‘An act of indefensible callousness’
Human guinea-pigs in the British N-tests in Australia
Jim Green, May 2001 email@example.com
The British government has finally admitted that military personnel were used in radiation experiments during the nuclear weapons tests at Maralinga in South Australia in the 1950s.
Confirming statements made repeatedly by veterans over the years, the British Ministry of Defence acknowledged on May 11 that it had used military personnel from Britain, Australia and New Zealand in radiation experiments. A statement released by the British government said that military personnel were “transported to or walked in various uniforms to an area of low-level fallout”.
The admission followed publicity surrounding documents found in the Australian National Archive in February by Sue Rabbitt Roff, a senior research fellow from Scotland’s Dundee University.
An October 12, 1956, document on an “Australian Military Forces – Central Command” letterhead refers to the ‘Buffalo’ series of four atmospheric nuclear tests conducted at Maralinga in September and October, 1956. The document names 70 Australian military personnel and one civilian, plus five New Zealand officers, all listed as exposed to radiation on September 28 or 29.
“As far as can be determined the individual dose for round one was received over a period of two to three hours while the various indoctrinee groups were touring the target response area. … Certain people were exposed to radiation on dates other than 28 and 29 Sep, during clothing trials or for a limited number during a tour of the contaminated area after round two”, the document said. The September 27 weapons test was 15 kilotonnes, about the same magnitude as the Hiroshima weapon.
The Central Command document reveals that at least 26 of the 76 people named as being exposed to radiation from tests in 1956 received a dose greater than the “maximum permissible exposure” of 0.3 roentgens in a week; the highest exposure was 0.66 roentgens in a few hours.
Some men were chosen for ‘clothing trials’ from an “indoctrinee force” of British, Australian and New Zealand military personnel. The men walked, crawled and were driven through a fallout zone three days after a nuclear test at Maralinga. Roff says 24 men were involved in the ‘clothing trials’, whereas Ric Johnstone, national president of the Australian Nuclear Veterans Association (ANVA), said in the May 19 Melbourne Age, “There were a whole lot more than 24 used as guinea pigs, there were men sent into the hot area with and without protective clothing.”
Roff dismisses the British government’s claim that it was testing clothing, not humans, and says that thousands of Commonwealth military personnel not directly involved in the nuclear tests at Maralinga were required to be outdoors to observe the detonations.
“The issue is that they (the British government) have always denied doing these experiments and they have never conducted any medical support or follow-up for the men who were involved in these experiments”, Roff told the BBC.
Roff said the Central Command document contradicts claims by the British government in the European Court of Human Rights in 1997 that no humans were used in experiments in nuclear-weapons trials; a claim which enabled the British government to successfully defeat compensation claims.
“I was in the court in 1997 when the government denied using humans [in] studies of the effects of radiation”, Roff said. “In fact the government said it would be ‘an act of indefensible callousness to have done so'”.
A New Zealand veteran, John (Blackie) Burns, told the May 15 New Zealand Herald that after one of the nuclear tests at Maralinga, “From time to time, trucks would speed past and raise dust to make sure we got a bit of the fallout over the top of us. Then we were taken back and hosed down and put through showers and monitored.”
Ric Johnstone from the ANVA said in a July 2000 statement: “Men were ordered to enter into ground zero (point of explosion) immediately following detonation of atomic bombs. Planes flew into and tracked mushroom clouds over Australia taking air samples and photos. Ships and ground crews washed down equipment and themselves with irradiated water. They drank contaminated water while eating food contaminated by dust from the red sand and soil in which they lived. The men worked and manoeuvred on Plutonium contaminated soil. They were provided with little or no protective clothing and seldom badged while some badges and dosimeters were falsified or not recorded because of high readings. In spite of this long lived dangerous level of radioactivity, the Australian Government expect us to believe that the test participants were exposed to only minimal non-hazardous levels of radiation.”
Retired Australian army major and Maralinga veteran Alan Batchelor said on ABC radio on May 11, “We had to go in and uncover equipment shelters that were located somewhere between 100 and 150 metres away from ground zero. We would do that commencing at about one hour afterwards, without protective clothing”.
Other British radiation experiments
The official British claim that it had never conducted human radiation experiments was undermined in 1996 when documents were released detailing experiments at Aldermaston, Harwell and Porton Down. The experiments involved radioactive substances being inhaled, injected, swallowed or eaten. Systematic efforts were made to keep information about the experiments from the public, and also from the trade unions at Britain’s nuclear laboratories. The government’s code of practice on human radiation experiments showed that people taking part in the experiments were told little about the experiment and its potential risks. Efforts were also made to prevent scientists who might query the need for human subjects from intervening. Government officials worked out an elaborate system for denying liability and damages to anyone harmed in the experiments. (WISE News Communique, #463, December 13, 1996, “British human radiation experiments”.)
Human guinea-pigs were also used in a series of tests near Christmas Island – five British hydrogen bomb tests in 1958 and 27 joint US-British nuclear tests in 1962 (Sue Rabbitt Roff, “The ghost of Christmas past”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September/October 1997). Military personnel were lined up on a soccer pitch during tests in 1958 and 1962 to act as guinea-pigs.
During a 1996-97 European Commission of Human Rights hearing on the Christmas Island tests, the British government claimed that “indoctrinees” were required to witness the blasts as part of their “indoctrination”, so that they would not be unduly frightened of nuclear weapons in the event the bombs were ever used on the battlefield. However, this was difficult to reconcile with a 1953 memo issued by the British “Defense Research Policy Sub-Committee of the Chiefs of Staff Committee”. The memo, titled “Atomic Weapons Trials” and marked “Top Secret”, stated, “The army must discover the detailed effects of various types of explosions on equipment, stores and men with and without various types of protection.”
