling and fallout monitoring procedures were put into action - were exposed to radiation. Fallout is radioactive because it contains the 'fission products' of a nuclear reaction. 'Fission' is the process whereby the nucleus of heavy elements, uranium or plutonium, is split into two fragments with a tremendous release of energy. Both fragments are unstable and tend to disintegrate or 'decay', giving off radiation in the form of gamma rays, alpha or beta particles so they do so. These fission products are called 'radioisotopes'. There are about three hundred of them, each decaying over a different period called a 'half-life'. At first the greatest hazard from the fallout during the Australian groundburst tests came from the beta and gamma rays emitted from fission products with short half-lives in the local fallout. This danger decreased rapidly, however, and and the lesser but nevertheless significant hazards of the longer-lasting radioactive fission products remained. Many pollute the test sites to this day. 

The half-lives of the fission products scattered across the Australian desert and the Monte Bello Islands varied considerably. some lasted only a fraction of a second; others will remain radioactive for many millions of years. Plutonium 239 was one of the most insidiously toxic and long-lasting of the fission products produced and experimented with in the British nuclear testing programme. It did not extend beyond some 3000 yards from the firing zones, but it lingers to this day at many of Britain's nuclear test sites; at Monte Bello, at Maralinga and, in minute quantities, at Christmas Island. Although plutonium is an 'alpha emitter' and therefore produces radiation which is not highly penetrating (it can be stopped by a thick pair of trousers), it is one of the most lethal carcinogens known to man. Particles of plutonium weighing only one millionth of a gramme may produce cancer if inhaled or ingested. such tiny quantities can only be detected by the most powerful and sensitive radiation monitors soon after entry into the body. Over the years, lodged in the body, the particles can produce powerful local doses of radiation without being traced and it is only at autopsy that they are found.

Other hazardous fallout particles in the firing areas included uranium and beryllium - a non-radioactive carcinogen. In some tests the danger of fallout was increased by the 'salting' of weapons: the process whereby certain chemicals were added to nuclear bombs in order to discover the effects of fission on them. In 1957, for example, non-radioactive cobalt was added to the ingredients of an atomic bomb in order to assess its lethal potential. At the time the possibility of a cobalt bomb as the ultimate 'doomsday' weapon was being considered, for although ordinary cobalt is non-radioactive, when it is bombarded with neutrons in an atomic reaction its nucleus is changed and it becomes a highly energetic gamma ray emitter called cobalt 60. It has a half-life of 5.3 years, much longer than most gamma emitters in fallout. In 1957 the cobalt 'induced' by neutrons into a radioactive form was scattered in pellets over the testing range. Most but not all of these were collected and buried in a later clean-up operation.

Because gamma rays are so penetrating, the special clothing issued to those servicemen and scientists who entered the fallout zone after the explosion gave them little protection. Indeed, irradiation from gamma rays represented the greatest hazard after each of the weapons trials. Most of the gamma activity fell off quite rapidly, however, and it was only a danger for those entering fallout zones very quickly after explosion. There are records of high doses received by survey parties who entered the zones within the first twenty-four hours of a detonation. After the totem trial the first entries were made only twenty minutes after detonation. As the fallout fission products decayed in Australia it became safer to enter the contaminated areas to collect the instruments and objects left behind for experimental purposes (anything from food for the civil defence experts, to tanks and aeroplanes for the military). A danger remained from the fission products with longer half-lives but as these tended to be less penetrating, it was thought that adequate protection could be provided by protective clothing, respirators and subsequent decontamination. The precautionary measures would combat the radio-activity in the form of tiny particles of alpha- and beta-emitting fission products which could be hazardous if inhaled, ingested or allowed to remain on the skin. The problem was that while the rest servicemen could be adequately protected if all the rules were followed, no such precautions could be taken for the Aborigines. They are known to have wandered across the firing ranges barefoot and almost named shortly after the explosions, and for years after the rests the ranges were not fenced off or guarded. It seems that the dangers were not recognized at all. Long-lasting fission products, re-suspended in dust storms and blown hither and thither by the wind, still pose a problem to the Australians today. 

As weapon technology developed, bringing a reduction in the weight of the bombs and improvements in the aeroplanes that carried them, it became possible for the British to detonate the bombs high above the ground. Two of the rests in Australia and all the Christmas Island trials were airbursts, which should have produced no local fallout. Prompt radiation and induced radioactivity remained a danger from airbursts close to ground zero but these were far smaller hazards than those created in groundbursts by the dispersal of fission products across wide areas of Australia. Unless the mushroom clouds interacted with a rain cloud, and fission products were brought down by rainfall, there would be little danger from residual radioactivity to the people who witnessed airbursts and never went near ground zero. The greater energy of the hydrogen bomb, tested gby the British at Christmas Island, is derived from fusion: the coming together of light nuclei to form a heavier nucleus. In an atomic explosion, on the other hand, the energy is derived from fission: the splitting of a heavy nucleus. In order to achieve the intense heat for fusion to occur, a 'trigger' for an H bomb is necessary. This trigger is a small fission device - a low-yield atomic bomb. Fusion does not produce radiation and it is the fission process that produces the bulk of the radioactivity in a conventional H bomb. The fission devices which triggered the first H bombs at Christmas Island were so low in yield that they did not produce great quantities of radioactivity and were referred to by the scientists who controlled the experiments as 'clean' bombs. A number of the fission trigger devices were tested in Australia in 1956 and 1957, as well as at Christmas Island. 

When the H bombs were exploded in airbursts above the Central Pacific by the British in 1957 and 1958, the dangers from 'global' delayed fallout were only just understood. The contaminated particles from the explosions - the vaporized bomb casing, the fission products of the trigger device, and any plutonium or uranium which escaped fission - were blown high into the stratosphere, to remain there for months, even years before being brought down to earth by rainfall. When such delayed fallout eventually comes down to earth, only the longer-lived radioisotopes are still acitve: mainly iodine 131, strontium 90 and caesium 137. These pose a hazard to humans if they enter the food chain and are ingested. For example, although iodine 131 decays quite quickly, it entered the food chain rapidly, and milk with concentrations of this radioactive iodine was found thousands of miles from test areas within only four weeks of the explosions. Strontium 90 and caesium 137 - with thirty-year half-lives - pose longer-term hazards: if ingested by humans, they lodge in various parts of the body, giving off radiation for three decades. The danger of these radioisotopes was only just realized as the nuclear testing took place in the late 1950s, at which time it was the British Government's avowed policy to seek an end to atmospheric testing on the basis of the health hazard of global fallout. The danger was a main reason for the decision by the USA and USSR to agree to a temporary halt to atmospheric nuclear explosion in 1958.

It is now possible to calculate the number of deaths worldwide which may result from the general release of radiation in global fallout after a large nuclear weapon is detonated on the atmosphere. According to the United States Government agency, the Office of Technology Assessment, the global fallout from a one-megaton airburst would cause between two hundred and two thousand cancer deaths if exploded in the northern hemisphere. This estimate is based on fairly conservative estimates of the risks of radiation. If the OTA's assessment is correct, it would follow that a number of deaths were caused by the global fallout from Britain's seven hydrogen bomb tests, which took place in the northern hemisphere very close to the equator. Few surveys have been carried out to investigate this assumption but some researchers believe that atmospheric testing has produced an increase of certain forms of cancer, especially among young people born at the time of the nuclear explosions.

