Archive for the ‘history’ Category

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

September 14, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parkinson was let go from the project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuclear ballistic missile submarine meltdown, 1961

September 14, 2021
Ki19 Russianballistic missile submarine

August 24, a nuclear submarine ever had a meltdown? Laurence Schmidt, Worked at Air Liquide America (1975–2010,

In the early Cold War Era, many Russian nuclear submarines had catastrophic engineering plant failures. These failures were caused by the soviet’s rush to equal the USN in its nuclear submarine ballistic missile program; they were poorly design and constructed, lack safety system redundancy and had haphazardly trained crews. But the crews of these boats were heroic in risking their lives to save their boats in stark life and death emergencies at sea.

One example is the case of the K-19, the first Russian nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine, nicknamed the “Hiroshima” boat, because of her numerous incidences.

On July 4, 1961, while at sea, one of its two nuclear reactors SCRAMMED. The primary cooling system had failed, flooding the reactor spare with radioactive water, and there was no backup system to cool the reactor core. As the reactor rods overheated, the engineering staff try a desperate plan to improvise a cooling system; to tie into the sub’s drinking water system. But it would require several men entering the highly radioactive reactor compartment to weld new piping to pumps and valves. The first jury-rigged attempt failed with 8 crewmen being horribly burnt by the high temperatures and exposed to lethal doses of radiation. They all soon died. After other attempts, the jury-rigged system finally worked, but other crew members too close to the reactor compartment would also soon die. The crew was evacuated to a nearby submarine, and the K-19 was towed back to base for repair. In total, 22 of the crew of 139 died of radiation sickness.

A section of the radiation contaminated hull was replaced, and a new power reactor unit was installed. The two original reactors, including their fuel rods, were dumped in the Kara Sea in 1965. A favorite dumping ground for Russian navy nuclear waste, including damaged nuclear reactors to whole ships.

Did the K-19 reactor meltdown? I would say yes.

The myth that the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified

September 14, 2021

Over the years, the myth that the “nuking” of two Japanese cities was justified, has lost much of its appeal on both sides of the Pacific

Mythmaking and the Atomic Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, CounterPunch BY JACQUES R. PAUWELS, 8 Aug 21,  Myth: The war in the Far East only ended in the summer of 1945, when the US president and his advisors felt that, to force the fanatical Japanese to surrender unconditionally, they had no other option than to destroy not one but two cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with atom bombs. This decision saved the lives of countless Americans and Japanese who would have perished if the war had continued and required an invasion of Japan.

Reality: Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed to prevent the Soviets from making a contribution to the victory against Japan, which would have forced Washington to allow Moscow to participate in the postwar occupation and reconstruction of the country. It was also the intention to intimidate the Soviet leadership and thus to wrest concessions from it with respect to the postwar arrangements in Germany and Eastern Europe. Finally, it was not the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the Soviet entry into the war against Japan, which caused Tokyo to surrender.

With the German capitulation in early May 1945, the war in Europe was over. The victors, the Big Three,[1] now faced the complex and delicate problem of the postwar reorganization of Europe. The United States had entered the war rather late, namely in December 1941. And the Americans only started to make a major contribution to the victory against Germany with the landings in Normandy in June 1944, that is, less than one year before the end of the hostilities in Europe. When the war against Germany came to an end, however, Uncle Sam occupied a seat at the table of the victors, ready and eager to look after his interests, to achieve what one might call the American war aims. (It is a myth that the presumably deeply isolationist Americans just wanted to withdraw from Europe: the country’s political, military, and economic leaders had urgent reasons for maintaining a presence on the old continent.) The other big victorious powers, Britain and the Soviet Union, also looked to pursue their interests. It was clear that it would be impossible for one of the three to “have it all”, that compromises would have to be reached. From the American point of view, the British expectations did not present much of a problem, but Soviet aspirations were a concern. What, then, were the war aims of the Soviet Union?

As the country that had made the biggest contribution by far to the common victory over Nazi Germany and suffered enormous casualties in the process, the Soviet Union had two major objectives. First, hefty reparation payments from Germany as compensation for the huge destruction wrought by Nazi aggression, a demand similar to the French and Belgian demands for reparations payments from the Reich after World War I. Second, security against potential future threats emanating from Germany………………………….

on April 25, 1945, only days before the German capitulation, the president received electrifying news. He was briefed about the top-secret Manhattan Project, or S-1, the code name for the construction of the atom bomb. That new and powerful weapon, on which the Americans had been working for years, was almost ready and, if tested successfully, would soon be available for use. Truman and his advisors thus fell under the spell of what the renowned American historian William Appleman Williams has called a “vision of omnipotence”. They convinced themselves that the new weapon would enable them to force their will on the Soviet Union. The atomic bomb was “a hammer”, as Truman himself put it, that he would wave over the heads of “those boys in the Kremlin”.[3]

Thanks to the bomb, it would now be possible to force Moscow to withdraw the Red Army from Germany and to deny Stalin a say in its postwar affairs. It now also seemed a feasible proposition to install pro-Western and even anticommunist regimes in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, and to prevent Stalin from exerting any influence there. It even became thinkable that the Soviet Union itself might be opened up to American investment capital as well as American political and economic influence,…………  Indeed, with the nuclear pistol on his hip, the American president did not feel that he had to treat “the boys in the Kremlin”, who did not have such a super-weapon, as his equals……….

Possession of a mighty new weapon also opened up all sorts of possibilities with respect to the ongoing war in the Far East and the postwar arrangements to be made for that part of the world, of great importance to the leaders of the US, as we have seen when dealing with Pearl Harbor. Nevertheless, playing that powerful trump card would only be possible after the bomb had been successfully tested and was available to be used………

Truman concluded that only an actual demonstration of the atomic bomb could persuade the Soviets to give way.

…………………The Americans thus knew only too well that the situation of the Japanese was hopeless. “Fini Japs when that comes about”, Truman wrote in his diary, referring to the expected Soviet intervention in the war in the Far East.[9]

…………….. In order to finish the war against Japan without having to make more sacrifices, Truman thus had a range of attractive options. He could accept the trivial Japanese condition, immunity for their emperor; he could also wait until the Red Army attacked the Japanese in China, thus forcing Tokyo into accepting an unconditional surrender after all; and he could have instituted a naval blockade that would have forced Tokyo to sue for peace sooner or later. But Truman and his advisors chose none of these options. Instead, they decided to knock Japan out with the atomic bomb.

