Archive for the ‘weapons and war’ Category

70 years since Operation Hurricane: the shameful history of British nuclear tests in Australia

November 3, 2022

Red Flag, by Nick Everett, Sunday, 16 October 2022

At 9.30am on 3 October 1952, a mushroom cloud billowed up above the Monte Bello Islands, 130 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia. The next day, the West Australian reported: “At first deep pink, it quickly changed to mauve in the centre, with pink towards the outside and brilliantly white turbulent edges. Within two minutes the cloud, which was still like a giant cauliflower, was 10,000 feet [three kilometres] high”.

Derek Hickman, a royal engineer who witnessed the blast aboard guard ship HMS Zeebrugge, told the Mirror: “We had no protective clothing … They ordered us to muster on deck and turn our backs. We put our hands over our eyes and they counted down over the tannoy [loudspeaker]. There was a sharp flash, and I could see the bones in my hands like an X-ray. Then the sound and the wind, and they told us to turn and face it. The bomb was in the hull of a 1,450-ton warship and all that was left of her were a few fist-sized pieces of metal that fell like rain, and the shape of the frigate scorched on the seabed.” 

Operation Hurricane was, up until that moment, a closely guarded secret. ……………………….

Throughout 1946, negotiations took place between the British and Australian governments, culminating in an agreement to establish a 480-kilometre rocket range extending northwest from Mount Eba (later moved to Woomera) in outback South Australia. 

On 22 November 1946, Defence Minister John Dedman informed parliament of cabinet’s decision to establish the rocket range. Peter Morton, author of Fire Across the Desert: Woomera and the Anglo-Australian Joint Project 1946–1980, explains that Dedman reiterated claims made in a report by British army officer John Fullerton Evetts that related to the original proposed site at the more remote location of Mount Eba, not Woomera. Dedman told parliament that Australia was the only suitable landmass in the Commonwealth for such testing, the designated area was largely uninhabited and that impacts on the Aboriginal population in the Central Aboriginal Reserves would be negligible. According to Morton, there were approximately 1800 Aboriginal people living on the reserves at the time. The Committee on Guided Projectiles would immediately begin consultations with the director of Native Affairs and other authorities, Dedman told parliament.

Dedman’s announcement ignited fierce opposition. In her book Different White People: Radical Activism for Aboriginal Rights 1946-1972, Deborah Wilson describes the independent Labor member for Bourke, Doris Blackburn, spearheading a peace movement strongly supported by the Australian Communist Party. She published her speeches in the CPA newspaper, Tribune. Blackburn was the widow of lawyer and parliamentarian Maurice Blackburn, whose left-wing views resulted in his expulsion from the ALP. 

Blackburn insisted that the rocket range amounted to a grave injustice against a “voiceless minority”, Australia’s First Nations people. In March 1947, medical practitioner Charles Duguid told a 1300-strong Rocket Range Protest Committee meeting in Melbourne that he was appalled by the government’s blatant “disregard” for the rights of Aboriginal people. According to a Tribune report, he asked those present: “Shot and poisoned as they were in the early days, neglected and despised more lately, will most of our Aborigines [sic] now be finally sacrificed and hurried to extinction by sudden contact with the mad demands of twentieth century militarism?”

Dedman, supported by the Menzies-led opposition, dismissed concerns expressed by Duguid and anthropologist Donald Thompson that contact between military personnel and Aboriginal people living in the military zone would have devastating consequences for their traditional way of life. Deploying assimilation arguments, Dedman insisted that contact between military personnel and “natives” in the area would simply accelerate an inevitable process of detribalisation. 

Meanwhile, Liberal and Country Party politicians railed against Duguid and other opponents of the project, labelling them dupes of communism with a lax attitude to the nation’s security, according to Wilson. They called on the Chifley government to follow the example of the Canadian royal commission established to weed out alleged communist spies in public sector employment…………….

In June 1947, federal parliament rushed through the Approved Defence Projects Protection Bill, a gag tool preventing critical commentary about the government’s defence policy. Transgressors were threatened with fines of up to £5,000 or a 12-month prison sentence.

Under the cover of “national security”, federal bans were imposed on union officials visiting the Woomera rocket range site, now a no-go area for anyone other than sanctioned military personnel. Anti-communist fearmongering helped set the scene for the Chifley government’s establishment of a new and powerful security organisation, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), in 1949.

In mid-1947, 446 kilometres north of Adelaide, the Woomera township was swiftly constructed on the traditional lands of the Kokatha people. By mid-1950, its population had grown to 3,500 and, over the following decade, doubled to 7,000. Roads gouged through Aboriginal country. Electricity and telegraph lines soon followed, connecting the military base with centres of political power.  

The nature of the missile testing remained a top secret to all but those firmly ensconced within the upper echelons of the Department of Defence. However, rumours of a nuclear testing program abounded. The detonation of a 25-kiloton nuclear weapon off the Monte Bello Islands made Britain’s nuclear ambitions, and the Australian government’s complicity, visible for the world. 