British governments have relied on dubious studies by the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) to claim that military personnel were not effected by the weapons tests. Both the US Advisory Committee of Human Radiation Experiments and the European Commission of Human Rights have criticised the NRPB for its research methodology and for drawing conclusions from data that they did not analyse. The European Commission of Human Rights wondered in a 1997 report why the British government “entrusted the investigation into its own liability to a government body when other bodies, whose impartiality could not be reasonably questioned, were available to do the work.”
The NRPB announced in 1996 that it was going to erase for ‘financial reasons’ a database containing the medical records of 40,000 veterans, half of whom are believed to have been participants in the nuclear tests. This plan was scrapped following vigorous protests by veterans.
Tony Blair’s New Labor government has followed in the footsteps of the Tories, refusing to settle compensation claims, denying veterans access to their medical records (citing ‘national security’ concerns, as the Tories did) and backing the NRPB ‘studies’. Ken McGinley, chair of the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association, said, “This is not a Conservative government cover-up, but a joint cover-up by the respective governments since the 1960s. There’s embarrassment that we have unintentionally rewritten the history of the British nuclear test program.”
Australian governments’ complicity
McGinley’s comments apply just as well to successive Australian governments. Buck-passing between British and Australian governments has been a familiar ploy. Another ploy has been to stall for time in the expectation that the political controversy will fade away as veterans die. A large majority of people involved in weapons tests in Australia have already died.
Bruce Scott, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, responded to the release of Roff’s research by saying that his office has contacted Roff in Scotland to ask her to forward the archival documents. But the documents are held in the national archive in Canberra, and Scott has access to further information which is still classified.
In 1999, the federal government announced it would compile a “nominal roll” of veterans, Aborigines and others who may have been exposed to radiation from the Maralinga tests. The roll is expected to be complete in June or July 2001. A cancer incidence study is promised following compilation of the roll.
A bureaucrat from the Veterans’ Affairs department said in a Senate hearing in May 2000 that the cancer incidence study would be complete by the end of 2000 – yet it has not even begun as at May 2001.
Ric Johnstone said in his July 2000 statement: “We are still waiting [for the nominal roll and cancer study] and more nuclear veterans have died, we believe and feel that minister Scott is aware that less than one quarter of the original 8000 are still living and compiling a national register at this late stage will be impossible, it is just another stalling tactic as the Government are now fully aware that time is on their side.”
Scott says that issues raised by Roff in recent weeks will only be pursued if “there is any new material in these documents that hasn’t been raised before in the context of the royal commission”. The Royal Commission into the British weapons tests in Australia did raise the issue of ‘clothing trials’ in its 1985 report, quite possibly basing its findings on the same document uncovered by Roff. The 1985 report said, “Some members of the indoctrinee force were required to undertake further work on day 3 after the detonation, where volunteers were marched through specified areas of levels of radiation to assess the degree of protection afforded by military clothing.”
However, the fact that the royal commission discussed the ‘clothing trials’ is no reason for the Coalition government to ignore the matter. Rather, it adds strength to the victims’ claims for the compensation they are being denied. Johnstone says this issue was “buried” following the royal commission. Scott seems keen to keep it that way.
Johnstone derided the government’s claim that victims are being adequately dealt with under the Military Compensation Scheme: “… the onus of proof is on the claimant and not on the Government as it is under the Veterans Entitlement Act. So go ahead and prove it if you can, knowing full well that since all of the tests were done under maximum secrecy (some aspects of the tests will never be revealed) and that all records are held by the Australian or the British governments it is going to be almost impossible for a claimant to prove the relationship between radiation exposure and illness, disease or death without their help which has been constantly refused.”
Johnstone also addressed the Coalition government’s refusal to provide funding for medical tests to assist in the determination of past radiation exposure on the basis of the specious and circular argument that victims of the nuclear weapons tests are not covered by the Veterans Entitlement Act: “Given the attitude of the Government you might think this would be a great opportunity for them to prove once and for all that nuclear veterans had never been exposed to harmful amounts of radiation, but no they are well aware of the truth and will not assist in supporting a test that will help the survivors prove their case.”
British Atomic Testing
ABC Radio National Science Show
June 2, 2001
Summary: A spate of documents unearthed from official Australian Archives has fuelled a rash of publicity on the effects of British nuclear tests on soliders. Now, a memo has been discovered which has international ramifications and could detonate a minor nuclear blast of its own.
Transcript: Peter Pockley:
Former servicemen from Australia, Britain and New Zealand have been searching over four decades for documents to verify any exposure to harmful radiation during Britain’s tests of 12 atomic bombs in the 1950s on the Monte Bello Islands of Western Australia and at Maralinga in South Australia.
They needed evidence for pursing claims for compensation against the Australian and British governments which have consistently denied that any tests for the effects of radiation were conducted with the troops. The official line has been that those near the blasts received nothing more than harmless doses.
Now the veterans seem to have a treasure trove of documents. As each set has emerged from archives or sheds, the authorities have been forced to acknowledge that there were tests involving hundreds of men. They were called ‘indoctrinees’ or ‘moles’ according to whether they stood in the open or were placed in trenches near the blasts.
They wore normal clothing or wrapped themselves in blankets and were ordered to run and roll through the radioactive dust where the bombs were let off. However, the British Ministry of Defence has asserted that they were only testing clothing and not the soldiers wearing them.
All the documents released recently have come from sources in the military and public service. But the latest one is the first to reveal the concerns of nuclear scientists about safety and that they were overruled.
I have here two pages of secret minutes of a top-level meeting held at the British Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) on the 15th July, 1958 to determine, quote: “radiological safety precautions at Christmas Island”. This 20 mile by 10 mile island in the Pacific was the place to establish Britain had its own hydrogen bomb, following proof of its plutonium bombs at Maralinga.