This fateful decision, which was to cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, mostly civilians, offered the Americans considerable advantages.

………………… The atom bomb seemed to offer the American leaders an additional important advantage. Truman’s experience in Potsdam had persuaded him that only an actual demonstration of this new weapon would make Stalin pliable. Using the atom bomb to obliterate a Japanese city seemed to be the perfect stratagem to intimidate the Soviets and coerce them to make major concessions with respect to postwar arrangements in Germany, Poland, and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe. Truman’s secretary of state, James F. Byrnes, reportedly declared later that the atom bomb had been used because such a demonstration of power was likely to make the Soviets more accommodating in Europe.

To make the desired terrifying impression on the Soviets – and the rest of the world -, the bomb obviously had to be dropped on a big city. It is probably for this reason that Truman turned down a proposal, made by some of the scientists involved in the Manhattan Project, to demonstrate the power of the bomb by dropping it on some uninhabited Pacific island: there would not have been sufficient death and destruction. It would also have been extremely embarrassing if the weapon had failed to work its deadly magic; but if the unannounced atomic bombing of a Japanese city backfired, no one would have known and no one would have been embarrassed. A big Japanese city had to be selected, but the capital, Tokyo, did not qualify, since it was already flattened by previous conventional bombing raids, so that additional damage was unlikely to loom sufficiently impressive. In fact, very few cities qualified as the required “virgin” target. ……….

The atom bomb was ready just in time to be put to use before the USSR had a chance to become involved in the Far East………………

Already on August 10, 1945, just one day after the Soviet Union’s entry into the war in the Far East, a second bomb was dropped, this time on the city of Nagasaki. About this bombardment, in which many Japanese Catholics perished, a former American army chaplain later stated: “That’s one of the reasons I think they dropped the second bomb. To hurry it up. To make them surrender before Russians came”.[11] (The chaplain may or may not have been aware that among the 75,000 human beings who were “instantaneously incinerated, carbonized and evaporated” in Nagasaki were many Japanese Catholics as well an unknown number of inmates of a camp for allied POWs, whose presence had been reported to the air command, to no avail.)[12]

Japan capitulated not because of the atom bombs but because of the Soviet entry into the conflict. ………………………

 Truman, however, wanted to use the bomb for a number of reasons, and not just to get the Japanese to surrender. He expected that dropping the atom bomb would keep the Soviets out of the Far East and terrorize that country’s leaders, so that Washington could impose its will on the Kremlin with respect to European affairs. And so, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were pulverized.  Many American historians realize this only too well. Sean Dennis Cashman writes:

With the passing of time, many historians have concluded that the bomb was used as much for political reasons . . . Vannevar Bush [the head of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development] stated that the bomb “was also delivered on time, so that there was no necessity for any concessions to Russia at the end of the war”. Secretary of State James F. Byrnes [Truman’s secretary of state] never denied a statement attributed to him that the bomb had been used to demonstrate American power to the Soviet Union in order to make [the Soviets] more manageable in Europe.[16]

Truman himself, however, hypocritically declared at the time that the purpose of the two nuclear bombardments had been “to bring the boys home”, that is, to quickly finish the war without any further major loss of life on the American side. This explanation was uncritically broadcast in the American media and thus was born a myth eagerly propagated by them and by mainstream historians in the US and in the Western World in general, and of course by Hollywood.

The myth that two Japanese cities were nuked to force Tokyo to surrender, thus shortening the war and saving lives, was “made in USA”, but it was to be eagerly espoused in Japan, whose post-war leaders, vassals of the US, found it extremely useful for a number of reasons, as War Wilson has pointed out in his excellent article on the Bomb. First, the emperor and his ministers, who were in many ways responsible for a war that had caused so much misery for the Japanese people, found it extremely convenient to blame their defeat, as Wilson puts it, on “an amazing scientific breakthrough that no one could have predicted”. The blinding light of the atomic blasts made it impossible, so to speak, to see their “mistakes and misjudgments”. The Japanese people had been lied to about how bad the situation really was, and how the misery had dragged on so long just to save the emperor, but the Bomb provided the perfect excuse for having lost the war. No need to apportion blame; no court of enquiry need be held. Japan’s leaders were able to claim they had done their best. So, at the most general level the Bomb served to deflect blame from Japan’s leaders.

Second, the Bomb earned Japan international sympathy. Like Germany, Japan had waged a war of aggression and committed all sorts of war crimes. Both countries looked for ways to improve their image, seeking to exchange the mantle of perpetrator. for that of victim…………

Third, echoing the American notion that the Bomb had ended the war was certain to please Japan’s post-war American overlords. The latter would protect Japan’s upper class against the demands for radical societal change emanating from radical elements, including communists,………………..

Over the years, the myth that the “nuking” of two Japanese cities was justified, has lost much of its appeal on both sides of the Pacific……………

References:   multiple sources are quoted .

Early atomic bomb research – the ‘demon core’ that killed physicist Harry Daghlian 

June 17, 2021

The Demon Core: How One Man Intervened With His Bare Hands During A Nuclear Accident 17 May 21,

Following the end of World War 2 and the devastating impacts of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings, the Cold War was looming. The immense destruction and power promised by atomic bombs pushed world superpowers into a nuclear research frenzy, with the USA preparing to drop a third on Japan , and the remaining nations creating their own arsenal as a deterrent or defense.  

Enter the ‘demon core’. Sitting at a sizeable 6.2 kilograms (13.7 pounds) and 3.5 inches in diameter, this spherical mass of radioactive plutonium (at the time named ‘Rhufus’) was designed in nuclear research to be a fissile core for early iterations of the atomic bomb. Throughout 1945 and 1946, the demon core was experimented on ……

As expected from its’ ominous title, the demon core was not kind to the nuclear physicists involved. Designed as a bomb core, it had just a tiny margin before it would increase radioactivity and become supercritical (once the fission reaction has begun, it increases in rate). Therefore, any external factors that could increase reactivity, for example, compression of the core (which is how the fission bomb detonates), must be carefully monitored around the demon core.

Despite the danger, researchers used the core as an experimental piece on supercriticality, using neutron reflectors to push it to its’ limits. Neutron reflectors are used to surround the core, and as the nuclear fission reaction occurs, they reflect neutrons back at the nuclear material to increase the amount of fission taking place.