In the film Australian Atomic Confessions, witness May Torres, a Gooniyandi woman living at Jubilee Downs in the Kimberley, described observing a cloudy haze that remained in the sky for four or five days. At the time she did not know that it carried radioactive particles that were to contribute to cancer and an early death for many of her community, including her husband, in the early 1960s.

Another witness, Royal Australian Air Force pilot Barry Neale, described aircraft operating out of Townsville identifying nuclear particles in the air three days after the detonation. Two days later, New Zealand Air Force aircraft similarly observed radioactive particles that had emanated from Operation Hurricane. Still today, signs on the Monte Bello islands warn visitors about the dangers of elevated radiation levels.

In October 1953, two nuclear tests (Operation Totem) took place at Emu Field, 500 kilometres northwest of Woomera. In May and June 1956, nuclear testing returned to the Monte Bello Islands. Operation Mosaic detonated the largest ever nuclear device in Australia: a 60-kiloton weapon four times as powerful as that which had destroyed Hiroshima. 

My aunt was among the children who witnessed the Monte Bello explosion from the jetty in the Pilbara town of Roebourne. The spectacle left her and her siblings covered in ash, oblivious to the toxicity of the fallout they were exposed to. 

Meanwhile, west of Woomera, Aboriginal people were being relocated from their traditional lands. In preparation for Operation Buffalo, a series of four nuclear tests at the Maralinga Testing Ground, an 1,100 square kilometre area was excised from the Laverton-Warburton reserve and declared a no-go area. 

Two patrol officers, William MacDougal and Robert (Bob) Macaulay, were given the nearly impossible task of keeping Aboriginal people out of the no-go area. The pair’s reports to the range superintendent were frequently censored, according to Morton. 

In December 1956, a Western Australian parliamentary select committee, led by Liberal MLA William Grayden, visited the Laverton-Warburton Ranges. The select committee’s report (the Grayden Report) identified that displaced Aboriginal people suffered from malnutrition, blindness, unsanitary conditions, inadequate food and water sources, and brutal exploitation by pastoral interests.

News reports in the Murdoch-owned Adelaide News dismissed the committee’s findings, insisting that the claims could not be substantiated. Responding to the Murdoch media whitewash, Tribune reported on 9 January 1957 that the committee had “ripped aside the screen that has veiled the cruel plight to which our [g]overnments condemn Australian Aborigines”.

Tribune asserted that “huge areas of the most favourable land are being taken from [Aboriginal] reserves and provided for mining interests, atomic and guided missile grounds, and other purposes”.

A subsequent Tribune article reported a week later on the observations of Pastor Doug Nicholls, who accompanied the West Australian minister for native welfare, John Brady, on a tour of the Warburton-Laverton district. According to Tribune:

“Pastor Nicholls said that at Giles weather station, deep in the heart of the best hunting grounds in the Warburton reserve—a region that the Government had stolen as part of the Woomera range—the white people lived like kings, and the Aboriginal people worse than paupers … The Commonwealth had spent a fortune on Woomera, but has not even supplied a well for the Aboriginals.”

The Grayden Report deeply shocked the public. A film documentary produced by Grayden and Nicholls, Their Darkest Hour, further exposed these crimes. Wilson describes scenes from the film:

“Images of malnourished, sick and poverty-stricken Aboriginal people bombard the viewer. A mother’s arm has rotted off with yaws. A blind man with one leg hobbles grotesquely on an artificial leg stuffed with furs and bandaged into an elephant-like stump. Malnourished children with huge swollen bellies stare blankly at the camera. A baby lies deathlike beside a mother too weak to walk. A sickening close-up of a toddler who fell into a fire reveals cooked flesh covered with flies. Skeletal remains of a man, dead from thirst, lie beside a dried-up waterhole. As the film concludes, his body is buried in an unmarked grave.”

The detrimental impact of British nuclear testing in Australia wasn’t limited to traditional Aboriginal people. It also exposed thousands of military personnel and their families to nuclear radiation, survivors still feeling the effects seven decades on, according to submissions received by the 1985 McClelland Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia

In 2001, a group of Melbourne scientists made a startling discovery: thousands of jars of ashed human bone that all contained strontium 90, a by-product of nuclear testing that can cause bone cancer and leukaemia. All had been collected from autopsies without the consent of family members, according to a 2002 report by the Australian Health Ethics Committee. This officially sanctioned “body-snatching” provided vital, and until then hidden, evidence of radioactive contamination with widespread effects on human health. 

In the mid-1950s, CSIRO scientist Hedley Marston was tasked by the Atomic Weapons Tests Safety Committee (AWTSC) with studying the radioactive iodine uptake in sheep and cattle as part of wider effort to monitor the biological effects of radiation caused by atomic-bomb testing in Australia. Marston argued that radioactive iodine found in the thyroids of animals indicated the presence of radioactive strontium in the food chain, which would endanger the health of humans, particularly children. Marston’s discovery put him in conflict with the AWTSC, who denied the tests resulted in significant radioactive contamination.

According to the Australian Health Ethics Committee, between 1957 and 1978, the AWTSC and its successor, the Australian Ionising Radiation Committee, covertly took samples of bones from 22,000 human remains during autopsy to test for the presence of strontium 90. The surviving samples located in 2001 suggested that radioactive contamination was far more widespread than previously admitted.