A survey in East Anglia published in 1984, for example, has shown a dramatic rise in the incidence of testicular cancer among men who were babies when global fallout reached a peak in the late 1950s and early 1960s. According to the researcher responsible, Dr Karol Sikora of the University of Cambridge, a time-lag between exposure and subsequent cancer of about twenty years would be expected, and he found that testicular cancer was now the commonest form of cancer among young men, and that its incidence had increased threefold among those aged between thirty and thirty-four between 1975 and 1980. Overall, testicular cancer now affects one man in 25,000, and the figures in the East Anglia study match those of other regions in the United Kingdom. Fears increased as the British tests progressed that nuclear explosion in the atmosphere would lead to cancer and genetic defects, and caused worldwide revulsion and protest. Under pressure both at home and from abroad, the British tests in Australia and on Christmas Island took place as quickly as possible and her main testing programme was ended in late 1958The same year the three big nuclear powers signed an agreement for a 'moratorium' on nuclear testing and Britain never exploded a device in the open again. Her contribution to global fallout had been small: the United States and the Soviet Union between them had exploded thousands of weapons of all types in the atmosphere. As a result of the moratorium and their partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963, global fallout has been decreasing in strength since its peak in the late 1950s. It now contributes only 0.5 per cent of our total background radiation exposure. 

Global fallout from British nuclear tests was confined to the H bombs exploded at high altitudes. The groundbursts in Australia produced long-range fallout, consisting of the finer radioactive particles taken into the troposphere by the fireball. Because they are not carried as high as the stratosphere, they are more likely to mix with clouds than global fallout and be brought down by rain over a smaller part of the earth's surface. There has been considerable controversy about the records of this delayed fallout in Australia. It is now alleged that the monitoring was inadequate and that the existing evidence of contamination was tampered with by the British authorities in order not to raise public fears in Australia. At first the monitoring methods for contamination were undoubtedly rudimentary. At the early tests it was not even considered necessary to monitor some of the men who flew though the nuclear cloud to follow the fallout pattern; as a result some high doses were not recorded. However, decontaminating techniques and exposure measurement were improved. As men were 'fortuitously' exposed to fallout particles, the success or failure of the various methods used to wash them clean was carefully assessed and by the time of the Christmas Island tests, scrubbing contamination off men had reached a speak of sophistication. In the same way the progress of radioisotopes through the body and their excretion rate through urine were observed with keen interest by the atomic weapon scientists.

The equipment used to monitor the men also increased in sophistication as the tests progressed, although the procedurs remained much the same from 1952 to 1958. For dangerous operations, men were accompanied by health physicists carrying geiger counters and personal dosemeters. The most common way of recording personal radiation doses was, however, by a 'film badge' worn on the lapel. This was a light-proof plastic device containing unexposed film: gamma radiation would penetrate the plastic and expose the film according to the strength of dose. The film badges worn by the test participants did not, however, record exposure to radiation from alpha particles, and only a rudimentary measurement of beta particles was possible with them. Nor could they detect any internal radiation caused by the ingestion of radioisotopes. it was the duty of the health physicists to monitor these types of radiation with their more sensitive apparatus.

The reliability of film badges is now a matter of debate. It is possible that in the conditions of a nuclear test, they do not record all the radiation that strikes the body, and they may also be inherently unreliable. In the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows for a fifty per cent inaccuracy on individual film badges. when the commission ordered a study of 23,000 badges in 1980 from the University of Michigan, doses were reported which were ninety per cent above or below the correct dose. The commission concluded that 'a significant percentage of personal dosimetry processors (film badges) may not be performing with an appropriate degree of accuracy'. The processors in the study id not differ much from the film badges worn by servicemen in the tests in the 1950s. A further indication that film badges were unsuitable for recording the doses of test participants is given by the evidence of excess cancers among the participants in the Smoky test in Nevada. No significant radiation doses were recorded after the troops had marched around fallout areas and it seems likely that the film badges failed to record the true exposures.   

the individual dose records of the men exposed to radiation at the tests have not been released by the Ministry of Defence and without them, even if they are not wholly accurate, it is difficult to judge the adequacy of the protection for those known to be at risk. If the British Government's figures are correct, however, the men should have little to fear. The same goes for the majority who were never monitored. The may never have been at risk at all: they were never close enough to a test to suffer from prompt radiation, however terrifying the sight may have been; they never entered a fallout zone, and they never handled contaminated material. Their fears should be laid to rest. But the minority who were exposed to radiation through ignorance or carelessness may well have been placed in danger. 

*     *     *     *     *

Between February and June 1952, five royal Navy ships of the 'special squadron' left Portsmouth on the thirteen-thousand-mile voyage to the Monte Bello Island, off the north-west coast of Australia. The the outsider, there was nothing to suggest that the squadron was any different to any other about to embark on a summer exercise. There were few external signs of the elaborate conversions that had taken place inside to accommodate laboratories, decontamination units, weapons rooms and heavy engineering equipment - except on HMS Plym, the bomb carrier and so called 'garget vessel'. A naval intelligence officer had come up with the witty idea of using the initials 'TV' to disguise the ship as 'television vessel', and the frigate was hung with look-alike television antennae. Thus adorned, the Plym, carrying Britain's first atomic bomb, took the slow route to Australia, around the Cape. It was considered too risky to go through the Suez Canal.  

A second look at the ships would has revealed another oddity about the 'special squadron'. They carried at least one hundred civilian scientists on board - not a happy arrangement as it turned out. Friction between the A Navy professionals and the scientific contingent, known as 'the boffins', was apparent from the very start. As the flagship, HMS Campania sailed from Portsmouth with all naval hands on deck fallen in, the scientists, as one officer on board noted, were learning over the side 'waving to mum'. They had all been made honorary members of the wardroom and yet, to the horror of the officers, they fraternized with stewards and even seamen. Pettiness about protocol dogged the entire two-month voyage, culminating in the incident when the first lieutenant announced that ties should be worn at the Sunday evening film show. Most the 'boffins' responded by wearing ties but no shirts. Many of the ratings remember the voyage not as the 'rest cute' promised by the Air Vice Marshal but as a frenzy of unpacking equipment, checking, testing and then re-packing. Few of them knew the nature of the expedition before embarking. On board the Campania, Sidney Fletcher, now living in Liverpool, remembers a briefing about the bomb from the scientists. 'They told us quite frankly that they did not have a clue exactly what would happen and they could not say what would happen to future generations. As a result of this, one person tried to get off.' On board HMS Tracker, however, the ratings were given a series of lectures by an RAF officer. Raymond Jones, now living in south Australia, remembers being told that 'we would all be sterile for the next ten years as a result of the tests. No one complained because we were young and reckless then, and most lads thought that would be great because there were no family planning precautions in those days and they would all be in for a good time. It's funny, but when I think about it, there is ten years' difference between my oldest daughter and when my next child was born.'

On 8 August, the flagship Campania and 'TV' Plym sailed into the appointed lagoon exactly on schedule and docked off the western shore of the Monte Bello island of Trimouille. for the Plym, it was to be her last berth, she was to be vaporized in the explosion. But that was still two months away and there was a huge amount of work yet to be done. It soon became clear that the expedition had set off with too little planning and with too hurried a packing operation. The Royal Engineers, with the help of the RAAF, had done an extensive job in the two months before the main expedition arrived in constructing roads, jetties and essential buildings. Nonetheless, there were not enough boats for transport between the expedition ships and the shore. There were too few land vehicles and even a shortage of typewriters, moreover the VHF radio telephone links failed to work properly. It was something of a miracle that 'D' day was reached with everything in place. The test, code-named Hurricane, was designed to fill the many gaps in Britain's knowledge of nuclear warfare. The testing of the prototype bomb, plutonium-based and similar to the 'fat man' of Nagasaki, was of course important, but Penney was just as anxious to study the effects of the weapon - its radioactivity, blast, shock waves - knowledge of which would be valuable for Britain's offensive strategy and civil defence.