In 1945, alone in his laboratory, physicist Harry Daghlian was performing a neutron reflector experiment on the demon core when he mistakenly dropped a brick of reflective tungsten carbide onto the core, pushing it into supercriticality and releasing a deadly burst of neutron radiation. After a 3-week battle with acute radiation sickness, Daghlian succumbed to his wounds, leading to tighter legislation around nuclear research in the Manhattan Project – although it would not be strict enough.

Despite the danger, researchers used the core as an experimental piece on supercriticality, using neutron reflectors to push it to its’ limits. Neutron reflectors are used to surround the core, and as the nuclear fission reaction occurs, they reflect neutrons back at the nuclear material to increase the amount of fission taking place.

In 1945, alone in his laboratory, physicist Harry Daghlian was performing a neutron reflector experiment on the demon core when he mistakenly dropped a brick of reflective tungsten carbide onto the core, pushing it into supercriticality and releasing a deadly burst of neutron radiation. After a 3-week battle with acute radiation sickness, Daghlian succumbed to his wounds, leading to tighter legislation around nuclear research in the Manhattan Project – although it would not be strict enough.

That burst of radiation would kill Slotin within 9 days of exposure. Stood right beside him during the accident, Alvin Graves would also receive a huge dose of radiation but would survive the ordeal and live for another 20 years before death. Owing to Slotin’s quick thinking and body position, which absorbed most of the radiation, the remaining onlookers were shielded from the blast and survived to tell the tale.  

Following the accidents, the core would finally gain its name as the demon core, before being recycled down into other fissile cores. 

USA’s nuclear rocket plan, and the Nazi history behind it.

May 3, 2021

The US plans to put a nuclear-powered rocket in orbit by 2025,  David Hambling.. (subscribers only)

Australia dodged a bullet in not getting nuclear power – Ian Lowe

April 5, 2021

An obvious conclusion flows from the Fox Report’s 1976 comment about a lack of objectivity. We are not objective observers of the world: we all see reality through the lenses of our values and our experience. We all have a tendency to see what we would like to see…….

The probability that any person will be favourably disposed to the idea of nuclear power can be predicted from their values and from their view of the sort of future they would like to see. Fellows of the Academy of Technology and Engineering tend to favour a high-tech future, while conservationists are much more likely to favour small-­scale local supply systems.

This is a reminder that the future is not somewhere we are going, but something we are creating. From my perspective, nuclear power now looks like an intractable problem we were just lucky to avoid. Most developed nations have nuclear power stations with mountains of accumulated waste, for which there is no effective permanent solution. The urgent task of moving to clean energy supply, mostly from solar and wind, is made more difficult when resources have been sunk into the nuclear power industry. I believe we dodged a bullet.

A long half-­life,  Nuclear energy in Australia, Griffith Review,by Ian Lowe, March 21, ON MY DESK there sits a well-­thumbed copy of the 1976 Fox Report, the first report of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry. I grew up in New South Wales, where most electricity came from coal-­fired power stations, but miners were often killed or injured and the air pollution from burning coal was obvious. So as a young scientist I was attracted to the idea of replacing our dirty and dangerous coal-­fired electricity with nuclear power.

*** That report changed my thinking. And the sight of it is a reminder that while Australia has a very long history of involvement in nuclear issues, it’s one of the few advanced countries that does not have nuclear power stations. It would now be very difficult to make a rational case for taking that step, but a small group of pro-­nuclear enthusiasts continues to urge greater Australian involvement in the so-­called nuclear fuel cycle.

*** I want to summarise the history of this enthusiasm and use it to explore the continuing interest in that deeper involvement – because nuclear issues have always been intensely political. In practice, debates about nuclear energy are essentially arguments about what sort of future we want. Uranium ore was discovered at a remote site in the north-­east of South Australia in 1906. The prospector thought he had found a deposit that would yield tin or tungsten, but the young geologist Douglas Mawson showed the ore contained uranium and radium. He named the site Radium Hill, and its mine operated from 1906 to 1914, from 1923 to 1931, and again from 1954 to 1961. In the middle of this came the Manhattan Project, the secret research conducted during World War II to develop nuclear weapons, which changed the world forever.

*** When the US declined to share its frightening new bomb with the UK, the British government urged Australia to provide uranium for its own separate clandestine weapons program. At the same time, as a public-relations exercise, the UK government decided to use the Calder Hall reactor in West Cumbria – designed to produce plutonium for the British bomb – to generate a small amount of electricity: the newly installed Queen Elizabeth II formally turned it on. The US was also singing the praises of nuclear energy as a potential power source through its ‘Atoms for Peace’ program. This was a radical reframing of nuclear science, until then known only to the public as the basis for fearsome weapons, but now being portrayed as a possible source of unlimited clean energy.

*** When Prime Minister Robert Menzies opened a uranium mine at Rum Jungle in the Northern Territory in 1953, he too invoked energy supply as he gave a misleading slant to the operation. This ore body, he said, ‘can and will within a measurable distance bring power and light and the amenities of life to the producers and consumers and the housewives of this continent’. That never happened; the ore simply enabled the UK government to design and build its nuclear weapons and then test them at three sites in remote parts of Australia.

*** Three scientists who were centrally involved in both closed-­door discussions and public debates about nuclear issues in Australia had been central figures in the Manhattan Project. Mark Oliphant – a researcher in Ernest Rutherford’s famous Cambridge group that developed the basic physics later used to design and build the first bombs – returned to Australia after World War II to head the physics department at the newly established Australian National University (ANU). While an academic in England, he had supervised the research of Ernest Titterton, who triggered the Trinity test at Los Alamos in July 1945, the world’s first nuclear explosion. After helping to develop the British bomb, Titterton became the foundation professor of nuclear physics at ANU and was a member of Australia’s Atomic Weapons Tests Safety Committee, charged with assuring the government that the British tests were not a risk to Australian people. It later transpired that there had been serious impacts on local Indigenous people and, on one occasion, a wind change caused a cloud of radioactive debris to drift over a number of South Australian settlements. Titterton became a prominent advocate for Australia using nuclear power and developing nuclear weapons.

*** This was also true of the third central figure in this field, Philip Baxter. He was a chemical engineer working for ICI when he was asked in 1940 to produce quantities of uranium hexafluoride ‘for research’. He worked at the Oak Ridge laboratory in Tennessee, helping with the bomb project, and after the war was instrumental in designing and building the plant to separate plutonium for the British bomb. Arriving in Australia in the early 1950s, he was appointed deputy chair of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission (AAEC) when it was established in November 1952.