The meeting was only five weeks before “Operation Grapple Z” began with detonating two plutonium bombs and two hydrogen bombs above Christmas Island. Some hundreds of British troops were to be close to the blasts and the rest within 8 to 10 miles. Fijian and New Zealand personnel were also involved.
Australian support was refused by Prime Minister Bob Menzies. But, Christmas Island is highly relevant to the thousands of Australians who served at the Monte Bello and Maralinga tests as the operation was run by the same Britons.
The minutes record that senior scientists warned the military brass of the ‘medico-legal’ implications of not conducting blood tests on all participants before and after the tests. But the British were in a hurry to secure their independent deterrent before a moratorium was imposed and the officers decided on a short cut.
Air Vice-Marshal J. Grandy, the Commander of Operation Grapple Z said: “It was clearly impossible for over 4,500 service personnel on the island to be given blood counts”. Other officers, including the head of a Royal Air Force Hospital, labelled the proposal as “unsound” and not “of any use whatever”.
However, Dr J. Lynch of AWRE argued that blood counts were integral to medical examinations of all its personnel and that there was a statutory requirement under a new Factories Act for blood tests of all civilians exposed to radiation in the normal course of their duties. “AWRE were concerned about the political repercussions which might ensue of charges of negligence, however unfounded, could be proved. It would prejudice the case if no blood count was taken and a person became ill later”.
In the end, blood counts were recommended only for personnel “employed in the forward area where they might be subject to radiation hazards”. Forty three years on, nobody has been able to trace where the results have been kept.
The document was found by Sue Rabbitt Roff, a medical sociologist at the University of Dundee in Scotland, in the dossier of a veteran whose claim she has been supporting.
Guests on this program:
Dr Peter Pockley
Australian Correspondent, “Nature”
Nuclear guinea pigs lawyer doubts the official fallout
Sydney Morning Herald
May 23, 2001
The lawyer representing Australian troops seeking compensation for nuclear exposure at Maralinga has cast doubt over Government claims that atomic tests did not go ahead.
Documents show Britain planned to move up to 800 troops as close as possible to nuclear explosions in Australia during the 1950s to test the bombs’ impact.
The documents, obtained by a Scottish newspaper, show that the men – 560 of them Australian – were to occupy networks of trenches dug around the sites of four nuclear tests at Maralinga, in the South Australian desert.
The top-secret experiment, codenamed Operation Lighthouse, was called off only when the British, United States and Soviet governments agreed to a moratorium on all nuclear testing in October 1958.
Mr Morris May, the lawyer representing 30 Australian troops seeking compensation, said yesterday that he was sceptical of claims the tests did not go ahead.
“I find that somewhat surprising because everything that has been said has been done in order to test the survival of humans under the circumstances of atomic fallout … has been shown to be true,” he told ABC Radio. “I’m somewhat surprised that they could say that this particular experiment was abandoned.
“I’m somewhat sceptical about it. It may have gone ahead, yes.”
He said he would not be surprised if the government of the day knew what was occurring.
“The Australian government’s role in all the tests – and that has been consistently shown – has been that of suppliers of the troops and not asking any more questions that was absolutely necessary,” Mr May said.
Nuclear test inquiry ordered
By Mark Forbes
May 23, 2001
The Federal Government will investigate evidence of plans to expose hundreds of troops to the full force of atomic blasts at Maralinga in the 1950s, along with previous allegations of experiments on troops to test protective clothing.
About 50 classified documents detailing the plans, examined by The Age, reveal that Australia advocated placing troops close to the site of atomic blasts to be conducted with the UK at Maralinga, South Australia, in 1958.
The documents state the troops were to be the subject of biomedical experiments to test the impact of the blast on them and their clothing.
The British and Australian governments have previously denied they would propose using troops as guinea pigs.
The blasts were cancelled because of an international agreement placing a temporary halt on nuclear tests.
A spokesman said Veterans Affairs Minister Bruce Scott was seeking an urgent briefing on the documents. They would be likely to be included in investigations already under way into the alleged use of human guinea pigs during the 1950s testing program.
Initial advice suggested the tests were not undertaken, the spokesman said.
The president of the Ex-Atomic Veterans’ Association, Ric Johnstone, called on Mr Scott to provide full medical care to the survivors while further investigations were undertaken so some could “die with dignity”. Both governments were continuing to cover up the facts of the tests, he said.
“They claim this operation never went ahead, but what about the smaller operations? In earlier blasts they were sending out groups of 10 and 20 for tests,” Mr Johnstone said.
The documents revealed extensive plans to use troops in Operation Lighthouse tests, advocated by Australia and with the support of the Defence Department. They said two groups would be used, the “indoctrinees” and the “moles” who would be stationed in trenches near ground zero – the site of the blasts.
“There is no UK objection to the Australian plans to have 564 indoctrinees of whom 385 will be in trenches,” one memo from the secretary of the Defence Department states.
Minutes of the working party running the tests state that biomedical tests were “reaffirmed for inclusion. The purpose is to study the effects of heat and blast on men at rest and wrapped in a blanket designed for use in the tropics”.
The documents were retained by a senior official involved in the program. They were stored in a garden shed until given to a researcher investigating the testing, Ann Munslow-Davies.
Ms Munslow-Davies said she was shocked by the size of the experiments and the “blatant disregard for people involved”. “The troops were to be put in as close to ground zero as possible for no other reason than to be nuked,” she said.
Secret documents detail plan to use servicemen in atomic tests
ABC TV ‘7.30 Report’ Transcript
May 21, 2001
KERRY O’BRIEN: And now to new evidence about an episode in Australian history which has already been under the scrutiny of another royal commission – the testing of Britain’s atomic bomb at Maralinga in South Australia.
Australian and British veterans of the tests have long claimed they were used as guinea pigs, and in the past fortnight, documents have emerged in Britain which give more substance to that claim.