Britain's needs were not the only consideration. The very nature of the detonation had been chosen to provide useful information to the Americans. In all America's twenty-six tests to date, the effects of placing a bomb in shallow water, as if in a port, had not been examined. This is what Hurricane set out to do. In a memo from Lord Portal to the Chiefs of Staff in 1950, it was pointed out that 'this is the type of attack which presumably must be taken into account as a possible form of 'bolt from the blue' but its effects have not yet been studied by the Americans'. The Monte Bello Islands were an ideal resting ground for an attack on, say the Port of London or on Pearl Harbor, and if successful the test would win Britain America's esteem. Every British Government institution involved in military or civil defence had its 'sideshow' at the test. On Alpha Island, Ministry of Supply photographers built a site with remote-controlled cameras ready to record the test. On Trimouille, the Army's Mechanical Effects Division planted different types of gauges to measure the effect of blast; two hundred petrol cans and a row of toothpaste tubes featured among their props. The Thermal Effects Division placed thermometers, special paint samples and 144 different types of clothing to demonstrate the effects of heat, while air sampling equipment made from modified vacuum cleaner units and ionization chambers were set u by the Radiation Hazard Division. The Medical Research Council team would be testing the effects on agricultural products and servicemen would be delegated to catch fish and rats after the explosion to measure how much iodine and strontium they had absorbed.

Each experiment involved teams of scientists and servicemen whose jobs were to collect the materials after the explosion, examine them and pack or dispose of them, all of which involved risk to a varying degree. Dr Penney took advice from the Medical Research council to establish 'safe' levels of radiation for the thousand or more men concerned, and the three maximum permissible levels of radiation suggested for Hurricane were first, a 'low' close of 0.1R a day for continuous work at limited exposure levels; second, 3R a day, restricted to a few exposures essential to the test programme, and third, 10R a day, in cases of extreme urgency, such as recovering vital records, after which thee would be no exposure to radiation for at least twelve months. All these levels were considered 'safe' at the time, although subsequent scientific studies have suggested that thee is no such thing as a safe dose of radiation.

Time and again during the Australian government's Royal commission hearings into the conduct of the tests held in London in 1985, Dr Penney, now Lord Penney, would answer with 'At that time, we did not know what we know today', or, 'May I remind you that at the time, health physics was not what it is today' and 'I took the best advice available at the time', and so on. But Penney himself did believe thee was a slight risk, even in 1952. In his role as Chief Superintendent, Armament Research at the Ministry of Supply, he wrote to the chiefs of Staff committee in January 1951, pointing out a security problem that had arisen during the preparations for Hurricane, 'the provision of adequate insurance cover for the participating personnel, especially against radioactive hazards, without undue disclosure to insurance companies.' Questioned about this during the Royal commission haring, Lord Penney explained that there wee many risks to consider, such as aeroplanes crashing. 'These RAF planes were carrying people a long way and if they crashed there would be a calamity ... and in naval ships there are steep ladders and the ship would be rocking and someone could fall off. But, it was pointed out, there are the risks run by any serviceman. Pressed again on the specific reference to radiation in the document, Penney explained that 'some of our scientists were going right in. some of them would say, "All right, I am sure I will be all right, but I would like some insurance." It was the scientists, the men who knew most about the risks, who were asking for the insurance cover.

The detonation itself went faultlessly, to the surprise of many of the scientists and officers, who had at times felt profoundly pessimistic during the two months of hectic preparation. Work on the final assembly of the bomb on board HMS Plym, anchored to the west of Trimouille, had been finished just before dawn on 'D' day, 3 October 1952. ships of the Australian royal Navy and RAAF Lincolns had searched the surrounding seas and skies to check that no civilian ships or commercial aircraft had strayed into the prohibited area. A final check on the task force was made to ensure there were no absentees. A team of scientists from Alermaston, a support military group and the official photographers were under cover on Hermite Island, some seven miles from HMS Plym. It would be up to Ian Maddocks, one of the Aldermaston team and nicknamed the Count of Monte Bello, to start the countdown and detonate the bomb from the control room set up on the island. The ships of the task force withdrew to safe distances upwind of the expected direction of the fallout cloud, the nearest to the detonation being the health ship, HMS Tracker, positioned eleven miles from the HMS Plym.

Ten seconds after the detonation at 9.15 am the photographers ran out from their cover to get to their cameras. It was an awesome and not very beautiful sight: the bomb had sucked up millions of tons of mud in a water column. The silence was unnerving. Twenty seconds later, the men heard the crash of the blast and felt a slight tremor. Eye witnesses were confused by the shape of the cloud. It was huge and billowing and was moving sideways. it was not the traditional mushroom cloud that they had seen on American films of atomic explosions. The uninformed believed that this was a new kind of atomic bomb developed by Penney and his team. From fifty miles away on the mainland - the closest the press could get to the blast - a Daily Telegraph reporter made random notes as he watched: 'A brief lightning flash, a red glow like the top segment of the setting sun, a huge expanding cloud racing skywards. A heavy pressure smacked our eardrums. Simultaneously, there was a report like a clap of thunder, followed by a rumble best likened to a train roaring through a tunnel. One minute after the flash the cloud, white with purple shadows rising swiftly to about six thousand feet. After two minutes it is about ten thousand feet high. After three minutes, it is about a mile wide at the centre.'

Ratings on board the ships of the special squadron were mustered on deck and given the 'privilege' of watching the bomb from close range, their backs turned to the blast at the actual point of detonation. Harry Carter, who had sailed out on the Plym, believes he and his colleagues were positioned on land about five miles away as their ship was vaporized in the atomic explosion. 'At the end of the countdown, there was a blinding electric-blue light, of such intensity I had not seen before or since. I pressed my hands hard to my yes, then realised my hands were covering my eyes and thus terrific light power, or ray, was actually passing though the tarpaulin, through the towel and through my head and body, for what seemed ten or twelve seconds, it may have been longer. After that, the pressure wave, which gave a feeling such as when one is deep under water. This was then followed by a sort of vacuum suction wave, feeling as if one's whole body was billowing out like a balloon. I am sure we felt slightly incontinent for a second or two. However, all clear came from over the radio. At this point we removed our hands from our eyes, and the towels from our heads. The cloud was rising at speed, and spectacular of course, from where we were. We didn't look horizontally, but tilted our heads right back to view "Penny's Fizzer'.' The next day Carter remembers feeling 'a bit rough'. Today, at sixty-two he suffers from cataracts in both eyes, an affliction unusual in a man Carter's age and which has been associated with high doses of radiation. 

The next operation facing the task force was the controlled re-entry into the contaminated area to take samples and to recover instruments and exposed materials for which the scientists and military men involved wore protective clothing. Their 'booty' was then airlifted from the islands on to the waiting ships by helicopters or transported back to the laboratories by small boats. Acting Perry Officer Mabbutt, on board HMS Zeebrugge, remembers the canisters containing radioactive samples arriving and being winched down on to the upper deck. They were collected manually by the scientists and taken down to the laboratory. There were a large number of arrivals on the same day of the explosion. The Royal Marines who were stationed on HMS Zeebrugge were manning the landing and assault crafts which went ashore to pick up water and possibly solids from the 'dirty areas'. When they talked about their work, they told me that they would sometimes have their radiation instruments going off the scale because they were too close to highly contaminated areas and they had to retreat as fast as possible.'