The winding down of the British nuclear testing program in Australia in 1953 did not bring an end to the Australian government’s role in the global nuclear industry. Since 1954, Australian uranium has supplied nuclear reactors around the world, including to the Fukushima reactor in Japan, which in 2011 was the site of the most severe nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown. Australia has also committed to acquiring nuclear-powered submarines to better pursue its imperial interests, and those of its allies, in the Asia-Pacific. And the nuclear industry is trying to promote itself as a viable alternative to polluting fossil fuel industries. 

Its shameful history, and the dire threat it poses to humanity, must not be forgotten.

Nuclear bomb tests at Emu Field remain obscured by Maralinga and the mists of time

November 3, 2022 ABC Radio Adelaide / By Daniel Keane, 22 Aug 22,

In hindsight, Michael Parkinson’s TV talk show hardly seems the likeliest forum for sober reflection on nuclear annihilation. 

But in 1971, the celebrity interviewer welcomed onto his celebrated stage journalist James Cameron, a man who had, 18 years earlier, witnessed the first atomic blast at Emu Field in outback South Australia.

Nuclear weapons, he told Parkinson, were “the ultimate punctuation mark” in humanity’s “progress towards perdition”.

The words echoed his front-page report for The Age on October 16, 1953 — the day after the test:

“The familiar mushroom column climbed unsteadily for 15,000 feet, leaned and dropped, and the world stumbled one more step towards the twilight.”

Codenamed Totem, the two Emu Field bomb tests have, in the view of James Cook University author Elizabeth Tynan, been regarded for too long as mere precursors to the more notorious detonations at Maralinga.

Her new book seeks to correct this by establishing Operation Totem as a portentous episode in its own right.

“The tests there pre-dated Maralinga by three years and they caused enormous difficulty and disruption and tragedy to the Aboriginal people of the Western Desert,” Dr Tynan said.

The Secret of Emu Field is the product of extensive archival excavation, including in the United Kingdom.

Amid Cold War hardships and anxieties, British officials were desperate to develop an affordable nuclear arsenal for their new fleet of jet bombers.

“They were looking to create a workable weapon; I call it the austerity bomb,” Dr Tynan said.

“They wanted to do it quickly because they had the V bombers coming, they had a number of political pressures and geopolitical pressures as well.”

Among several remarkable occurrences at Emu Field was the flight of a Royal Air Force Canberra bomber through the Totem 1 mushroom cloud barely six minutes after detonation.

“In colour it was a dark red-brown,” Wing Commander Geoffrey Dhenin, who enthusiastically piloted the plane, later wrote.

“Until just before we emerged, the forces on the elevators increased to such an extent that I thought I might lose control.”

One of the aims of that mission was to determine the threat from fallout in atmospheric testing to commercial airline traffic.

In an unforeseen irony, the atomic cloud from Totem 1 — which kept its mushroom shape “for 24 hours because of wind conditions” — was spotted by airline passengers passing over Oodnadatta.

The black mist

Today, it isn’t a cloud but a mist that remains one of the few aspects of the Totem tests to endure in the collective consciousness.

The so-called “black mist” was reported by nearby Aboriginal communities, but it wasn’t until a 1980 report by The Advertiser that it came to public attention.

The 1985 royal commission into British nuclear tests was equivocal on the health effects, but concluded that “Aboriginal people experienced radioactive fallout from Totem 1 in the form of a black mist or cloud at and near Wallatinna”.

Bruce Lennon was a young boy at the time and likened the impact to “having a really bad flu”.

“We were close to Emu Field; dad was a contractor, we did a lot of moving around,” he said.

Also in the area, at Mabel Creek station, was the family of Sister Kenise Neill.

“My father at the time of the Emu Field [tests] would have been 22. There’s a story that my grandmother used to tell about him,” she recalled.

“He was out fencing with Aboriginal people around the station and came home covered in a black, slimy, greasy stuff.”

Murray Neill was 24 when he died in 1956.

His daughter said it was now almost impossible to know whether the story told by her grandmother was an account of fallout.

“I didn’t really know about Emu Fields … and because our family had left before the [later] Maralinga testing, it didn’t make sense,” Sister Neill said.

“I presumed the black fallout with my dad wasn’t nuclear.

“It’s really only through reading Elizabeth Tynan’s book that I thought that my dad could have actually died from radiation.”

The persistence of secrets

The black mist may have dissipated, but other mists still cloud the Totem tests.

Dr Tynan said British files she inspected during her research had since been “withdrawn from public view”, and that there were unanswered questions about the second test and the plutonium fuel.

“The Operation Totem tests at Emu Field were intended as a comparative trial to test two different kinds of nuclear fuel,” Dr Tynan said.

I can’t say that I ever got to the bottom of what was happening with Totem 2. From the documents I’ve seen, [it] was a very, very secret weapon.”

By the time of the second test on October 27, James Cameron and the rest of the press pack had long since departed.

But the bomb had left its mark on Cameron’s mind.