Now, the 7:30 Report has received more secret documents.
They detail an official plan to subject nearly 2,000 servicemen to exposure to atomic blasts.
The object, among other things, was to assess the effectiveness of tropical blankets.
Code-named ‘Operation Lighthouse’, and scheduled for 1959, the plans were never implemented, largely perhaps because the British had by then acquired access to American testing grounds in Nevada. But the intent was chilling.
This report from Geoff Hutchison.
PETER WEBB, MARALINGA VETERAN: They said, “Count down 90 seconds, you’ll turn your back to the tower, “cover your eyes, shut your eyes, cover your hands,” and they count down 10, 9, 8…
Vivid flash and even with your eyes shut and you’re looking through your hands – you can see an x-ray of your hands – heat hit the back of your neck and, you know, blasts went through.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Peter Webb spent just three months at the Maralinga test site between August and October 1956 witnessing detonations at One Tree Hill and Marcoo, in the frontline of British and Commonwealth experiments to develop a nuclear capability.
What instructions did you have?
What were you there for?
PETER WEBB: I don’t know and I still don’t know.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: And like thousands of Australia’s nuclear veterans, Peter Webb has spent the last 45 years fighting both illness and a conspiracy of secrecy.
What conclusions have you drawn about the experience?
PETER WEBB: I always thought we were put in there as guinea pigs.
SIR ERNEST TITTERTON, ATOMIC WEAPONS TESTS SAFETY COMMISSION, FOUR CORNERS, 1985: The fact of the matter, as I understand it, is that the investigations conducted by the Royal Commission have not produced a single verifiable case of injury to a person – far less a death to any person – in either the white or Aboriginal population of Australia.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: But the conspiracy of secrecy is fast falling apart, documents long hidden now re-emerging.
ANNE MUNSLOW-DAVIES, RESEARCHER NUCLEAR VETERANS ISSUES: They were concealed in a person’s back shed in Perth and for me to find these documents – it had on the title “‘Operation Lighthouse’ – pertaining to Maralinga” was like, “Oh, wow, what have I got here?”
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Anne Munslow-Davies, herself a daughter of a nuclear veteran, has found a staggering new plan for Maralinga which would intensify testing and use more people.
The plan – to expose the equivalent of a whole battalion to a series of atomic blasts.
OPERATION LIGHTHOUSE, SECRET GUARD: ‘Lighthouse’ is being planned on the basis of the first round being fired on the 30 September, 1959, and thereafter up to three more at eight day intervals.
It is not possible at this stage to indicate the yields of the rounds which will be fired.
The purpose is to study the effects of heat and blast on men at rest and wrapped in a blanket designed for use in the tropics.”
DR WAYNE REYNOLDS, HISTORIAN, UNIVERSITY OF NEWCASTLE: The interesting thing, Geoff, about the document is that it’s ‘Secret Guard’.
Guard documents were usually those documents you didn’t show the Americans.
They were very sensitive.
They were for the intimate use of British Commonwealth members and from my reading of these documents, this would lend legitimacy to this as a bona fide British Commonwealth operation.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Far from being dictated to by their British masters, the Australians clearly wanted to be part of it.
OPERATION LIGHTHOUSE, SECRET GUARD: “The Australian Services are desirous that during the Lighthouse series, an indoctrination force of approximately 1,750 troops take part in an exercise involving construction of a trench system (upwind from ground zero) including command post, troop accommodation and weapon pits and that the system be occupied during the explosion. All participating troops to be blood counted before arrival on site.”
ANNE MUNSLOW-DAVIES: The theory at the time, I assume, was that if we lose a few good men in the process then far be it, if we save the country and they were dispensable.
And that’s what is indictable – the fact they ran these tests, made mistakes, people’s health were affected and they have never come clean with that.
DR WAYNE REYNOLDS: You must also remember that by 1956 Australia has a battalion deployed in Malaya as part of the strategic reserve – the British Commonwealth Strategic Reserve – and the documents show that one of the assumptions in the event of a limited war – or, indeed, a global war — would be that tactical nuclear weapons would be used in that theatre – in the jungle.
Now, what these documents are demonstrating is a concern about the effects of a tactical nuclear device on a battalion in a tropical setting.
So, to me, the timing is about right.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Dr Wayne Reynolds is a senior lecturer in history at Newcastle University who has written extensively about Australia’s link with the atomic bomb.
DR WAYNE REYNOLDS: But the sorts of things you are seeing here, the Americans had been doing in the early 1950s.
GEOFF HUTCHISON: Is this an indication that a good number of men were going to be used as guinea pigs?
DR WAYNE REYNOLDS: I think that’s a very fair assessment.
They’ve already done that.
I think that needs to be stressed.
In 1956, they had already tested a nuclear device with personnel one mile from ground zero.
PETER WEBB: And when you think, they knew what was going to happen and they put troops in there that, in my opinion, should never have been there anyway. …
GEOFF HUTCHISON: ‘Operation Lighthouse’ and the exposure of a battalion to atomic blasts never happened.
The British, having patched up their prickly relations with the Americans, then took their testing program to the Nevada Desert.
But for those who did experience the Maralinga blasts and continue to fight a Department of Veterans Affairs which still refuses to call their service ‘hazardous’ and thus give them the medical benefits they demand, time is running out.
ANNE MUNSLOW-DAVIES: What I would really like to see in those documents is the records from the Maralinga hospital.
To date, they have never been found and no-one knows their whereabouts.
PETER WEBB: But every now and again, when something comes up like this, Peter Webb comes up and says, “Hey! I’m still here, I’m still alive, I’m still breathing’. What are you going to do about it?” I still get the same answer – “Nothing, bugger off and die,” and that’s the sad part.
KERRY O’BRIEN: We should point out that Veterans Affairs Minister Bruce Scott has been out of the country and unavailable for interview.