All men going into radioactive areas were equipped with film badges or personal dosemeters and after returning from radioactive areas were monitored and then taken on board the health ship, HMS Tracker, for decontamination and re-monitoring. According to the official records, one per cent of these men remained contaminated after going through the Tracker's decontamination procedures, which included numerous showers, scrubbing with nail brishes dipped in a solution of precipitated chalk and mopping themselves with cotton wool soaked in potassium permanganate. some of the worst examples of contamination were among a special party which went about on Trimouille to recover contaminated specimens from an experimental site. These men in their protective clothing each registered between 3 and 6R of gamma radiation - a relatively high dose but within the limits set by Penney for 'special operations'.  Blame for the contamination lay, we are told, with the loose-fitting protective overalls and the areas of the body left completely exposed by the clothing, such as the back and sides of the head. Another problem arose with rubber gloves and boots. Not enough of these had been provided because it was assumed that they could be easily decontaminated and reissued. Decontamination in fact proved particularly difficult, as the official records explain: 'It appears that, in the constant flexing of rubber surfaces, contamination becomes firmly fixed and virtually impossible to remove.' But the inadequate protection offered Britain's first test servicemen provided, the official reports say, valuable data for future tests and useful information on the contamination hazards of nuclear warfare. The most contaminated men, were are assured by test reports from Aldermaston, suffered no long-term effects.

The Medical Research Council were able to carry out biological experiments to test whether fission products could enter men's bodies by breathing. 'At various times, men entered the radioactive areas without respirators and it was possible to find traces of radioactivity in their urine within a few days. In an experiment designed to utilize a situation which arose fortuitously, it was possible to secure convincing evidence that such radioactivity in urine had been due to inhalation of fission products, rather than by other possible routes of entry. These results indicated that respirators were effective barriers against the inhalation of fission products from this atomic weapon. Although only traces of radioactivity were found in men exposed to the fall-out several days after the explosion, it would seem advisable to wear a respirator while the fallout settled.' The records do not tell us how it came about that men entered the contaminated areas without respirators apparently 'fortuitously'. The reader is left to assume that there must have been some unforeseen event that sent men into the ground zero area without time to equip themselves properly and that every chance exposure was used to test the effect of radiation on men. In this way servicemen were indeed used as guinea pigs. As for the 'biological experiment', it is now well known that man can breathe in fission products. A millionth of a gramme of plutonium can cause lung cancer.

Hurricane, it must be remembered, was an operation conducted in great secrecy and urgency, involving thousands of conscripts whose education and preparation left them ignorant of the hazards involved. It is not surprising that their accounts of the expedition give an impression of lightheartedness and recklessness about possible contamination. Michael Stephens, a meteorological rating on board HMS Campania who was assigned to ferry scientists to and from the islands, remembers the strict procedure governing decontamination and how he was required to shower three times after one sortie. 'But the system was not full proof. for years I retained a pair of sea boots which should have been destroyed, as a souvenir of the operation. Of course I would not have done this if I had known there was any radiation risk, but radioactivity was regarded as a joke by the drew and servicemen there. There was no education about any potential danger. In 1954 I developed a very bad skin complaint which lasted on and off for five years.'

Another veteran from the Campania who ferried scientists into contaminated areas remembers that they were issued with personal dosemeters when they went ashore and told that they should leave if the meters registered a certain high reading. But 'in common with the rest of my mates I never bothered to look because I did not understand how it worked and nobody else bothered with them'. Derek Parker, an Able Seaman on board HMS Narvik, was issued with a film badge before sailing back into the 'parting pool' where the Plym had been anchored, a week after the detonation. His most vivid memory is of the huge quantity of dead fish washed up on the beaches, including shark and stingray and many smaller species. He remembers there were no markings on the plastic tag that contained his film badge and at the end of the expedition they were all thrown into a bucket and nothing more was seen or heard of them. Thirteen years ago, twenty year after the nuclear test Parker began having blood circulation problems. He has been admitted to hospital five times and has had two major operations. 'On two separate occasions in hospital I have mentioned the fact that I had been involved in atomic tests and on both occasions the doctors have shown a great deal of interest. They have taken notes and gone away quite excited. A few days later they have pooh-poohed the whole idea that there could be any connection. I may have dreamed it but I distinctly got the impression that both times they had asked questions about the nuclear tests at some official source and had been very firmly told drop the whole question. why else would they do an about turn in so short a time?' Mr Parker has polycaethaemia, a blood cancer associated with exposure to radiation. 

It was not only British men who were involved in hazardous operations. Australian servicemen had helped build the test sites, their meteorologists had advised on weather conditions for firing, and their scientists were invited to witness Hurricane - after Penney had given strict instructions that they were not to be told any details about the weapon's make-up. for the first three detonations in the bomb test series, the decision to fire lay solely with the British./ After the detonation, RAAF aircraft took part in cloud tracking operations and members of all three Australian services were involved in collecting nuclear debris. A month after the blast, a former RAAF officer, Keith Park, now living in Brisbane, was sent to the Monte Bello Islands on HAS Hawkesbury as a member of an inter-service training unit of twelve men who were to be given practical experience in using atomic instruments and dealing with radiation hazards. For the 'training' they were given all the monitoring devices available: film badges, personal dosemeters and geiger counters. Peck remembers that the dosemeters did not agree with the film badges on the first or the second day. The other officer and I also had geiger counters which we carried around and which ticked and roared and buzzed. His instrument didn't read the same as mine even though we were walking side by side: he would have five hundred milliroentgens and I would have two hundred. ... We put two or three dosemeters in our pockets and walked around and they all had a different reading - some double the others - and they were in the same pockets. After three days, we asked the captain about a radioactive source - to 'zero' the geiger counters - to which he said, "I've got it but you can't have it. It's locked up in the safe and nobody's allowed to touch it."'

Peck also remembers that it was so hot wearing the protective overalls and kneeboots that the respirators filled up with perspiration. The men began suffering from rashes and after a while they just wore shorts and ordinary boots. They were told that their permitted level of radiation dose was o.5R a day but they remember recording 2.5R a day. At first when their instruments recorded high levels of radiation, they would leave the area quickly but later, because they were told they had to get the job done, they took fewer precautions. 'We believed we were taking a calculated risk to complete the job. We were over-irradiated on five or six separate occasions and accepted over-exposure as an almost standard operating procedure.' The men on the training course remember returning to HMAS Hawkesbury with every item of clothing irradiated and they were instructed to set up a base camp on the islands because the ship did not have enough fresh water to cope with their decontamination needs. A few weeks later, Peck was removed from duty, suffering from radiation sickness. 'It was diagnosed by the medical officers and scientists on the health ship Tracker. I had diarrhoea and bleeding from the gums. I used the lavatory of the Hawkesbury and that set an alarm bell going in the bridge.' He was transferred to Onslow where he was told that his red blood count was abnormally low. 'They said, 'With a blood count like that if you had an ulcer it would rupture and you would die. You're just lucky you were physically fit before you got this.'"

Safety precautions were just as lax for the RAAF crews involved in the Hurricane test. Five RASF Lincolns flew from Amberley air base to take samples of airborne radioactivity up to five hundred miles from the explosion, and another five were fitted with filters to collect samples up to two thousand miles away. On the east coast of Australia, three planes from the New Zealand Air Force stood by to fly sampling missions from Townsville. No provisions were made to equip the aircrews with film badges or oxygen masks, and no one thought to advise the crews not to eat or drink during the flights through the contaminated clouds. Although the aircraft were all equipped with monitoring equipment to assist the crews in locating the cloud, there was no such equipment that they did have failed to work properly, so the crews could not be sure whether they had intercepted the cloud, whether they were in the thickest part of it or for how long they were flying through it. Nevertheless, each aircraft came back with filters loaded with radioactive material. 