*** When the Menzies government approved the Commission’s proposal to build a small nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, then a remote bushland site well outside the suburban area of Sydney, it also expected the AAEC to develop the expertise that would allow Australia to build nuclear power stations. Baxter became chairman of the AAEC in 1956, by which time he was also director of a new tertiary institution, the New South Wales Institute of Technology. Under his direction its status was soon raised and it became the New South Wales University of Technology, specialising in applied sciences and engineering, before expanding in 1958 to become the University of New South Wales. The AAEC, under Baxter’s chairmanship, built the HIFAR reactor at Lucas Heights and explored two possible designs for power reactors: high-­temperature gas-­cooled reactors or liquid-­metal-­fuelled reactors. As it turned out, neither became commercially successful.

*** Baxter and Titterton, both knighted for their services to atomic science, were also both prominent advocates of nuclear power for Australia. In an extraordinary comment, Baxter described Australia in 1957 as ‘the last big continent which the white man has to develop and populate. It will be a difficult task, but the full use of atomic energy should make it both easier and more certain.’ At that time, there was a widespread acceptance that nuclear power would displace coal-­fired power stations to become the main source of electricity. In 1969, Baxter confidently estimated that Australia would have 44,000 megawatts of installed nuclear power by the year 2000. To put that figure in perspective, the 2020 maximum demand in the national electricity system was just over 35,000 megawatts.

*** Electricity supply in Australia was then operated by state and local governments; Brisbane City Council, for example, ran two power stations to provide for the city’s needs. The South Australian premier, Thomas Playford, proposed building a nuclear power station near Port Augusta, while Queensland’s Joh Bjelke-­Petersen said he would be keen to use nuclear energy as long as the power station was not in his state.

*** When no state proved willing to risk the large capital expense of a nuclear power station, Baxter persuaded the Gorton government to propose building a 500-­megawatt reactor on Commonwealth land at Jervis Bay, on the New South Wales south coast. While the plan was deferred when Gorton was displaced as prime minister by Bill McMahon, Baxter still believed ‘Australia would certainly begin building nuclear power stations within the next ten years.’ The Jervis Bay project was subsequently terminated by the Whitlam government, and there was no serious proposal to consider nuclear power for several decades after that. With plentiful cheap coal in the eastern states, there was little political interest in this more complex technology.

*** The public debate about nuclear issues took a new turn in the 1970s. While relatively small mines at Rum Jungle and the Queensland site of Mary Kathleen had been quietly supplying uranium for British bomb production, the discovery of a large deposit of uranium ore in the Kakadu area of the Northern Territory prompted the Whitlam government to hold a public inquiry into the possible environmental impacts of the proposed new mine. This was the Ranger environmental inquiry, conducted by Justice Fox, Dr Kelleher and Professor Kerr. It almost inevitably broadened into a study of Australia’s role in the wider nuclear industry. As already mentioned, their first report is still on my desk.

*** My first academic appointment was in the Faculty of Technology at the UK Open University, where some of my colleagues were raising important questions about the safety and economics of British nuclear power stations. Others were asking more fundamental questions about the long-­term problems of managing radioactive waste and avoiding nuclear war. The long arguments with my respected colleagues shifted my thinking from enthusiastic support of nuclear energy to a more nuanced position, still cautiously in favour of replacing coal-fired power stations but acutely aware of the need to manage the long-­term problems. When I returned to Australia for a six-­month appointment at Griffith University in 1977, the Fox Report had just been published, and I was drawn into the resulting discussion of its findings. *** The report questioned the widely assumed objectivity of science, noting that ‘many wildly exaggerated statements’ had been made about the risks of nuclear energy, and adding: ‘What has surprised us more is a lack of objectivity in not a few of those in favour of it, including distinguished scientists.’ It went on to say that those involved in nuclear energy had ‘painted excessively optimistic pictures’ of performance and safety: Titterton, for example, had described nuclear energy as ‘the cheapest, safest and cleanest means of power production yet devised’. The report also commented that some of those who supported nuclear energy had questioned the motives of critics. Baxter had dismissed opponents of nuclear energy as ‘a small, well-­funded, vocal minority’ who used ‘a mixture of untruthful and hysterical statements, emotionally concocted to frighten the lay public’. He later went even further, claiming, ‘The Australian anti-­nuclear conspiracy is a political thing with links to international communism and the general motive of reducing the economic and military strength of the West.’ While some of the opposition to nuclear energy was political, there is no evidence that it was either well-­funded or linked to international communism.

*** The Fox Report found that the proposed expansion of uranium exports raised two important issues: the potential for fissile material to be used to produce nuclear weapons and the need to manage the radioactive waste from reactors. ‘The nuclear power industry is unintentionally contributing to the risk of nuclear war,’ it said, recommending that uranium exports should be strictly controlled to prevent weapons proliferation. It also noted that the 1976 Flowers Report from the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution had argued that development of nuclear power should be limited until it had been demonstrated that radioactive waste could be ‘safely contained for the indefinite future’.

*** The Fox Report sparked vigorous debate in Australia, with community groups sponsoring public discussions. I remember a panel one Friday night in the town hall at Nambour, a small town in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, where a public meeting had been convened by their Apex Club. About 200 people turned up to witness a debate that became quite heated. I was vigorously attacked when I quoted from the UK nuclear industry house journal to show that the uranium mining representatives were lying to the meeting.

*** There was also division within the ALP. In a precursor of the contemporary differences about the Adani mine, those on the left of the party mostly opposed the mining and export of uranium, while those on the right supported the potential jobs that would be created. In 1977, the ALP national conference adopted a policy opposing expansion of uranium mining. But the Whitlam government, which began the inquiry, had been removed from office in 1975. Under Malcolm Fraser, the Coalition government was enthusiastic to see the Ranger mine go ahead and actively encouraged other possible export ventures. Fraser tried to elevate the program to a moral issue, claiming ‘an energy-­starved world’ needed our uranium. He also stated that the waste problem had been solved. That was a barefaced lie. Since it was not prudent for a young scientist to accuse the prime minister of lying, I pointedly described it instead as ‘a very modest announcement of a great scientific advance’. Of course, the problem had not been solved; over forty years later, it is still an issue. Huge volumes of nuclear waste are stockpiled at power stations around the world. Sweden and Finland have adopted a good process of community involvement and are well on the way to a potential solution involving storage in deep underground repositories – but the issue remains contentious everywhere else.