In a piece published the day after he died, in the same year as the royal commission into British tests, Cameron reflected on the nuclear age with typical grace and resignation:

“I personally witnessed the explosion of atom bombs, and did nothing about it, and could do nothing except protest, tiresomely and uselessly.”

This article is the second in a two-part series, the first of which focused on the tests at Maralinga.

Nuclear bomb tests at Maralinga triggered Hedley Marston to study fallout over Australia

November 3, 2022

ABC Radio Adelaide / By Daniel Keane 10 Aug 22,

Hedley Marston could be charming, genial and witty but he was not above fulmination, especially where fulminations of a different kind were concerned.

In the mid-1950s, the CSIRO biochemist emerged as arguably the most significant contemporary critic of Britain’s nuclear weapons testing program, which was launched on Australia’s Montebello Islands almost 70 years ago in October 1952.

Despite the imminent anniversary Marston remains an obscure figure, but his biographer Roger Cross believes that should change.

“He appears to be totally unknown to the Australian public and, of course, to South Australians — he was a South Australian after all,” Dr Cross said.

Marston’s reservations about the nuclear program were far from spontaneous; indeed, his strongest concerns weren’t voiced until several years after the first test, when he recorded a radioactive plume passing over Adelaide.

The source of that plume was Operation Buffalo, a series of four nuclear blasts in 1956, and Marston was especially outraged by the fact that the general population was not warned.

“Sooner or later the public will demand a commission of enquiry on the ‘fall out’ in Australia,” he wrote to nuclear physicist and weapons advocate Sir Mark Oliphant.

“When this happens some of the boys will qualify for the hangman’s noose.”

What made Marston’s fury difficult to dismiss, especially for those inclined to deride opposition to nuclear testing as the exclusive preserve of ‘commies’ and ‘conchies’, was the fact that he was no peacenik.

Detractors might have damned him as an arriviste, but never as an activist: his cordial relations with Oliphant and other scientific grandees demonstrate that Marston was, in many respects, an establishment man.

Dr Cross has described Marston’s elegant prose as “Churchillian”, and the adjective is apposite in other ways.

While the roguish Marston might not have gone as far as the British wartime leader’s assertion that, during conflict, truth is so precious “that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies”, he had, in a 1947 letter to the editor, publicly defended scientific secrecy:

Under present conditions of fear and mistrust among nations it is obvious that military technology must be kept secret; and to achieve this end it should be conducted in special military laboratories where strictest security measures may be observed.”

But by late 1956, Marston’s alarm at radioactive fallout across parts of Australia was such that he was privately demanding greater disclosures to the general public.

Much of his ire was aimed at the Atomic Weapons Tests Safety Committee — a body established before the Maralinga tests, but after blasts had already occurred at Emu Fields* and the Montebello Islands.

“He was the only senior Australian scientist to express concerns and, because of his character, the concerns that he expressed were very forthright,” said Dr Cross, whose biography of Marston, aptly entitled Fallout, inspired the documentary Silent Storm.

“When the safety committee after each explosion said there was absolutely no effect on Australians, he believed that they were lying.”

‘If the wind changes, we need to go’

The experiments that led Marston, whose reputation largely rested on his expertise in sheep nutrition, to reach this conclusion were two-fold.

In the more protracted one, he analysed the presence of radioactive iodine-131 — a common component of nuclear fallout — in the thyroids of sheep.

“One group he kept penned up under cover eating dried hay, which had been cut some time before. The other group, he put outside eating the grass,” Dr Cross said.

“He tested the thyroids in each group – the ones on the hay only had background amounts of iodine-131.

“But the ones in the fields had a tremendously high concentration of this radioactive isotope, both north and south of the city.”

A fallout map from the 1985 royal commission, which stated that while fallout at Maralinga Village from the October 11, 1956,  test was “considered to be ‘negligible from a biological point of view’ it does suggest difficulties with the forecast prior to the test”.(Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia)

For the other experiment, Marston conducted air monitoring in Adelaide.

He was especially alarmed by what he found for the period following the Maralinga test of October 11, 1956.

“There was a wind shear and at least part, maybe the major part, of that cloud, blew in a south-easterly direction and that took it towards Adelaide and the country towns in between,” Dr Cross said.

“The safety committee — who must have known of the wind shear — had done nothing about warning Adelaide people perhaps to stay indoors.”……………………………………………………

Despite Marston’s reservations, the nuclear program carried on regardless.

Less than a year after the Operation Buffalo tests, Maralinga was hosting Operation Antler.

In September 1957, newspapers around Australia reported on an upcoming “second test” that would, weather permitting, proceed as part of a “spring series”.

If it hadn’t been for the presence of the words “atomic” and “radioactive”, a reader might easily have inferred that what was being described was as commonplace as a game of cricket.

This black smoke rolling through the mulga’: almost 70 years on, it’s time to remember the atomic tests at Emu Field

November 3, 2022

The Convesation, Liz Tynan, Associate professor and co-ordinator of professional development GRS, James Cook University: May 4, 2022 

The name Emu Field does not have the same resonance as Maralinga in Australian history. It is usually a footnote to the much larger atomic test site in South Australia. However, the weapons testing that took place in October 1953 at Emu Field, part of SA’s Woomera Prohibited Area, was at least as damaging as what came three years later at Maralinga.