Maralinga – how much more?
ABC Radio National – The World Today
May 22, 2001
ELEANOR HALL: Well let’s go now to an issue that’s sparked its own royal commission a couple of decades ago but is still causing lots of questions. Following discovery of yet another document exposing planned nuclear testing on Australian troops by the British Government in the 1950s, the question being asked today is how much more is yet to be revealed? The document, unearthed by an anti-nuclear activist, refers to Operation Lighthouse, a plan to place British and Australian troops as close as possible to ground zero. The British Government says the tests didn’t go ahead, but lawyers and veterans are asking can they believe that. The Federal Opposition wants confirmation the British gave information on Operation Lighthouse to an Australian Royal Commission in the 1980s, saying anything else would display contempt for Australia and its service personnel. Leigh Sales reports.
LEIGH SALES: Eight hundred men positioned in trenches as close as possible to a nuclear explosion, having their blood monitored to check the effects of radiation. It was a plan at one time sanctioned by the British Government. Britain says it called off the tests before they started when it, the United States and the Soviet Union, placed a moratorium on nuclear testing in 1958. The Australian Government held a royal commission into British nuclear testing in 1984-85, chaired by former Senator Jim McClelland. Shadow Veterans Affairs Minister, Chris Schacht, speaking from Singapore Airport, says if the Operation Lighthouse document was not in the material provided to the McClelland Royal Commission, it’s a matter of grave concern.
CHRIS SCHACHT: It would indicate that the British Government of the day did not come clean, or was not effective enough in providing that commission with all relevant documents. And if the document is authentic, it means the Australian Government now must demand of the British Government all documents to be made available. And this is a matter, within two weeks time when the Senate Estimates Committee take part with the Veterans and Defence Department, I will be pushing very hard. And if they can’t give satisfactory answers, the Government, that is, in Australia, what it’s doing to clarify this, well then we will certainly be asking for an independent inquiry.
LEIGH SALES: The veterans that I’ve spoken to this morning say that they believe there’s been a cover-up on the part of both the Australian and the British Governments. What would be your response to that?
CHRIS SCHACHT: We’d try to get to the bottom of it, but if it’s now coming out that a British government of the day did not provide the documents, well then I think that is a very, at the least, disappointing response that the British Government has treated Australia and its Service people with contempt.
LEIGH SALES: While Jim McClelland died last year, senior sources involved in the royal commission say they believe they got access to every document they wanted. But at the same time they admit the commission would not have known if there were other documents the British Government, quote, had hidden in a back drawer. Rick Johnstone, the head of the Australian Nuclear Veterans Association, is personally convinced the commission was hoodwinked.
RICK JOHNSTONE: There are documents and various evidence that were never ever put before the Royal Commission because they were first vetted by British public servants who decided they were too sensitive.
LEIGH SALES: So, was that royal commission effective then?
RICK JOHNSTONE: Well, Diamond Jim as he was called, is on record before he died as saying that he felt then that the Hawke Government used him to make it look as if they were doing something. They didn’t take any notice of his recommendations.
LEIGH SALES: Mr Johnstone is asking how much more is yet to come and says he doesn’t trust either the British or Australian Governments.
RICK JOHNSTONE: I don’t particularly believe either the British or the Australian Government on this matter at all because it’s obvious if you go back through past documents and past newspaper reports that both have lied.
LEIGH SALES: What do you think is going to be the extent of these sort of revelations?
RICK JOHNSTONE: I’ve got no idea. Both Governments keep ducking for cover and they control all the documentation and the evidence that people need, and they keep it pretty well covered up. We have living eyewitnesses still, and albeit some of the evidence is anecdotal, there’s enough anecdotal evidence there in eyewitnesses that any court in the world would give the benefit of the doubt to the claimants.
LEIGH SALES: How much longer are those eyewitnesses going to be around for though?
RICK JOHNSTONE: Not long, probably five or six years.
LEIGH SALES: And then what will happen?
RICK JOHNSTONE: And then it will all be swept under and there’ll be nobody worried about it.
ELEANOR HALL: Rick Johnstone is the head of the Australian Nuclear Veterans Association. Leigh Sales with our report.
More Maralinga revelations
ABC Radio National – ‘AM’
May 22, 2001
LINDA MOTTRAM: More secret documents have come to light underscoring Britain’s willingness to use Australian troops as guinea pigs at Maralinga in the 1950s. Unearthed by an anti-nuclear activist, the documents reveal that a series of planned nuclear tests would have placed nearly a battalion of Australian troops as close as possible to ground zero, according to the documents. The troops were spared when the tests were called off, after a temporary moratorium on nuclear testing in 1958. Matt Peacock reports.
MATT PEACOCK: The secret documents unearthed by an Australian anti-nuclear activist in a Perth garden shed reveal detailed planning by the British and Australian armed forces for the code named ‘Operation Lighthouse’. It proposed a series of four nuclear explosions at Maralinga beginning in October 1959 and, despite British denials since that it ever deliberately exposed servicemen to harmful levels of radiation, the documents make it clear that the indoctrinee force was to be placed as close as possible to so-called ground zero where the bombs were to be detonated. Sheila Grey of the British Nuclear Tests Veterans’ Association described the proposed tests as immoral and inhumane when I asked her reaction to the documents.
SHEILA GREY: Absolute disgust and dismay.
MATT PEACOCK: Why is that? I mean you knew that these tests were going on.
SHEILA GREY: Well yes, we knew the tests were going on but, I mean, although we didn’t believe it, the Government kept insisting that safety precautions were being taken; none of our men were put in any danger whatsoever. And we knew that was slightly untrue. But what they planned to do with this ‘Operation Lighthouse’ is just unbelievable. They were going to virtually put our men beneath the bomb blast, just out of scientific curiosity – no thought to what would happen to the men or future generations that they knew would be affected by radiation.