*** The South Australian government was also under pressure to approve the development of a major copper mine at Roxby Downs that would also produce uranium. In one of his last acts as premier before illness forced him to resign in 1979, Don Dunstan said, ‘We simply cannot assure the people of SA that mining or treatment of uranium and the sale of uranium to a customer country is yet safe.’ That opposition remained ALP policy until 1983, when the newly elected Prime Minister Bob Hawke persuaded the party’s national conference that opposing the Roxby Downs mine would harm the party’s chances at the forthcoming South Australian state election. After an acrimonious debate, the ALP adopted its ‘three mines policy’, qualifying its overall opposition to uranium mining and export by allowing three large mines. Hawke laughed off journalists’ criticism of this obvious double standard.

*** IN SUBSEQUENT DECADES, Australia’s involvement in nuclear issues has been confined to exporting uranium and operating the Lucas Heights reactor. When HIFAR reached the end of its life, the government approved its replacement by the OPAL reactor, mainly used to produce radioactive isotopes for medical and industrial purposes. But there have been attempts to expand our nuclear role.

*** Cabinet documents released in 2003 revealed that the Queensland government had secretly sought Commonwealth support to build a uranium enrichment plant near Rockhampton thirty years earlier. The process of enrichment is used to provide the uranium needed for most power reactors. Natural uranium consists of two isotopes: small amounts of Uranium-235 with larger quantities of Uranium-238. The lighter isotope is much more radioactive, so separation processes are used to ‘enrich’ the uranium, increasing the ratio of Uranium-235 to Uranium-238. The techniques developed as part of the Manhattan Project are still used in this work, and they require enormous amounts of energy. The proposal put forward secretly in 1972 would have been the biggest industrial plant ever built in Queensland and would have cost a billion dollars in 1970s money. The plan had been quietly shelved after the election of the Whitlam government, but surfaced in a different form a decade later. An angry rally filled Caboolture Town Hall during the 1983 federal election campaign, when a leaked report showed that the Fraser government would support a uranium enrichment plant in that area if re-elected.

*** There have also been several proposals over the decades for Australia to store radioactive waste from offshore nuclear power stations. Our political and geological stability is seen to make us ideal for permanent disposal of this waste. As prime minister, Bob Hawke supported a plan by a company called Pangea to store waste in outback Western Australia. Later, in 2015, the South Australian government initiated a Royal Commission into the possibility the state could store waste from other countries. Its report argued that it would be a great economic opportunity for South Australia, but the proposal foundered when a 350-­person citizens’ jury opposed it. The fundamental problem was trust. The members of the jury effectively said they were not confident such a project would be responsibly managed by either a government agency or a private corporation. The jury also questioned the projected financial claims for the project; since there is no operating market for the services being discussed, the figures were inevitably rubbery.

*** This lack of trust is a fundamental problem for any project involving radiation. For over twenty years, the Commonwealth Government has tried to establish a repository to store low-­level radioactive waste: comparatively benign items such as gloves and other protective gear used in nuclear medicine. Despite clear assurances from experts, several communities have defeated proposals for waste-storage facilities. Low-­level waste remains in a wide variety of locations around the nation, including hospitals and university laboratories, still awaiting agreement on a possible site for a permanent storage facility.

*** The question of nuclear power stations was not seriously raised for more than thirty years after the Jervis Bay project was cancelled. A few advocates kept writing to newspapers, but the economic reality was that nuclear energy could not compete with coal-­fired power, while the 1979 Three Mile Island meltdown and the 1986 Chernobyl explosion discredited any claims of safety. A 1985 report by the Australian Science and Technology Council about nuclear science and technology said nothing about nuclear energy. It endorsed the proposal to rename the Atomic Energy Commission as the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, recognising that its mission was no longer to provide the expertise for nuclear energy.

*** GLOBALLY, THE NUCLEAR power industry appeared dead in the water. After Chernobyl, political support in Europe evaporated. Planned reactors were deferred or cancelled, and the amount of nuclear power gradually declined. Then a small group in the UK came up with an idea to salvage the industry.

*** After decades of violently opposing environmental groups, they decided to conveniently accept the science of global climate change and proposed nuclear reactors as the low-­carbon power source the world needed. Concerned by this argument, I addressed the National Press Club in 2005 to remind Australian journalists of the case against nuclear energy. I argued that promoting nuclear power as the solution to climate change was like advocating smoking as a cure for obesity; the nuclear option would make it more difficult to move to the clean energy future that climate change demands. When asked why I was bothering, I said that I was worried that John Howard, then prime minister, might propose nuclear power as a distraction from his studied inaction on climate change.

*** My fears were well founded. In 2006, when his failure to respond to climate change became a political issue, Howard hastily set up an inquiry into the possibility of using nuclear energy to reduce the carbon footprint of our electricity industry. The process of assembling a group that the late comedian John Clarke described as ‘people who want nuclear power by Tuesday’ was so rushed that the taskforce was incomplete when Howard announced its formation to the media; it was several days before all the names could be revealed. Chaired by Dr Ziggy Switkowski, the group toured the world to find support for the idea of using nuclear energy. In a classic Freudian slip, the headline in The Australian acclaimed its 2007 final report as hailing ‘a glowing future’.

*** It put as good a case as it could, but the facts could not be fudged. This report accepted that both a carbon price and other forms of financial support would be required for a nuclear power station to be economically viable. It also conceded that it would take at least ten years and possibly fifteen to build one nuclear power station, given that Australia had neither the construction experience nor the regulatory structure that would be needed. Before the 2007 election, The Australia Institute mischievously released a map showing possible sites for a first nuclear power station, setting off a tsunami of panic among sitting MPs. That reaction showed there was little community support for nuclear energy.

*** The election that year of Kevin Rudd – who had described climate change as the greatest moral challenge of our time and promised Australia would finally ratify the Kyoto Protocol – effectively ended the debate about nuclear power. The following period of unprecedented political turmoil saw Julia Gillard replace Rudd as prime minister (the subsequent hung election leading to her negotiating a package of measures responding to climate change, including a carbon price) and Tony Abbott displace Malcolm Turnbull as leader of Liberal Party (and demonise the carbon price as ‘a great big tax on everything’). Abbott then won an election and wound back the national response to climate change – before being displaced as prime minister by Malcolm Turnbull, who was in turn himself displaced, after a disappointing result in the 2016 election, by supporters of Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison.