The Emu Field tests, known as Operation Totem, were an uncontrolled experiment on human populations unleashing a particularly mysterious and dangerous phenomenon – known as “black mist” – which is still being debated.

Operation Totem involved two “mushroom cloud” tests, held 12 days apart, which sought to compare the differences in performance between varying proportions of isotopes of plutonium. The tests were not safe, despite assurances given at the time.

Between 1952 and 1957, Britain used three Australian sites to test 12 “mushroom cloud” bombs: the uninhabited Monte Bello Islands off the Western Australian coast and the two South Australian sites. (An associated program of tests of various weapons components and safety measures continued at Maralinga until 1963.)

The British government, with loyal but uncomprehending support from Australia under Liberal prime minister Robert Menzies, proceeded despite incomplete knowledge of atomic weapons effects or the sites’ meteorological and geographical conditions.

The British government, with loyal but uncomprehending support from Australia under Liberal prime minister Robert Menzies, proceeded despite incomplete knowledge of atomic weapons effects or the sites’ meteorological and geographical conditions.

The first British atomic test, Operation Hurricane, held in 1952, was a maritime test of a 25 kiloton atomic device detonated below the waterline in a ship anchored off part of the Monte Bello Islands.

Operation Totem was designed to test two much smaller devices – 9.1 and 7.1 kilotons respectively – by detonating them on steel towers in the desert.

At the time, Britain was in the process of commissioning a new reactor at Calder Hall in Cumbria (designed to make plutonium for both military and civilian uses) that would produce nuclear fuel containing more plutonium-240 than a previous reactor.

Totem was intended to test “austerity” weapons made from nuclear fuel eked out of this reactor. (Plutonium-240 can potentially make nuclear weapons unstable, in contrast to the fuel of choice for fission weapons, plutonium-239, which is more controllable.)

Totem was a “comparative” test. Its innermost technicalities are still kept secret by the British government.

A greasy black mist

The two tests at Emu Field were fired at 7am, on 15 October and 27 October.

The first test, Totem I, produced a mysterious, greasy “black mist” that rolled over Aboriginal communities around Wallatinna and Mintabie, 170 kilometres to the northeast of Emu Field. The black mist directly harmed Aṉangu people. Because no data was collected at the time, it is impossible to quantify precisely, however, the anecdotal evidence suggests death and sickness occured.

The British meteorologist, Ray Acaster, gave an account of the phenomenon, and its possible causes, in 2002:

The Black Mist was a process of mist or fog formation at or near the ground at various distances from the explosion point … Radioactive particles from the unusually high concentration in the explosion cloud falling into the mist or fog contributed to the condensation process … The radioactive particles in the mist or fog became moist and deposited as a black, sticky, and radioactive dust, particularly dangerous if taken into the body by ingestion or breathing.

The black mist was an horrific experience for all in its path. Survivors gathered at Wallatinna and Marla Bore in 1985 testified to the Royal Commission into the British Atomic Tests in Australia on its effect on individuals and communities.

Among those who testified was Lallie Lennon, who lived at Mintabie with her husband and children in 1953. After breakfast on 15 October they heard a deep rumble, followed by weird smoke that smelt of gunpowder and stuck to the trees. Lallie, her children and the others with her all got sick with diarrhoea, flu-like symptoms, rashes and sore eyes. Lallie’s skin problems were so severe, it looked like she had rolled in fire.

Another witness, the later tireless advocate for the survivors of the British atomic tests, Yami Lester, was a child at the time of Totem and lost his vision after the tests.

He recalled his experiences in testimony to the royal commission, and elsewhere. Interviewed by two London Observer journalists in a story republished in the Bulletin under the title “Forgotten victims of the ‘rolling black mist’”, he said:

I looked up south and saw this black smoke rolling through the mulga. It just came at us through the trees like a big, black mist. The old people started shouting ‘It’s a mamu’ (an evil spirit) … they dug holes in the sand dune and said ‘Get in here, you kids’. We got in and it rolled over and around us and went away.

Contaminated planes
The second test, Totem II, took place on October 27 in completely different meteorological conditions and did not produce a black mist. Its cloud rose quickly into the atmosphere and broke up soon after. However, radioactivity from both Totem I and Totem II travelled east across the continent, crossing the coast near Townsville.
Air force crews from both Britain and Australia flew into the atomic clouds. A British Canberra aircraft with three crew aboard entered the Totem I cloud just six minutes after detonation, far earlier than any of the other cloud sampling aircraft.

For a brief period the radioactivity to which they were exposed was off the scale. The aircraft was flown back to the UK, where it was found to carry extensive residual radioactive dust despite having been cleaned in Australia.

While air crew were exposed to contamination in flight, RAAF ground crew were worse affected, since they were largely unprotected and worked for hours on the contaminated planes. The risk to both air and ground crew was extensively examined by the Royal Commission.

One account by Group Captain David Colquhoun, head of RAAF operations at Emu Field, mentioned a gathering of crew in a hangar at Woomera, where a doctor ran a Geiger counter over those present.