MATT PEACOCK: Sheila Grey says she’s ceased to believe the assurances from the British Ministry of Defence which, whilst it agrees ‘Operation Lighthouse’ was planned, says that it like other tests which did go ahead was not designed to test humans and that the troops would have only been exposed to low levels of radiation.
SHEILA GREY: Every time we turn the corner, we came across another – there’s no other word for it – a lie. They’re just trying to persuade us that everything was safe and we’ve got proof. I have about 500 death certificates in my house at the moment. Two of the same illness; three of the same illness … coincidence. But when you’re talking of 30, 40 even 100, there is no coincidence. The only thing they have in common are they all served at the British nuclear tests.
MATT PEACOCK: Both the Australian and British Governments have maintained there’s no evidence of greater incidence of disease amongst the nuclear test veterans. This is Matt Peacock in London for AM.
Australian Senate – Question without Notice, 22 May 2001
Questioner: Allison, Sen Lyn (Democrats, Victoria)
Responder: Minchin, Sen Nick (Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, Liberal Party, South Aust)
Senator ALLISON – My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. Minister, in the light of admissions by the British government in the last few weeks that Australian servicemen were deliberately exposed to ionising radiation at Maralinga in the 1950s, will your government now provide proper pensions and compensation for those veterans and their families?
Senator MINCHIN – I thank Senator Allison for her question. This matter has arisen because of the recent publicity obtained by Ms Rabbitt Roff in relation to certain documents that were released. As I am advised, those documents were available to the 1984-85 McClelland royal commission and were analysed carefully by the commission in its report, and the National Archives made those documents open to the public in March 1986 – in other words, there is nothing really new in all of this. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has checked its records and, according to the documents, the 25 Australians who received the dangerous dosage were all commissioned officers. Of the 25 the department can confirm, 14 are deceased and 11 are believed to be alive. Of the 17 for whom we have been able to locate any health records, only three have developed a cancer.
If any Australian veteran has suffered from an illness or injury related to service during this nuclear testing program, there are a number of avenues open for compensation under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988. Such claims are now administered by the Military Compensation and Rehabilitation Service, under the Department of Veterans’ Affairs on behalf of the Department of Defence. There is also the special administrative scheme administered by the Department of Industry, Science and Resources. That scheme provides compensation to test participants who have developed multiple myeloma or leukaemia other than chronic lymphatic leukaemia. Since 1995, compensation was only provided if the leukaemia had developed within 25 years since participation. There are, of course, common law claims through the courts. The recent revelations do not really change the facts. Our government and the previous government put in place appropriate arrangements to deal with any veterans affected by those tests.
Senator ALLISON – Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer, but I asked him about the admissions of the British government and not about the revelation of the documents, which I am aware were known at the time of the royal commission. I note the minister’s answer about compensation, but isn’t it the case that the royal commission in the 1980s recommended shifting the onus of proof with regard to compensation and proper compensation not just for veterans but for indigenous people and other civilians and workers in the area? Will you now undertake a study as a matter of urgency into the health effects of exposure on these people and their families at Maralinga, Monte Bello and Emu? Will you also conduct an investigation into the ongoing denial by Australian governments that Australians were not used as guinea pigs?
Senator MINCHIN – These issues are very old. There is nothing new in what has been revealed. These issues have been adequately dealt with over a very long period by both the previous government and ourselves. We believe the compensation arrangements that we have in place are appropriate. Of course, we have enormous sympathy for those affected by this. That is why these arrangements, which we believe are comprehensive and adequate, have been put in place.
Australian Senate – 22 May 2001
Speaker: Senator Lyn Allison (Democrats, Victoria)
Senator ALLISON (Victoria) – I move: That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Industry, Science and Resources (Senator Minchin) to a question without notice asked by Senator Allison today, relating to veterans and other persons exposed to British nuclear tests in the 1950s.
I must say it was a predictable and shameful response. The minister says that it is all history, that there is no need for the government to consider this matter again, that it has all been dealt with, that there is compensation available for veterans who served in this area and that effectively the book is closed on this issue. There are a couple of points I want to make. Firstly, I understand the budget will announce some measures which will compensate prisoners of war who were in the Second World War. It seems, if there is compensation relating to the Second World War, which is even earlier than Maralinga, that compensation for this is appropriate in this day and age. A couple of weeks ago, we had the German government announce that it would be finalising its compensation package for the Jewish people who were treated so appallingly during the Second World War. So I cannot possibly accept that this is history and that it is a closed book.
The worst point in the minister’s response was that there was no acknowledgment that in the last few weeks the British government has actually admitted that Australian veterans were deliberately exposed to the fallout from these nuclear tests. Just a week or so ago, we had the shameful situation of governments suggesting that the exposure was just to the clothing and that it was not meant to look at the health effects on the men who were testing that protective clothing. We have been fed lies. The veterans have been put through not only terrible exposure but ongoing illnesses which affect their families as well as them. But this government keeps turning its back on that situation, as did the previous government.
I referred in my question to the royal commission. I will just read a couple of the recommendations of that commission. It said:
“16.0.3 Most of the people exposed to ionising radiation at Emu, Maralinga and Monte Bello Islands are thus covered by this Act”
– that is, the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act 1971.
“However, it is possible to identify other groups of people who are not so covered. These are people who worked at the test sites during and after the nuclear program and who may have been exposed to ionising radiation and who were not in the above categories of employment. This would include, for example, some day workers at the Kwinana construction company who remained at Maralinga after the explosion at One Tree and people employed in salvage operations. A further group of people includes some who were exposed to the Black Mist following the Totem 1 explosion, and the Milpuddie family.”