*** Perhaps to distract attention from its own inaction on climate change, the Morrison government started a parliamentary inquiry ‘into the prerequisites for nuclear energy in Australia’ in August 2019. I gave evidence, arguing that nuclear power does not make economic or political sense in twenty-­first century Australia.

*** The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering had previously urged replacing coal-­fired power by nuclear energy; in this inquiry the academy argued that ‘development of a regulatory framework for nuclear fuel cycle activities without a clear business case would be a challenging exercise, and consume valuable policy and regulatory design resources that might otherwise be dedicated to more pressing challenges in energy policy’. The academy also contended that the legislative barriers that now exist should be removed ‘so that nuclear energy can be considered on its own merits’, while conceding that the cost-­effectiveness of the approach remains uncertain. In its final report, the parliamentary committee did not recommend adoption of nuclear power, but it did advocate repealing the current law that expressly forbids its use.

*** That raises the question I posed at the start of this essay. If there has never been hard evidence that nuclear power would be cost-­effective in Australia, why does it keep coming back into the debate?………….. An obvious conclusion flows from the Fox Report’s 1976 comment about a lack of objectivity. We are not objective observers of the world: we all see reality through the lenses of our values and our experience. We all have a tendency to see what we would like to see. I’m constantly struck by the optimism of football fans about their team’s prospects at the start of a new season, even if the players consist mostly of those who did poorly the season before. The probability that any person will be favourably disposed to the idea of nuclear power can be predicted from their values and from their view of the sort of future they would like to see. Fellows of the Academy of Technology and Engineering tend to favour a high-tech future, while conservationists are much more likely to favour small-­scale local supply systems.

*** This is a reminder that the future is not somewhere we are going, but something we are creating. From my perspective, nuclear power now looks like an intractable problem we were just lucky to avoid. Most developed nations have nuclear power stations with mountains of accumulated waste, for which there is no effective permanent solution. The urgent task of moving to clean energy supply, mostly from solar and wind, is made more difficult when resources have been sunk into the nuclear power industry. I believe we dodged a bullet.  

Time to clean up Bikini Atoll,to right the nuclear wrongs done to the Pacific islands people.

April 5, 2021

After 75 years, it’s time to clean Bikini

By Hart RapaportIvana Nikolić Hughes | March 9, 2021,   Due to their remote location in the Northern Marshall Islands, the people of Bikini Atoll were spared the worst of the mid-Pacific fighting between the American and Japanese armies in the final years of World War II. Their millennia-old culture and sustainable way of life ended abruptly when, in early 1946, Commodore Ben Wyatt, a representative of the occupying United States Navy, informed King Juda and other Bikini residents that the US would begin to test nuclear weapons near their homes. Wyatt asked the Bikinians to move elsewhere, stating that the temporary move was for “the good of mankind and to end all wars.” Though Wyatt may have believed his words to be true, the show of might by the US that followed neither ended all conflict, nor was the exodus short-lived. Seventy-five years later, Bikinians have yet to return.

Nuclear testing in Bikini and other Marshall Islands, which lasted from 1946 to 1958, received international attention at the time. In those early Cold War days, America demonstrated its nuclear prowess through images of mushroom cloud blasts towering over the Pacific on the cover of Time magazine and other prominent publications. The word Bikini infiltrated popular culture via the name of a two-piece swimsuit (named by a French designer to be “explosive”) and SpongeBob’s home, without simultaneously suffusing our conscience with an awareness of the injustices and suffering those blasts caused the Marshallese people.

It is time, finally, to recognize and right the wrongs perpetrated by the US government in the Marshall Islands. The US forced a new and dangerous technology on the native lands and peoples, without fully comprehending the short- and long-term consequences. The Marshall Islands–and Bikini specifically–ended up the site of most of the tests of US hydrogen bombs, weapons up to a thousand times more powerful than atomic bombs used in attacks on Japan in 1945. Later, when the refugees were briefly returned to Bikini after testing ended, they were exposed to harmful radiation amounts with devastating health effects.

To be sure, the US government has taken steps to monitor and address the contamination that resulted from these nuclear detonations. However, the status quo—studies by the Energy Department for the sake of scientific publications and reports, while Bikinians continue to live on other islands—is not only inadequate, but morally repugnant. Bikini is a native land and water that, over thousands of years, was critical to the people’s sustenance and the bedrock of their culture. While some of those who survived the decades of relocations are still alive, their children and grandchildren, including the descendants of King Juda, have yet to resettle their ancestral home. Without an immediate US-government-funded plan to resettle the living refugees, the millennia-long culture and history tied to the atoll may be lost forever. Also, as one of the highest lying islands in the region, Bikini could be the solution to challenges the Marshallese face from global warming and corresponding rise of sea levels.

But it’s not as simple as saying: “Let’s move the Bikinians back.” A permanent return to the atoll by a multi-generational community would risk serious health effects unless sources of remaining radiological contamination in Bikini’s fruit, soil, and lagoon are addressed and removed, according to our research at Columbia University’s K=1 Project, Center for Nuclear Studies. We have found radioactive materials throughout Bikini Atoll, resulting in background gamma radiation above the limit agreed upon by the Republic of the Marshall Islands and US and levels of cesium-137 in various fruits that violate most relevant international and domestic safety standards. Even the waters surrounding Bikini, a formerly plentiful source of food, are riddled with radioisotopes from the detonations. The cleanup may require a novel scientific approach on par with that used after the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents. That said, a modern nuclear testing cleanup protocol may prove useful in the event of future nuclear incidents in the United States or elsewhere.

The Biden administration has promised to lead in domestic and international spheres with morals and compassion. To do so, it must engage in a truthful, comprehensive accounting of past missteps in the Marshall Islands, regardless of whether the cost of reparations and resettlement exceeds its current pledge of roughly $110 million to Bikini. Commodore Wyatt’s allegedly “temporary” displacement of Bikinians from their native land has lasted 75 years and counting. Will the Biden administration act with morals to clean remaining radioactive material from US detonations? Will it act with compassion to help Bikinians find their way home?

How Scotland’s Dunoon became an American nuclear base, and a target

April 5, 2021
60 years on: The day the US Navy came armed with nuclear missiles  By Sandra Dick  7 Mar 21,  THE sun shone brightly over the calm Holy Loch on a beautiful early March day in 1961, as USS Proteus – 18,000 tons of American might – glided towards her foe. By late afternoon, she was passing Islay. And as the US Navy vessel drew closer to her final destination, anti-nuclear demonstrators who had been waiting for weeks for the chance to pounce, braced themselves for their attack.