As it reached the hip of one man, “the Geiger gave a very strong number of counts”. The young man then said he had a rag in his hip pocket he had used to wipe grease “off the union between the wing and the fuselage”. This rag was heavily contaminated.

Abrogating responsibility

After America’s McMahon Act of 1946 made it illegal for the US to work with other countries on atomic weaponry, a secret British Cabinet committee made the decision to conduct tests of a British bomb – but not on its own territory.

Britain explicitly abrogated all responsibility for those who lived near the Emu Fields site. Britain maintained through to the royal commission – and in years beyond – that it was not responsible for Aboriginal welfare in the face of atomic weapons tests.

The extent of the huge British atomic weapons testing program here is still largely unknown by Australians. The Australian government forced the British government to contribute to the cost of remediation of Maralinga in the mid-1990s, although Monte Bello and Emu Field were largely left untouched.

The story of Emu Field has been forgotten for nearly 70 years. Bringing it back into our national consciousness reminds us the costs of harmful political decisions are often not borne by the decision-makers but by the most powerless.

The author would like to thank Maralinga Tjarutja Council for allowing access to the Maralinga lands, including Emu Field.

The Secret of Emu Field: Britain’s forgotten atomic tests in Australia, by Elizabeth Tynan, has just been published by NewSouth

Nuclear testing in Maralinga, sixty years on

November 3, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cities should increase role in effort to abolish nuclear weapons

November 3, 2022

Mayors for Peace comprises 8,213 cities from 166 countries and regions, including the United States, Russia and other nuclear weapon states., October 24, 2022 

Foreign representatives to the general conference of Mayors for Peace pose for a photograph in Hiroshima on Oct. 20. (The Asahi Shimbun)

While disarmament by nuclear weapon states progresses only at a snail’s pace, Russia has invaded Ukraine and has repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons.

The developments have brought home a reality where nuclear arms could be used again in the manner of what was done to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In light of the situation, we are left to ask what role could be played by local governments, which are closer to citizens than central governments, in striving for the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons.

Mayors for Peace held its 10th General Conference in Hiroshima on Oct. 19-20.

The international nongovernmental organization was founded 40 years ago in the midst of the Cold War in response to a proposal made by Hiroshima’s mayor at a U.N. meeting.

The Hiroshima Appeal, adopted at the meeting last week, expressed alarm at the risk of nuclear war, which it said has been raised to “the highest level,” and emphasized that “the only absolute viable measure for humanity to take against repeated threats of nuclear weapons is their total elimination.”

The document called on nuclear weapon states to fulfill their disarmament obligations spelled out in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which took effect at the initiative of countries with no nuclear arsenals, in lockstep.

Mayors for Peace comprises 8,213 cities from 166 countries and regions, including the United States, Russia and other nuclear weapon states.

While nuclear weapon states and their allies continue to adhere to the nuclear deterrence theory, the organization has called on local governments to unite across national borders and return to the basic principle that nuclear arms should be abolished. It has played a significant role.

A number of cities, particularly in Europe, have moved to join Mayors for Peace since Russia invaded Ukraine.

In a resolution last year, the U.S. Conference of Mayors called on the U.S. government to welcome the TPNW and take immediate action toward nuclear abolition. Cities that are members of Mayors for Peace played a major part in that process.

Mayors for Peace should expand its activities by capitalizing on the current trend of the growing presence of local governments.

The essential thing is to work hand in hand with civil society in sending out messages.

Mayors for Peace has been supported by pleas from survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that the error should never be repeated.

During the meeting in Hiroshima, cases of efforts being made in Japan and abroad were presented. They include how a group of 26 cities in western Tokyo have been working together to archive people’s accounts of their war experiences and to provide peace education.

We hope more local governments will draw on their networks to share and expand their diverse attempts.

Japan, as the only nation that has suffered atomic bombings in war, has a major role to play.

Of all municipalities in the nation and Tokyo’s wards, more than 99 percent, or 1,737, are members of Mayors for Peace.

At a general meeting of Japanese member cities held on the sidelines of the 10th general conference, a written request was approved calling on the government to participate as an observer in the second meeting of the state parties to the TPNW, which is scheduled for next year, and sign and ratify the treaty.

Hiroshima is expected to host the first meeting of a new international group of eminent persons to discuss nuclear disarmament by year-end and a Group of Seven summit next spring.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who will be presiding over both meetings, should take the appeal of Mayors for Peace seriously and discard his stance of continuing to turn his back on the TPNW as soon as possible.

‘The nuclear bomb was so bright I could see the bones in my fingers’: The atomic veterans fighting for justice

November 3, 2022 24 Oct 22, Veterans of British nuclear testing in the Cold War say they – and their children and grandchildren – are still living with the health effects. And 70 years on, they want to see recognition of their part in the missions

RAF veteran John Lax is about to describe what it’s like seeing a nuclear bomb being detonated. “Even if I tell you what it was like,” he tells i, “you probably can’t really imagine it unless you’ve witnessed it yourself.”