“16.0.4 The Royal Commission believes that access to the benefits of the Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act 1971, including the shifting of the onus of proof from the claimant to the Commonwealth imposed by sections 30 and 31, should be extended to include civilians not presently covered by the Act who were at the test sites at the relevant times, and to Aborigines and other civilians who were exposed to the Black Mist.”
Back in 1989, Senator McLean, a Democrats senator, raised this at the first official atomic test anniversary at Monte Bello. He pointed out:
(ii) that it is estimated that only 12 nuclear veterans of more than 15 000 people involved in the program will qualify for compensation under the Government’s recently announced provisions;
(iii) that Mr Doug Rickard, a civilian whose case was critical in triggering the McClelland Royal Commission, will not be compensated and that this illustrates the grossly discriminatory nature of the recent compensation provisions, and
(iv) that Mr Ric Johnstone, the first nuclear veteran to fight and win compensation, took 35 years to succeed and will retain, after legal costs and reimbursements, less than $200 000 of the $700 000 awarded to him …
The point the commission was making is that the onus of proof should not be placed on the veterans concerned. There is ample evidence to show that, if you were in this area at the time when those tests were conducted, there is a grave likelihood that you would be affected by them. We have the situation at present where the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is working to translate the information from the electronic version of the late 1980s, when the commission was held (Time expired)
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Sydney Morning Herald
May 27, 2001.
Atomic test survivors say the least they are entitled to is top medical treatment. Craig Skehan reports.
Ann Munslow-Davies this week got a call from a senior official of the National Archives seeking access to boxes of dusty documents which illuminate a dark chapter of Australia’s past.
“I told him I had posted copies on the Internet if he wanted to read them,” she told the Herald.
Munslow-Davies, 36, is a registered nurse and the daughter of a member of the Australian Army who died at the age of 48 following his participation in the British atomic bomb tests in Australia during the ’50s and ’60s. She believes the tests contributed to myriad health problems which drastically shortened her father’s life.
The now yellowing piles of official documents she holds, many of them typed carbon copies, were recovered some years ago from the garden shed in Perth of an atomic test veteran. Munslow-Davies had decided to release them because of a recent spurt of publicity about other documents showing Australian military personnel were used for radiation experiments during the atomic tests.
The documents recovered in Perth detail plans for a series of up to four British test explosions at Maralinga in South Australia during September 1959, in addition to tests conducted since the early ’50s.
However, in late 1958 the United States finally agreed to a longstanding British request to share atomic test data and as a result future testing shifted primarily to the Nevada desert.
An official Australian memo dated July 31, 1958, in reply to correspondence from the then Australian Department of Navy, stated that it had been decided to accept a British “offer to participate” in what was dubbed “Operation Lighthouse”.
It states that 14 Australian naval personnel were to be “above ground” during the first planned 1959 test explosion and of 500 army personnel, 350 would be in a “trench system” with the rest above ground.
Thirty-five members of the air force were to be in the trench system and 15 at ground level.
The briefing stipulated that all the troops were to be “blood tested” before being sent to the test site at Maralinga.
It was “desired” that the Australian personnel be as “close as possible to GZ”, the ground zero point of detonation.
Munslow-Davies, who lives in Maitland, said yesterday that the reference to blood testing of the Australian personnel planned to be used in the 1959 tests was extremely important. It showed that the British scientists in charge wanted to find out how the red and white blood cell counts were affected by varying levels of exposure to radiation.
“They wanted the blood reading for a baseline,” Munslow-Davies said.
“The documents we have refer to those who were going to be put into the trenches as ‘moles’. They were moles who were to be used as guinea pigs.”
Although the 1959 tests were aborted, Munslow-Davies says the modus operandi squared with earlier clothing trials during atomic blasts and cases of servicemen being sent into contaminated areas after first having their blood tested.
This included testimony from ex-servicemen at a 1984-85 royal commission into the 12 major atomic explosions in South Australia and Western Australia in the ’50s as well as some small trials in the ’60s. The servicemen told of being dressed in different types of military clothing and then sent into the test area following blasts at Maralinga.
British researcher Sue Rabbitt Roff, previously involved in studies purporting to show high incidence of cancer and death among test victims, earlier this month cited a National Archives document related to the clothing tests. Roff also referred to earlier accounts of test veterans who said they had been ordered to walk close to the “ground zero”.
The British Government last week finally admitted that Australian military personnel were transported to or walked in various uniforms to an area of “low-level fallout”.
Previously, the British had denied that troops were used as human guinea pigs.
The Federal Government was caught on the hop by the renewed media focus on Australia’s nuclear veterans. Despite cyclical interest over nearly five decades, including the royal commission, only a handful of the estimated 16,000 Australian military personnel and civilians involved have been compensated.
And many suffering serious illness still don’t get the type of health care entitlements extended to people who served in theatres of war.
A spokesman for the Veterans’ Affairs Minister, Bruce Scott, said that while the documents cited by Roff were not new, the associated claims being made by the researcher were being looked into. And he confirmed that an examination would be made of the material brought to light by Munslow-Davies.
“Many of these documents are known to us, but some are new,” he said.
The spokesman said that by the end of next month the Government hoped to have completed a register of the military personnel and civilians who participated in the atomic tests. Their health and mortality data would then be compared with national statistics to determine any variations from the norm.
“It will be a lengthy but accurate process,” he said.
Compilation of the national register began in mid-1999, and the national president of the Australian Ex-services Atomic Survivors Association, Max Kimber, said it had already dragged on for far too long.
He said that with the British Government having made admissions in relation to troops being deliberately exposed to radiation, action should be taken immediately to assist with the health problems of test veterans.
As a teenaged Australian Navy seaman, Kimber participated in atomic tests in the Montebello Islands off Western Australia in the ’50s.
“I was walking around Montebello with a group of scientists and when I came back I was completely radioactive,” he said yesterday.