Just as the test planners had not worked our protective measures for the RAAF crews, so the ground crews waiting for the contaminated aircraft to return from their sorties found themselves similarly exposed. Colin Bird, from Brisbane, is currently suing his Government for negligence which he claims resulted in his suffering from cancer after his service at Amberley air base over thirty years ago. As an engine fitter, it was his job to unscrew the radioactive filters from the planes and give them to the British scientists, all of whom were wearing full protective clothing. Still wearing just shorts and shirt, he was then told to hose down the aircraft. He remembers 'the oil and the rubbish from the engines falling all over us. The engines were very high and the stuff fell on to our faces as we sprayed them from the ground. We were covered in highly radioactive material. Even after we showered, we were so radioactive that we had to be kept away from the other men. We had to have a special meal parade when no one else was in the mess.'

When we interviewed Colin Bird at his Mount Gravatt home in 1984, he was dying of cancer - of the throat and tongue. He has been given legal aid to sue his Government, and his challenge is being seen as a test case by the Australian Nuclear Veterans Association. 'We knew nothing about radiation,' Bird told us bitterly, 'we believed our officers when they told us that precautions were being taken. We were used as guinea pigs. They didn't give a damn whether we lived or died.' With the wide range of experiments being carried out at the Hurricane test, huge amounts of nuclear waste necessarily accumulated. radioactive samples had to be dumped before the special squadron left for home, an exercise that involved another kind of hazard. On the way to their first port of call at Freemantle, ships' crews had to throw the drums full of radioactive waste material overboard and the crew on board HMS Zeebrugge remember winching up to thirty drums from the laboratory on to the deck and then overboard; six to eight of the drums were seeping badly. One officer recalls: 'The davit would not swing properly because it was too small and the drum would catch in the scuppers. I then had to step forward and manually shove the drum clear of the ship's side. I did this because I was in charge of the operation. I remember getting splashed over the arms and legs by the seeping liquids from these drums. I can clearly remember a scientist who was observing these operations saying when he saw me being splashed, "One day, you may live to regret that." That raised a laugh among the ratings present.'

Among them was a Royal Navy Marine Harry Angwin: 'Some of the drums split and liquid splashed from them. I remember a joke being made by someone about us all possibly being sterile from being splashed with radioactive waste. I can't remember scientists being there at the time of our disposal of the drums.' He also recalls that on the way back to England, he slept in the boat that had been taken into the lagoon at Monte Bello. On arrival at Plymouth, the marines were told that their ship could not help out with the recent flood disaster on the East coast because it was too radioactive. In his account of his test service submitted to the royal Commission, Angwin tells of a malignant tumour 'as big as a man's head' being removed from his thigh in 1980. he was optimistic then that his cancer was cured, but he died of it in December 1984. As far as the test planners and the weapons people at Aldermanton were concerned, there was little cause for a complaint and plenty for congratulation. The weapon had worked and the retrieval of scientific information had been successful. Winston Churchill sent a suitably florid telegram to the Monte Bello team, bestowing an honour on Britain's bomb maker: 'Well done, Sir William ... and to all those concerned at Monte Bello and at home ... the thanks of Her Majesty's Government for all their toil and skill which have carried this great enterprise to fruition.'

News of the atomic explosion was released in Canberra and London simultaneously on 3 October, the day of the detonation. considering the strict press censorship, the reports were confused and contradictory. Five months before, the New York Times had compared the British secrecy about their tests unfavourably with the openness of the American ventures. 'No reporters, photographers, radio or television men, parliamentary observers and definitely no women' were being invited to the British show. Little wonder that the British and Australian press exaggerated when they tried to imagine what Penney and his team were actually up to. Eye-witness on the western coast of Australia had been further confused by the unfamiliar formation of the cloud. some newspapermen said 'Penney's Fizzer' had been the first hydrogen bomb or, said the Times in London, 'it may be some kind of guided missile'. At least, all agreed, it must be 'a new type of weapon'. They were no doubt disappointed to discover that, although Penney claimed twenty per cent greater efficiency than the American weapons tested at the end of the war, the Hurricane device was built on the same fundamental principles with little innovation.

The average MP in Westminster was as bewildered in the press about what was going on. If they inquired, they were met with a lofty put-down from the select few ministers 'in the know'. When one MP tabled a parliamentary question in November 1952 - 'How far will the recent experiments culminating in the explosion of the British atomic bomb at Monte Bello have provided data other than of exclusive military significance?' - officials at the Ministry of supply suggested that the Minister should reply: 'The explosion enabled us to determine accurately certain nuclear constants whose precise values will be useful in future work on the civil use of atomic energy'. If the MP should pursue that, the suggested response was: 'If the Honorable Member is interested in nuclear constants he may find it convenient to consult one of the elementary text-books on nuclear physics.'

Although wishing to remain quiet about the test's non-military significance, could the government honestly say that it had achieved ihn military intention? The detonation was supposed to give Britain a new status, especially in her relationship with America. As Penney put it in 1952, the propaganda put out by the Americans and the Russians about their atomic weapons 'had placed us in the position of either having to produce the atomic weapon or admit that for one reason or another we cannot do it. The discriminative test for a first-class power is whether it has made an atomic bomb, and we have either got to pass the test or suffer a serious loss in prestige both inside this country and internationally.' Britain had apparently 'passed the test' - but she had failed to impress the Americans. When US Congressmen were asked whether they should reconsider atomic collaboration with Britain, one Congressman said, 'We would be trading a horse for a rabbit.' And only a month after the Monte Bello test, America exploded her first hydrogen bomb, followed by the Soviet Union in August 1953.

However, Britain was inextricably committed to nuclear weapons. The programme for a new round of tests was announced with a fanfare in Britain and Australia, and because an even more ambitious programme of experiments was demanded by the three services, the next round of tests was to be held on land. What is more, because scientists and servicemen were agreed that the long sea voyage to Monte Bello and the logistical difficulties they encountered while there had made the islands an unhappy testing area, the new tests were to be held on the Australian mainland. 

*     *     *     *     *

On his way to the Monte Bello Islands in 1952 Dr William Penney was taken by an Australian outback explorer, Len Beadell, to look for test sites on the Australian mainland. The British Government was preparing for further tests, but wanted a more permanent site. Penney's detour suggested that permission for second bomb detonation had been given by the Australians even before Hurricane and before the British had shown whether their assurances about safety could be believed. Beadell, a surveyor and an outback explorer, took the scientist to Emu Field, a claypan in the Great Victoria Desert, about 150 miles from the nearest town and apparently uninhabited apart from nomadic Aborigines. To Penney, the site looked ideal for the next round of bomb tests.

Beadell remembers the assignment well. The mission was considered to be of such secrecy that only an Air commodore from among the RAAF personnel at the Woomera rocket range could be entrusted with the job of piloting Beadell on his preliminary reconnoitre. 'He was a good pilot in 1916', Beadell recalls. 'After several fruitless detours, he managed to bounce down a make-do airstrip, going into sandhills at the end. He asked me how the landing was. I didn't know which one he was talking about'. Penney was then invited to look at the site, and Beadell jokes that 'he was considered too valuable for the Air commodore. He was piloted there by a flight sergeant!' An oddly matched pair on the surface, Beadell and Penney were to become close friends and Beadell later found the major Maralinga site for Penney and in the 1960s, he supervised the building of a 3750-mile road across the vast desert areas of South-Western Australia for survey teams to gain access to the Woomera, Emu and Maralinga sites.