The first salvo of a David versus Goliath battle saw protesters in dinghies and canoes pitted against the most menacing of modern warfare, and it would rage – on and off – for months to come. It’s now 60 years since USS Proteus, soon followed by a fleet of US Navy Polaris submarines, set up base close to Dunoon.

And although the area was not unfamiliar with submarine activity – Royal Navy submarines were based in the area throughout the Second World War – the Americans, with their terrifying nuclear arsenal, a raging Cold War and the relatively fresh memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, meant this was no normal military manoeuvre.

The US Navy and Polaris would remain a feature of the Dunoon landscape for the next 31 years. For those who could put aside any concerns of living with nuclear missiles on their doorstep, it brought economic and social benefits – and more than a few weddings between US sailors and local women. For others, the presence of the American nuclear force put a picturesque and peaceful corner of the country in Soviet crosshairs, and propelled Scotland into the very core of a deadly nuclear war machine.

The announcement that the Americans were coming was completely unexpected, recalls historian Trevor Royle, who has written about the Holy Loch base in his book on the Cold War in Scotland, ‘Facing The Bear’. “It came as a great surprise to people of Scotland – it was a shock to suddenly have the Cold War on their doorstep,” he says. America needed an operating base for their Polaris fleet,” he adds. “At the time Britain’s nuclear deterrent was V Bomber Force, obsolete bombers that could fly to Moscow and drop bombs but couldn’t get back. It was a one-way mission, and Britain wanted a system which worked better than that.”

Faced with being left behind as a nuclear nation, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan struck a deal with President Dwight D. Eisenhower for the Holy Loch to become an extension of US territory and a berth for nuclear bombs. In return, Britain would acquire the Polaris nuclear delivery system, enabling the Royal Navy to operate its own fleet from Faslane.

However, the announcement in November 1960, propelled Holy Loch communities into a world of US and Soviet war games, which would see submarines play cat and mouse across fishing grounds and Atlantic waters. Most Scots, says Trevor, accepted what was heading their way. Some, among them taxi drivers and bed and breakfast businesses around Dunoon who had feared cheap foreign holidays were set to scupper the tourist trade, were more than happy.

Others were outraged. Isobel Lindsay was just 17 years old at the time and secretary of Lanarkshire CND. Soon, she’d be among hundreds to descend on Dunoon to express outrage at the arrival of nuclear weapons in Scottish waters. “The announcement came out of the blue,” she recalls. “Until then, there had been a small anti-nuclear movement in Scotland. But this ignited it.”

The arrival of the Polaris fleet’s support ship, USS Proteus, with its crew of 980 officers and men and the prospect of up to 500 dependent families on the way, signalled a call to action; protestors took to the water in tiny crafts to wave anti-nuclear banners and flags and 1,000 protesters marched along the loch. A week later, the Patrick Henry arrived, the first of ten Polaris submarines and with its 135 crew primed at a minute’s notice to blast off up to 16 Polaris rockets, each capable of destroying a city 1500 miles away.

It was greeted by a lone canoeist who, after a valiant 15-minute chase by eight patrol vessels, was deliberately tipped in the water. Isobel, whose father had been among the first British forces to enter Hiroshima in the wake of the 1945 atomic bomb, remembers the protest movement growing in size. “Very quickly there were demonstrations in Glasgow and at the Holy Loch,” she says.

“One march was organised from London to a 24-hour sit down that blocked Ardnadam pier. “The police tactics were to leave us sitting there – the sailors had to clamber over us to get to the pier.” Protest songs were hastily written, including Ding Dong Dollar, which set those keen to benefit financially from the base against those opposed to nuclear weapons, while protests were laboriously organised by letter, calls from phone boxes and plotted on maps. By May, a two storey floating barracks had been towed to the Holy Loch, providing accommodation for up to 350 personnel, and attitudes towards the protestors hardened.

Canoeists who dared to approached US vessels were sprayed with jet hoses, on land, demonstrators were met by dozens of police, wire mesh, iron railings, barbed wire and ‘black Marias’. In Dunoon, locals picked their way between protestors and US Navy sailors. And while taxi drivers enjoyed a boom in business and generous tips, Glasgow’s prostitutes also descended. “It was a great culture shock,” adds Trevor. “Until then, the only knowledge most people had of Americans came from the movies.

The Americans came with the crew cuts and smart clothes. It was like Hollywood had come to Dunoon.” Up to 4,000 Americans were attached to the Holy Loch base, their children attended local schools and accommodation was snapped up.

But, says Trevor: “Dunoon was very much a target in the event of any nuclear hostilities. “In addition to Polaris submarines, the Holy Loch was home to Hunter Killer submarines, and they all played the most dangerous games of cat and mouse with their Soviet opposite numbers. “Many fishing boats were caught up, among them the Antares.” The small trawler sank in November 1990 after its nets became tangled with an RN submarine. All four crew lost their lives. By that time, Polaris protestors had turned their attention to Faslane instead. And as the Cold War ended, the US Navy packed up. The last ship left in March 1992. “They left nothing behind,” adds Trevor. “Apart from the American sailors who found themselves in a foreign country and made friends with the local girls, fell in love and married, you would have to search hard to know there had been a US presence there at all.”

French report on the unfairness of France’s nuclear history in Algeria

April 5, 2021

French report grapples with nuclear fallout from Algerian War Austin R. Cooper | March 4, 2021 n January, the French historian Benjamin Stora filed a report commissioned by the French President Emmanuel Macron aimed at “reconciliation of memories between France and Algeria,” which France ruled as the jewel of its colonial empire for more than 130 years.

The Stora Report addressed several scars from the Algerian War for Independence (1954–62), a bloody struggle for decolonization that met savage repression by French troops. One of these controversies stems from French use of the Algerian Sahara for nuclear weapons development.

France proved its bomb in the atmosphere above this desert, naming the inaugural blast , or Blue Jerboa, after the local rodent. Between 1960 and 1966, France detonated 17 nuclear devices in the Algerian Sahara: four atmospheric explosions during the Algerian War, and another 13 underground, most of these after Algerian Independence.

French nuclear ambitions became inextricable from the process of Algerian decolonization. The Saharan blasts drew international outrage, stalled ceasefire negotiations, and later threatened an uneasy peace across the Mediterranean.

The Stora Report signaled that radioactive fallout from the Algerian War has remained a thorn between the two nations. But the document comes up short of a clear path toward nuclear reconciliation.