Now 81, Lax was a 20-year-old air wireless mechanic when he was sent to take part in Britain’s nuclear testing programme in the Pacific in 1962.

Like many servicemen, he didn’t know there would be bomb tests when he arrived on Christmas Island, then a British territory,  now a republic named Kiribati. 

“We were told to put on long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt,” he says, “and we had these dark goggles which meant you couldn’t see your hand in front of you. Then we had to go and sit on the football pitch with our backs to the detonation, because if we’d faced it, the fireball would have burned our eyes. 

“When the bomb went off, it was so bright that I could see the spine and ribs of the guy sitting a metre in front of me, like an X-ray. I put my hands over my eyes and could see the bones in my fingers, and could see the blood pumping around my hands. It was 4am but the sky turned blue, like it was daytime. The blast was like the sound of a pistol, except 1,000 times louder. After the fireball, a couple of minutes later, you feel the blast and a strong gust of very hot wind – if you had no shirt on it feels like it would burn through your back – then once the fireball starts to dissipate you get the mushroom cloud.”  

This month it is 70 years since Britain first began developing and testing nuclear weapons, becoming the world’s third nuclear power (after the United States and the Soviet Union).

Between 1952 and 1965, detonations were carried out in Australia and the Pacific, in a series of operations involving the participation of more than 20,000 British service personnel, as well as some Fijian and New Zealand soldiers. Inhabitants of the test areas were moved offshore or to protected areas. 

Read more: ‘The nuclear bomb was so bright I could see the bones in my fingers’: The atomic veterans fighting for justice

Lax, who bore witness to 24 nuclear detonations over 75 days, was at the time given a “film badge”, containing photographic material that was intended to measure the levels of radiation the young men had been exposed to.

“They weren’t much good,” he says, “nobody kept a record of who had which badge, and you’d just put it in a box with all the other badges. These badges are pretty much useless in humid conditions, and Christmas Island was a tropical monsoon climate and very humid. So we had no record of radiation exposure.” 

There were no long-term health studies of nuclear test veterans. Those who were there during the tests at Christmas Island were not given medical examinations when they left, and their health was not studied after they finished their service. Many servicemen – and many islanders – later reported severe health problems, which they believed where due to the radioactive fallout from nuclear bomb tests – from rare cancers to organ failure. 

Some said they had fertility issues and difficulty conceiving, and many of those who did have children and grandchildren reported high incidences of birth defects, hip deformities, autoimmune diseases, skeletal abnormalities, spina bifida, scoliosis and limb abnormalities. Lax’s own health has been OK, but he does wonder about his children, who have both undergone surgery for a series of tumours, one at 14 years old.  

Lax’s nuclear veteran friend has three types of cancer, which he says the specialist attributes “100 per cent to exposure to radiation”.

Another veteran, Doug Hern, who witnessed five thermonuclear explosions, says his skeleton is “crumbling” and has skin problems and bone spurs. His daughter died aged 13 from a cancer so rare that doctors didn’t have a name for it, and he believes all of this is due to the genetic effects of radiation exposure. 

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) says it is grateful to Britain’s nuclear test veterans for their service, but maintains there is no valid evidence to link participation in these tests to ill health.

In 1983, the MoD did commission a study of more than 21,000 veterans, but – while the study found a slightly elevated risk of leukaemia – it concluded that the veterans had experienced no ill health as a result of their nuclear exposure. But nuclear veterans and their advocates have questioned the accuracy of the study.

For years, UK veterans have been campaigning with The British Nuclear Test Veterans Association, and Labrats – an organisation for nuclear test survivors – to be formally recognised, urging the Government to honour the nuclear test veterans’ service and sacrifice with an official recognition medal.

“I was a guinea pig,” says Lax, who believes he was placed there to see what would happen to people when the bomb went off.  

The UK is the only nuclear power to deny special recognition and compensation to its bomb test veterans, of which there are estimated to be 1,500 surviving today.

In 2015, Fiji compensated all its veterans of British nuclear tests in the Pacific, with prime minister Frank Bainimarama announcing: “Fiji is not prepared to wait for Britain to do the right thing. We owe it to these men to help them now, not wait for the British politicians and bureaucrats.”

The United States Radiation Exposure Compensation Act has been providing compensation to its nuclear veterans since 1990.     

Ed McGrath, 84, who was based at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, was 18 when he was sent to Australia and then flown to Maralinga to witness a test explosion.

At the Australian base camp we had good food and we had sunshine,” he tells i.

“As an 18 year-old,  you’re travelling to places you can only imagine, but then when we were flown to witness the bombs, that’s where it went dark and nasty. They had the scientists and the engineers there, but I did nothing except stand there being told to put my hands over my eyes and turn my back to the blast. You were going up there to stand in the vicinity of a very powerful bomb 1,000 times more powerful than Hiroshima or Nagasaki.” 

Despite persistent allegations by veterans that they had been used as guinea pigs in the tests, the Ministry of Defence denies this. McGrath is not convinced.

“There was no reason for us to be there, and I think the politicians who are responsible for sending us there must have come to the conclusion that, ‘Well, these lads are the price we’ve got to pay to find out what on earth is going on in the future.’  