The Hurricane test on the Monte Bello Islands had confirmed the efficacy of the implosion method of creating an atomic explosion, based on plutonium 239. Operationally, it was designed to prepare the military for a particular kind of Soviet sabotage - the smuggling of an atomic bomb on board a ship into a British port - but the principle objective had always been to provide the RAF with an operational nuclear weapon, as requested by the Chiefs of Staff as far back as 1946. Along with work on the atomic bomb, the Air Ministry had ordered priority to be given to building a new four-engine jet bomber, designed to accommodate the bomb. The Vickers-designed Valiant was given the go-ahead in 1949 and it would finally be ready to drop the first operational nuclear weapon on the Maralinga t4est range in 1936. In 1953, it was up to Penney to design a bomb of use to the RAF and the new Valiants. As Penney himself described the task in his evidence to the Royal commission: 'At that time (after the Hurricane test and the Russian atomic explosion in 1949), the cold War took on a nuclear dimension and it became necessary to equip out forces for the possibility of nuclear war. The knowledge I had about the effects of atomic weapons, and the strategy, tactics and hardware needed to accommodate this new dimension, led to a requirement for physically smaller weapons and lower yield designs.' The Totem series of tests at Emu and the later Buffalo tests at Maralinga, ranging an yield from 1.5 to 13 kilotons, gave Britain this capacity.

A special kind of bomb manufacturing experiment was to take place at Emu. The Chiefs of Staff had decided that they needed two hundred atom bombs by 1957, but Britain's nuclear power stations were not producing plutonium fast enough to meet this requirement. Even the relatively small amount of plutonium needed for Hurricane had only been ready weeks before the testing date./ The Aldermaston scientists wanted to know whether the economic Magnox reactors, which were able to produce electricity as well as fissile material for the bomb-making to produce electricity as well as fissile material for the bomb-making programme, could produce enough quality plutonium for bombs. The Totem trials at Emu were to see whether bombs could be produced out of lower-grade plutonium or, as the official brief to the Minister of Defence put it, 'The purpose of the test is simple. It is to find out how much of the isotope 240 can be tolerated in plutonium used for military purposes and if the results of the test are satisfactory, it will lead to economies in the long run. The need for carrying out this trial ... is primarily due to the Chiefs of Staff proposal for doubling the production of fissile material. There is, of course, a price to pay. This is a delay in the order of three months on commencing the bomb production programme. In view of the importance of acquiring the information the trial is designed to give, this price is considered acceptable.'

Work began on the site early in 1953 and it was due to be ready by the time the British scientific team arrived a month before the October firings. Accommodation for some two hundred servicemen was built on the claypans of Emu Filed, and all the scientific equipment, prefabricated offices, a photographic dark room and even tin mugs were imported from the United Kingdom. Australian contractors were employed on a building programme of makeshift roads and airfields, while the Australian army took on engineering jobs such as building the foundations for the towers from which the two devices would be exploded. The test reports held at Aldermaston speak of 'rusjhed arrangements', of a 'trial hurriedly prepared' and of tension between the British and Australian teams. Even with the restraint characteristic of government reports, the picture is of furious rows and conflicting personalities. There were clashes over 'transport, flies and baths' and 'it must be clear that full mutual understanding (between the Australian and British teams) was next to impossible'. Nothing was built to last. Very early on the test organizers realized that the inaccessibility of the range and the inhospitality of the region meant that if the British wanted a permanent mainland site, it would have to be found elsewhere. Len Beadell was sent off to survey other more likely areas, and even while the bombs were being blasted at Emu, work had begun on the Maralinga site.

Despite the problems on the Emu site, the tests themselves were a technical success. 'Standby' for the first test, code-named Totem 1, was announced on 7 October but because of unsatisfactory winds, the firing did not take place until 15 October. It was the world's fiftieth atomic bomb blast, and although at first the test organizers wanted to exclude the press from their plans, after an outcry from Australian journalists, a press stand was erected on a hill fifteen miles from the blast and the newsmen were provided with a running commentary by one of Penney's staff. The British journalist James Cameron, veteran of the Bikini Atoll tests, was disappointed. 'The welders' goggles we wore changed the landscape to a bleak coppery green. The fireball turned it momentarily to gold and flung a brief wave of brilliance over the entire sky. There was a measure of disappointment. It did not after all blow a hole through Australia ... so Adelaide and Melbourne may well feel cheated that nobody had to duck ... It was a long way to come for a loud noise.'

Onlookers remember that the initial cloud looked more like a cauliflower than a mushroom. It rose to fifteen thousand feet, and a circle of ground around the firing tower, about seventy-five yards in radius, was pulverized. The weapon's yield was 10 kilotons, double the yield expected by the test planners. Nor, because of stable wind conditions, did the fallout disperse as rapidly as forecast in the test plans: plumes of intense radioactivity drifted across the mainland and out to sea. As with Hurricane the forward area was littered with materials planted by the military services and civil defence planners as part of their field trials. There were wooden human figures wearing various types of clothing, ammunition, radar equipment, medical stores, a ship's funnel, landrovers, three Mustangs given by the RAAF and a Centurion tank left with its engine running at the time of detonation - the Army wanted to know whether it could be driven away under its own power afterwards. Warrant Officer Bill Jones of the Australian Army was among the team told to retrieve the tank. He was issued with protective clothing sufficient to protect him against a short stay in the heavily contaminated ground zero area, but the tank, damaged by the balst, would not start and according to Jones the rest of the team returned to base while he stayed with the tank for two days until the necessary repair work had been done. Thirteen years later, he died of cancer. 

In the sky, air-sampling missions were undertaken to practise methods of analysing fallout, in order to keep abreast of the current American and Russian nuclear tests. In addition, Lincolns of the RAAF were detailed to track the clouds as they passed over mainland Australia and to sample the fallout. Both air forces were involved in sorties of a purely scientific nature, to measure the weapon yhield. and there was Operation 'Hotbox', which involved a Canberra flying through the atomic cloud only minutes after the explosion to test the effects on the aircraft and the crew. The flight had been triggered off by the pessimistic calculations made at Harwell in 1950 by the British atomic spy Klaus Fuchs, who had concluded that in the aftermath of an atomic explosion, any plane exposing itself to measurable amounts of fission products would become dangerously irradiated, and so any such exposure should be ruled out for operational purposes.  By 1953, however, Fuchs was 'out of reach', as the expedition's leader tactfully put in in his account of the operation, and 'an urgent operational need arose to test this position' for themselves.

Operation Hotbox was undertaken by the kind of men whose assessment of risk is strictly determined by their dedication to duty and by their appreciation, as they saw it, of Britain's urgent need for an operational bomb. The task force leader was Group Captain Wilson and he was accompanied by Group Captains Anderson and Dehin. Recalling the event for the Royal Commission hearings thirty years later, their bravery, or foolhardiness, is awesome. Did they calculate before the operation what dose they were likely to receive? They cried, explained Wilson, 'But it was necessarily fairly ad hoc because we had no information at all. all the people who designed the weapon were not particularly anxious to give us the yield of it and we were left with a statement that was based largely on American data' (which, as it turned out, was totally irrelevant to the Totem 1 trial). Although they set out wearing oxygen masks, they knew there was a risk that they might inhale or swallow radioactive dust. They also believed that they could be in danger of hitting something solid in the cloud or that the plane might be involved in a flameout caused by the dust. Because of the possibility of losing control of the plane, Dehin remembers that 'we arranged for an RAAF Lincoln, piloted by a personal friend of mine, to stand by fifty miles away to locate us and drop supplies of we should crash'!