A United Nations dispute. The French bomb collided with the Algerian War before the first mushroom cloud rose above the Sahara. In November 1959, Algerian allies representing independent states in Africa and Asia contested French plans for the desert in the First Committee on Disarmament at the United Nations.

Part of the French strategy at the United Nations was to drive a wedge between the nuclear issue and what French diplomats euphemistically termed the “Question of Algeria.” French obfuscation continued for decades.

France would not, until 1999, call the bloodshed a war, preferring the line that what happened in Algeria, as part of France, amounted to a domestic dispute, rather than UN business. Macron became, in 2018, the first French president to acknowledge “systemic torture” by French troops in Algeria.

The Afro-Asian challenge to Saharan explosions hurdled France’s diplomatic barricades at the United Nations. The French delegation tried to strike references to the Algerian War as irrelevant. But their African and Asian counterparts painted the desert blasts as a violation of African sovereignty.

The concern was not only for contested territory in Algeria, but also for independent states bordering the desert, whose leaders warned that nuclear fallout could cross their national borders. Radiation measurements taken in the wake of Gerboise bleue proved many of them right.

Nuclear weapons represented another piece of French imperialism on the continent.

Secret negotiations resumed in September 1961, with US Ambassador to Tunisia Walter N. Walmsley serving as France’s backchannel. The US State Department worried that French attachment to the test sites might thwart the decolonization process.

Lead Algerian negotiator Krim Belkacem asked Walmsley if prospects for a ceasefire still hinged on France retaining control of the test sites. Krim got his answer when Franco-Algerian talks resumed the following month, at the end of October 1961.

France did not abandon its goal to continue nuclear explosions in the Sahara. But the Algerian position appeared to have softened. So long as further blasts did not impinge on Algeria’s “eventual sovereignty” over the desert, as one archival document put it, a deal looked possible.

The Evian Accords marked a nuclear compromise. Finally signed in March 1962, the landmark treaty granted France a five-year lease to the Saharan test sites but did not specify terms of use.

Going underground. Advice from the French Foreign Ministry played a key role in pushing France’s weapons program beneath Saharan mountains. French diplomats suggested that underground explosions would present, according to one archival document, “significantly less serious” challenges than atmospheric ones for future relations with Algeria and its African neighbors.

This did not stop Algeria’s first president, Ahmed Ben Bella, from winning political capital with the nuclear issue. In public, Ben Bella cast Saharan blasts as an intolerable violation of Algerian sovereignty, as had his allies at the United Nations. In private, however, Ben Bella acquiesced to the Evian terms and reportedly tried to squeeze French financial aid out of the deal.

The Hoggar Massif shook 13 times before France handed over its two Saharan test sites to Algeria in 1967. An accident occurred during one of these underground blasts, dubbed Béryl, when containment measures failed. Several French soldiers and two high-ranking French officials suffered the highest radiation exposures, but roughly 240 members of “nomadic populations” in the region received lower doses.

Meanwhile, France began construction on its Pacific test range in French Polynesia, the site of nearly 200 nuclear explosions between 1966 and 1996. Most took place underground, but France also conducted atmospheric detonations in Polynesia, and these continued into the 1970s. Even though the Limited Test Ban Treaty had gone into effect in 1963—prohibiting nuclear blasts in the atmosphere, underwater, and in outer space—France refused to sign it.

Contamination and compensation. As part of its reconciliation proposal, the Stora Report encouraged Franco-Algerian cooperation on environmental remediation of the Saharan test sites. An expert report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, however, concluded in 2005 that environmental interventions were “not required” unless human traffic near the sites should increase.

The Stora Report briefly mentioned compensation linked to radiation exposure from French nuclear weapons development, but this deserves a closer look. In 2010, the French Parliament passed a law recognizing these victims and establishing funds and procedures to provide compensation for illness and injury. So far, France has earmarked 26 million euros for this purpose, but almost none of that has gone to Algerians.

Decades earlier, France’s nuclear allies turned to compensation programs in an attempt to reconcile with marginalized groups affected by weapons development without disclosure or consent. In 1993, for example, the United Kingdom settled with Australia as redress for indigenous people and personnel involved in UK explosions conducted in the former colony.

Facing similar lawsuits, the United States provided monetary compensation and health benefits to the indigenous people of the Marshall Islands, where US nuclear planners “offshored” their most powerful blasts during the Cold War arms race. Other US programs have made compensation available to communities “downwind” of the Nevada Test Site and surrounded by the uranium mines fueling the US nuclear arsenal, including Tribal Nations in the Four Corners region.

Compensation programs map a global history of colonial empire, racial discrimination, and dispossession of indigenous land, but postcolonial inequalities look particularly stark from the Sahara. Including appeals, France has granted 545 of 1,739 total requests filed by French soldiers and civilian participants in the nuclear detonations, as well as exposed populations in Algeria and Polynesia. Only 1 of 52 Algerian dossiers has proven successful.

French officials responsible for evaluating these files report that the ones from Algeria often arrive incomplete or in a shoddy state, and pin the blame on the Algerian government’s inability or unwillingness to provide the geographical, historical, and biomedical evidence that French assessment procedures demand. Claims must demonstrate that an individual worked or lived in a fixed area surrounding one of the two Saharan test sites, between February 1960 and December 1967, and suffered at least one of 21 types of cancer recognized as radiation-linked by French statute.

A step toward reconciliation. If Macron really wants to tackle France’s nuclear history in Algeria—and its aftermath—his government should start here. The French Parliament opened the door to Algerian compensation in 2010, and important revisions to the evaluation procedures took place in 2017, but there has never been a level playing field. Macron could, for example, require that French diplomats posted in Algeria help Algerians build their cases and locate supporting documents.

Another option: Macron could declassify archival materials documenting the intensity and scope of radioactive fallout generated by French nuclear blasts. Draconian interpretations of French statutes on the reach of military secrecy continue to block access to the vast majority of military, civil, and diplomatic collections on France’s nuclear weapons program—including radiation effects. Foreign archives have provided useful information, but official documentation from the French government would help exposed populations—like those in the Sahara—understand what happened, evaluate the risks, bolster their claims, and likely find these more successful.

The Stora Report did well to acknowledge nuclear fallout from the Algerian War. Giving Algerians a fair shot at compensation should mark France’s first step toward reconciliation.

315 nuclear bombs and ongoing suffering: the shameful history of nuclear testing in Australia and the Pacific

February 18, 2021