“They hosed me down with salt water from where the explosion was. There is still a sign on the island stating that people should not stay there for more than one hour.”
He described the study being promoted by Scott as “a joke”.
“A health study 50 years after the event is only going to prove who is alive,” he said. “It is not going to show how people’s health was affected.”
Kimber said the Government should allow atomic test veterans to come under the hazardous service provisions of the Veterans’ Affairs Act, which would provide an entitlement to a health gold card. “It is not the compensation issue really, it is that they should not be denied medical treatment.”
Munslow-Davies said it was clear that more than half those who participated in the Australian atomic tests were already dead and the number increased every year.
“With the government study, if somebody in a car ploughed into a power pole and died, the cause of death would have been put down as ‘car accident’,” she said. “But they could have been riddled with cancer.”
The documents can be found at <http://members.optusnet.com.au/~seanmd/nuke/index.html>
Maralinga guinea pigs demand justice
By Brendan Nicholson
May 27, 2001
Camped out in the desert at Maralinga in 1957, Lance-Corporal Johnny Hutton* and his mates were a resourceful lot.
Within hours of British scientists exploding their atomic bombs, it was the 19-year-old NCO’s job to head out to near Ground Zero and dig up instruments buried there to monitor the blasts. For that, the army gave them shovels – and steaks for a good feed afterwards.
But it didn’t provide frying pans, so Corporal Hutton and his section just washed the dirt off these shovels and cooked up their steak and eggs on them over a fire.
Most of the time the men wore just shorts and boots, but they were given protective gear to wear when they drove out to the crater to collect the instruments. By the time they’d worn the gear for an hour or so the heat built up inside the suits and the masks fogged up so badly that they couldn’t see what they were doing. “We took them off and breathed in dust and pure radiation,” Mr Hutton said.
The six men in the tiny engineering unit were mostly British national servicemen. They started falling ill with nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, and when the mystery sickness hit Corporal Hutton he was rushed off to join his men in Maralinga Village Hospital. He spent 10 days there being fed through a tube thrust down his throat. Eventually the vomiting stopped without a cause being found and he was sent back to work. “You couldn’t see radiation, so you didn’t think it could hurt you,” Mr Hutton told The Sunday Age.
When the tests ended, he went on to serve in Malaya. He developed severe stomach pains and doctors eventually discovered massive ulceration in his stomach.
When he checked his army medical records there was no mention in them of his time in Maralinga Hospital. But when he applied to the Department of Veterans Affairs for compensation on the basis of his service in Malaya, he was told that the department believed his illness was caused by the conditions he was exposed to at Maralinga. Because that was not a war zone he was not entitled to veteran benefits.
To support its argument, the department sent him a copy of his clinical notes from Maralinga Village Hospital. “Clearly the records existed then,” Mr Hutton said.
As the campaign for compensation for bomb test veterans mounted in the 1980s, then Senator Gareth Evans, who handled defence matters for the government in the Senate, was asked to comment on test veterans’ claims that medical records had been falsified or lost.
Despite extensive searches, the records of Maralinga Hospital “have yet to be located”, he said.
Nurse Anne Munslow-Davies, a Maralinga test veteran’s daughter, has spent years trying to track down enough information to convince the government that the bomb test veterans should be given the same benefits as war veterans, and to support their claims for compensation in the courts.
She recently discovered, and posted on the Internet, extraordinary details of “Operation Lighthouse”, a British plan to expose nearly 2000 servicemen to the nuclear explosions. Some, referred to in the documents as “moles”, were to shelter in trenches only 3200 metres away from the explosion. This insane plan was abandoned when the test series ended prematurely.
Ms Munslow-Davies said the records from Maralinga Hospital could provide crucial evidence proving that servicemen suffered burns from the nuclear blasts and the symptoms of radiation sickness. Those records vanished years ago and were possibly taken to Britain at the end of the test series. “If that’s the case then you can bet the shredders have been working flat out,” she said.
The latest disclosures follow revelations that Australian troops were used in “clothing trials” to see how much protection various materials gave troops exposed to radiation.
The veterans are fighting an invisible enemy that is steadily killing them off, and officials reluctant to own up to anything that might help them win compensation cases.
*Mr Hutton was born John Woodley and enlisted under that name, but when the stepfather who raised him was dying, he adopted his surname as a gesture to him.
Radiation tests on Aborigines
By Mark Dunn
Herald-Sun (Herald and Weekly Times Limited)
10 July 2002
Radiation experiments were carried out on Aborigines in the 1960s, without proper consent, to test human survival in the desert.
Other radiation experiments on indigenous people included tests for cretinism and genetic flaws in Papua New Guinean tribespeople, according to a report by the Australian Radiation Laboratory.
Water laced with radiation was given to an unknown number of Aborigines north of Woomera in 1962 so metabolic studies could monitor their fluid retention in arid conditions.
Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency health director Peter Burns said the level of radioactive isotopes in the experimental drinking water did not pose excessive health risks to the subjects.
The issue was the participants’ lack of informed consent to the experiments, he said.
“It was a different world then,” Mr Burns said.
Australian scientists also used radiation tests on PNG highlanders, detecting a genetic imbalance of isotopes.
This led to the large-scale prevention of goitreism, a severe inflammation of the throat and related deafness and muteness.
The ARL report, written in 1994, refers to radioactive tests to research cretinism and metabolism which were carried out on Central Australian Aborigines and PNG Chimbu tribesmen. Radioisotope tests were conducted on PNG children as young as three months.
Adult Aborigines in an area north of the former Woomera rocket range were proposed as test samples for other experiments.
“It is reasonable to assume that (the Aborigines and PNG tribespeople’s) knowledge and understanding of the implications of the administration of radioisotopes to humans would have been limited,” the ARL report states.
“It has not been made clear … whether any effort was made to obtain some sort of informed consent from the two groups of native people.”