Most important of all was the timing of the explosion. 'since we wanted to be in a position to enter the cloud early, we must not be too far away. On the other hand we must not risk exposing he aircraft to the actual explosion, nor must we be looking directly at it when it occurred. apart from the normal danger of looking at atomic explosions, a blind pilot cannot regain control of an aircraft - and a Canberra once out of control has the ground very fast indeed. we therefore planned our position in space very carefully; exactly three minutes before the explosion we should be ten miles from the site at a height of thirty thousand feet on a course of 300, which would take us towards a dried-up salt lake with the melodious name Lake Meramangye. ... The first run was no more than a 'sniff' as we called it - we just immersed our wings for a couple of seconds so that the Group Captain could tell us whether we could reasonably go through the middle. As I turned he made his calculations and decided that we could. I therefore headed the aircraft straight at the centre and got ready for a touch ride. The cloud as we dr4ew nearer, looked distinctly nasty. In colour it was a dark red=brown, very solid but boiling fast it were. I turned on all the cockpit lighting, for it was certain that I should not be able to see my instruments without lights. As we entered, it was indeed dark but not as turbulent as I expected; until just before we emerged, the forces on the elevators increased to such an extent that I thought I might lose control. Then, as the cloud gave us the parting kick, the light began to appear as at the end of a railway tunnel. We emerged having hit nothing solid nor lost our engines or instruments. The rest was easy - a run though the base and the top, a quick heat-up of the scientists below, then back to Woomera to drop our wing-up filter and leave the aircraft.' 

The Canberra was sealed with tape to maintain the cabin pressure, and the crew wore right-fitting oxygen masks throughout the flight. Nonetheless, because the gamma rays from the radioactive cloud were so penetrating, the recorded radiation doses of the crew ranged from 9.5 to 14.5R, though because the film badges that they wore were unable to record beta radiation, it is possible that their doses were higher. In any case they were certainly higher than the maximum allowed by Penney for operations of 'extreme urgency' and they were not allowed to repeat the exercise again; the original intention had been for them to fly again at the second Totem test, but this was vetoed at the highest level. It was though that the task did not warrant the risks. The 'Hotbox' story doesn't end, however, with Wilson, Anderson and Dehin clambering out of the cockpit. Another of the operation's objectives was to test the aircraft's contamination, 'the subes4quent ease of decontamination and to assess the risk to those engaged on decontamination procedures'. There was an RAAF ground crew standing by ready for the decontamination procedure at Woomera but the three pilots did the 'hot spots' themselves, leaving the RAAF ground crew to do the less contaminated parts of the aircraft. The operation involved repeatedly hosing down the aircraft and for this purpose each man was issued with protective clothing but not respirators, though it was known at the time that fission products were carried by water and there would have been a risk of them being swallowed. Asked why, as the officer in charge, he did not instruct that respirators should be used. Wilson explained that it would have been 'unproductive' and have 'inhibited' the efficiency of the operation. Was that safe? 'How safe is safe?', replied Wilson., 'you can make things safe but I doubt very much whether it would have made any difference. There was nothing to protect them against.'

But Wilson's appreciation of safe was questioned by a member of the health physics team who arrived at Woomera two days after the controversial flight, when Wilson had already left. On arriving at the base, Dr Stevenson was told that the Canberra had been cleaned but when he nonetheless carried out a smear test on the plane, he found that it registered more than two thousand counts a second, that is, 'it was still highly contaminated'. Wilson later explained that because he thought the Canberra was to fly another Hotbox mission a fortnight later, he saw that the plane was decontaminated only within 'operational requirements', which were also according to 'international requirements'. Not true, says Stevenson, the radiation expert. 'Certainly, as far as normal peacetime standards were concerned, the aircraft was not clean. 'If Stevenson had not carried out the smear test, the Canberra would have been back in use without anyone realizing the extent of the contamination.

While the Hotbox mission was the most sensational air sortie of Totem I, the missions carried out by the RAAF Lincolns were without doubt the most ill-planned and therefore the most risky of the airborne exercises. When Wilson and Dehin arrived at Woomera for the two-week planning phase prior to Hotbox, they had no idea that the RAAF was to do air-sampling missions. They were even more surprised to hear that Lincolns had been involved in the earlier tests at Monte Bello. But above all, the two men, who had been briefed in radiation risks before coming to Australia, were taken aback by the apparent ignorance about radiation dangers among the RAAF officers. During a conversation with Wing Commander rose (the 'friend', mentioned earlier, who would bring supplies in the event of the Canberra crashing), Wilson said later, 'I formed the impression that he regarded the dangers of contamination with insufficient seriousness', and was astonished when Rose quipped that 'he'd done this kind of thing before, during the Hurricane test'. Wilson assumed that the ignorance was all to do with the secrecy that surrounded the air-sampling missions. After all, the main purpose was intelligence, to gain practice in estimating future Russian and American blasts. 'I think this is one of the problems you come up against when you are dealing with intelligence flights. They are all so secret that very few people are briefed on them .'

It was perhaps fortunate for wing commander rose that he and Dehin were good friends (they had played golf together) since the well-briefed Britons were able to give the ill-briefed Australian some timely advice. As Wilson remembers the exchange that took place in the officers mess in Woomera. 'It quite literally never occurred to us that he would not have been properly briefed. We told him to be a bit more careful on this one. I told him, "I think it may be slightly different". 'Wilson warned rose that he and his crew should war oxygen masks as soon as the plane's instruments showed that they had contacted fallout, and because of that chance conversation, rose and his crew did wear oxygen masks and Rose had the foresight to drop a dosemeter in his pocket before taking off. The other crews in the six Lincolns involved in the air-sampling mission were not so fortunately forewarned and forearmed. The planes, carrying sensors for penetrating radiation and filters for sampling, flew from Woomera ten hours after the detonation to intercept the cloud and collect the samples. According to the RAAF test report, 'Each of the aircraft returned with filters well charged with radioactive articles and each was found to be contaminated. Due to heavy contamination, two of the aircraft were unable to accurately measure the dimensions of the cloud. The other three were able to do so. Decontamination of the crew and isolation of the aircraft had not been envisaged at any previous stage.' In short, there were no preparations on the ground to cope with the emergency, and during the operation it4eself, the air crews were flying 'blind'.

Ex-RAAF signalman, William Turner, of Brisbane was ordered to operate the instruments that measured the level of radioactivity. He remembers flying through the cloud at a distance of about eight hundred miles from ground zero, and staying about forty-five minutes in the cloud, which was a 'light rusty-brown haze'. The needle 'went haywire' as they entered it and stayed at the maximum measuring level while they remained there. He remembers that the plane was not pressurized and the crew die not wear oxygen masks or protective clothing. They ate a sandwich lunch on their return to Woomera, too late to heed the wireless message that came through instructing them not to eat. Turner does not remember being checked after the flight for radiation or going through decontamination procedures. Lance Edwards, ex-RAAF wireless operator now living on the Gold Coast, also remembers eating his packed lunch on the mission. Unlike Turner, who at least waited until he was on the return journey, he and his fellow crew members ate while flying through the cloud. Once again the plane was not pressurized. When we interviewed him in his home in 1984, he knew that the crew's captain, a 'chap called Onions', had since did of cancer. Edwards himself developed cancer of the thyroid in 1959 and is convinced that his cancer is due to his bomb test service and that he and the others were used as guinea pigs. 'We now know from what happened in Japan that the risk of cancer of the thyroid increases by a factor of eight, six or seven years after a person is exposed to radiation. That is exactly when my cancer developed. Okay, we were naive, but we were also duped. We started suspecting something was amiss when we landed after the flight to find the plane met by British scientists wearing white protective clothing. Our senior officers started asking what the hell was going on. The boffins seemed to know about the dangers. Why didn't we? After the flight, all our flying gear, suits, parachutes and so on were confiscated and later destroyed.'  

The most eventful flight was that taken by Lincoln A75-25, which is vividly remembered by RAF Wing Commander Richard Nettley who was on secondment to the RAAF at the time under an exchange scheme. His unit was at RAAF Richmond when they were told that they would be required to help out the British with their cloud-sampling programme. 'I felt that the RAAF were being called upon to do this as a consolation prize but it may have been specifically required by the Australian Government. I cannot remember details of the briefing but I am certain that we were not told that the operation might be in any sense dangerous. ... We seemed an inexperienced crew for such a specialized flight. The captain was a Pilot Officer, as was the other navigator, and I was a junior officer accustomed to a very different flying environment.'

They located the cloud as it was drifting north-east at about fifteen thousand feet. It was shaped as an ellipse, about twenty miles by thirty and with the appearance of a brown smoke ring. 'We were absolutely cock-a-hoop at having found it and flew straight into it. We flew up and down through it taking measurements for at least three house. Those reading the sensors were reporting to the captain and, of course, we could all hear. As we entered the smoke ring they reported the indicators on the special instruments as being "off the clock" and it was at first thought that the instruments must be unserviceable. They told us that the indicators were down to zero when we left the cloud and up again when we went back in. There was no radio communication with base at this stage. We were carried away with the discovery and the readings being taken of the radiation, and became progressively less certain of our position. Eventually we managed to land at RAAF Wi8llaimstown in northern New South Wales with very little fuel left in our tanks. We were not expected there and they had no idea what to do with us.'

It was fortunate for Nettley and his crew that an American squadron of B29s had been invited to witness the test and to assist in the air-sampling programme. Like the Lincoln crews, they located patches of high activity in the cloud, and they recall that their sensitive equipment became so saturated by the radioactive exposure that it stopped working properly. Afterwards the air filters on the outside of the planes proved too contaminated for the equipment at the US base at Guam to take recordings from them. However, the USAF unlike the RAAF had the knowledge and resources to help combat contamination team and equipment to help out. The US crew monitored the Lincoln and declared in heavily contaminated, though the Australian crew nevertheless flew it back to Richmond. When the plane was checked by the British health physics team ten days later, it was found to be the most contaminated of all the Lincolns. Nettley was afterwards summoned to Perth for a medical examination and blood test and then to Brisbane for more tests. He remembers that all his fingernails grew brown and fell out in the year after the exercise. While in hospital in Brisbane, he heard that one of the ground crew who had worked on the plane's engines had died of bone cancer. 'In retrospect I suppose that we should have been instructed to locate thecu7loud and return to base after having made an initial assessment of radiological strengths. My impression now is that there was little real understanding of this down at the base-operating level. The RAAF official report on the incident comes to a similar conclusion. The precaution to have the Lincoln aircraft which landed at Williamstown inspected proved the importance of this aspect, and how ignorance on the part of RAAF personnel on all matters of this nature could possibly have proved dangerous.'

By the time Lincoln A73.25 landed at Williamstown, the other contaminated Lincolns were arriving back at Woomera. One of the pilots told the control tower that he believed something was badly wrong. The two senior Britons on the base at the time were Group Captain Wilson, who was resting after his Hotbox mission, and Dr Gale, the AWRE scientist in charge of examining the air samples. Gale remembers that as the air filters from the planes were brought into the laboratory they were so irradiated that they int4rfered with the calibration gauge designed to measure background radiation . He had to order that the filters be taken out of the room and then brought in again one by one. Wilson remembers the panic at Woomera as the Lincoln came in. One of the Australian officers asked him to take a look at the first contaminated aircraft to arrive, and although when Wilson measured the radiation levels in the cockpit, he concluded that the exposure experienced by the crew was not because they were not carrying any proper instrumentations and I rang up the Australian Director-General of Medical Services in Melbourne and told him so. ... I am a doctor and I don't like people being irradiated. I get very worried.' Wilson left instructions for the Lincolns to be isolated for at least twelve hours, and left for Melbourne to make his protest known.

The RAAF at Woomera were left with five contaminated aircraft, without the equipment necessary for decontamination and with no one to offer advice. They left the aircraft for twelve hours as instructed, then on the day after the test the ground crews began maintenance and refuelling work. Aircrewman Hobdell, who spent three hours clambering over the wings of the highly radioactive aircraft, received according to the official records, the highest radiation dose of 0.58 - equivalent to today's annual radiation limit for a member of the public. Former RAAF serviceman, Rex Nagga of Inglewood, says that Hobdell was not the only member of the ground crew to be contaminated. He remembers cleaning the engine pistons on the Lincolns on Day + 1 and using his overalls to wipe away the fine red dust when he ran out of clean rags. The cleaning and servicing went no for four days before h was told to stop by a British officer. 'He had apparently checked the planes and discovered they were much more radioactive than had been predicted.' Naggs' body and clothes were found to be badly contaminated, and his work overalls were taken away on the end of a six-foot-long stick. 'It started to worry me. They were scared of my overalls and I had worn them'. he was ordered to shower and readings were taken every fifteen minutes until after four hours the level of contamination on his body was considered safe. he was summoned for regular blood tests until 1960 but he was never given the results. He knew only that the tests were 'to do with what was referred to as an overdose at Woomera'. In January 1984, Rex Naggs was diagnosed having leukaemia.

it was not until D1 * 5 that British health physicists arrived on the scene and set up a health control operation. Today members of that health team admit that the RAAF had been ill advised by Wilson and they themselves would have taken a stricter approach. As one of them said, there is a 'distinction between the man who thinks in terms of military operations and the scientist'. The Lincolns should have been isolated for longer and Hobdell and Naggs should not have touched the aircraft for at least five days. The aircraft constituted a serious radiation hazard for several months. According to a previously restricted RAAF report, three of the Lincolns were still 'highly radioactive' in February 1954 and had to be isolated in an 'active area' at Amberley Air Base near Brisbane. There was also the problem of the contaminated material that had accumulated during the ill-fated exercise: the air crews' clothing, the overalls worn by the ground crews and the equipment and water used in decontamination . Because it was 'highly undesirable' to leave the waste at Amberley and removal by road might 'attract undesirable attention', suggesting that this method would allow the radioactive waste to be dispersed by the sea. Veterans who claim to have taken part in the dumping operation say that the material was dumped from aircraft about 250 miles north of Brisbane.

There were some radical changes made to the air-sampling procedures before the firing of the second Totem device on 27 October. fortunately the winds behaved as predicted on this occasion and so the fallout was dispersed more efficiently than at the first Totem blast. Nonetheless, only two Lincolns took part, the air crews were oxygen masks and carried personal dosemeters and film badges, and especially trained officers supervised all decontamination operations. The crews received one tenth of the contamination dose noted for Totem 1. The totem 1 fiasco had shaken the confidence of the Australians. The RAAF had been assured by the British test planners that 'there would be no risk to the crew or the aircraft consequent on flying through the clouds'. When the true facts became known to the RAAF Director General of Medical Services, Air Vice Marshal Daley, he wrote as a postscript to the Official RAAF record. 'It would seem that, although I may be open to correction here, this service is not informed sufficiently of the hazard that its own personnel may undergo on account of the apparent "outer position" of this service in the matter.'

During the Monte Bellow operation, the Australian public had been given the barest details and Australian scientists had been allowed to watch but not interfere. The totem detonations at Emu Field in October 1953 raised doubts in the minds of the Australian public about the safety of the test programme. A newspaper headline asked, 'Is there no real danger, Mr Menzies?' there were demands from Australian scientists and politicians for closer involvement in the planning and the totem bomb tests were to be the last in which the Australians had no say over the firing of the atomic weapons and n o say in the safety arrangements affecting their servicemen and their people.

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