Veterans say that Boris Johnson recently at least gave them some hope of recognition, because as one of his last outings as Prime Minister, he met a group of veterans and campaigners and wrote in an open letter: “I’m determined that your achievements will never be forgotten. I have asked that we look again at the case for medallic recognition because it is my firm belief that you all deserve such an honour.” 

Campaigners also showed the Prime Minister evidence that servicemen’s medical records from their time at the tests were missing from archives. Former prime minister Liz Truss, who promised to support their fight when she entered No 10,  had not acted to put these promises into action. After she took office, she dismissed the veterans’ minister Johnny Mercer.

The Government’s Office for Veterans’ Affairs has this month announced it will launch a £250,000 oral history project to chronicle the voices and experiences of those who supported the UK’s effort to develop a nuclear deterrent. However, Lax says this is “too little, too late” and nowhere near what nuclear  veterans should have.

McGrath has spent time worrying and feeling guilty that his family may face health problems because of his exposure to nuclear tests. His granddaughter had a brain tumour when she was a child but he says: “It’s very difficult to link the two directly and it’s not something you want to think about, to be honest.” 

A Brunel University study found in 2021 that nuclear test veterans have double the normal levels of psychological stress for their age. 

A survey and interviews by the Centre for Health Effects of Radiological and Chemical Agents found that most of the veterans report having become anxious in the mid-80s, when evidence first emerged of cancers, rare blood disorders, miscarriages in wives and birth defects in their children.

Yet this July, researchers at Brunel University published a study that showed “no significant increases in the frequency of newly arising genetic changes in the offspring of nuclear test veteran fathers. This result should reassure the study participants and the wider nuclear test veteran community.”

However, it seems that the legacy of nuclear testing has taken its toll in ways that we perhaps don’t yet fully understand, because there are communities of people across the world who feel their lives have been hugely affected by their nuclear veteran fathers and grandfathers. 

Susan Musselwhite, 42, was eight when her father walked out on the family. When she saw him once again in her twenties, he said his leaving had all been down to the mental and physical anguish of being a test veteran on Christmas Island. Musslewhite lives with chronic migraines and Grave’s disease, sometimes barely being able to lift her head off the pillow, spending 90 per cent of her time indoors. “Sometimes I’m like an 80-year-old woman with dementia,” she says. She started to talk to other descendants and discovered that they were saying similar things about their mental and physical health. “I realised I wasn’t going through this alone.  I truly believe that if my dad wasn’t at the test site, I wouldn’t be like this.”

Elin Doyle, an actress who has written a semi-autobiographical new play called Guinea Pigs  about the tests’ generational effect, spent her early years witnessing her nuclear veteran father’s fight for justice. He had a rare form of cardiac sarcoidosis, an inflammatory condition that can result in heart rhythm abnormalities, in his forties. “Many years later,” says Doyle, “he was asked by a specialist whether he’d ever worked with radiation. So somebody else made the link and that was a bit of a shock for him. At that point I’d already had a sibling who was born with a birth defect.” 

Doyle’s father died of heart failure in his sixties. “You can argue it’s because of radiation or not, but he didn’t have the sort of morbidities that would expose him to young heart disease, and we don’t have a history of it in the family, so the belief was that it was linked.” 

Doyle also talks about the many of the veterans’ feelings of betrayal.

“Sending a bunch of 19-year-olds off in the 1950s to work on nuclear tests and assuring them that it’s perfectly safe, and then to find out actually, they probably weren’t safe and quite possibly, the powers that be knew that that was the case – that has an impact on the rest of a veteran’s life.” 

Steve Purse, 47, from Denbighshire, Wales, remembers how his father David, an RAF flight lieutenant, was too scared to talk about his experience of being posted to test nuclear  weapons in 1962 because of the Government secrecy around the nuclear mission.

He did, however, open up about it years later when he developed a skin condition over his arms and legs and the dermatologist asked whether he’d spent most of his life exposed to intense sunlight in the tropics. He said no, he had spent one year in Australia with nuclear tests. The dermatologist said that this was severe radiation damage to the skin.

Steve has a form of short stature, which doctors don’t know how to diagnose. “All they say is that I’m unique,” he says, “but my dad was exposed to alpha-radiation which causes mutation in DNA, so I believe it’s down to that. It feels like nuclear tests have left a legacy of genetic Russian roulette.” 

For veteran McGrath, it feels as though the nuclear tests, and the men who were exposed to them, are a forgotten part of Cold War history. “It’s encouraging, though, that young people are beginning to take notice,” he says.

He did, however, open up about it years later when he developed a skin condition over his arms and legs and the dermatologist asked whether he’d spent most of his life exposed to intense sunlight in the tropics. He said no, he had spent one year in Australia with nuclear tests. The dermatologist said that this was severe radiation damage to the skin.

Steve has a form of short stature, which doctors don’t know how to diagnose. “All they say is that I’m unique,” he says, “but my dad was exposed to alpha-radiation which causes mutation in DNA, so I believe it’s down to that. It feels like nuclear tests have left a legacy of genetic Russian roulette.” 

For veteran McGrath, it feels as though the nuclear tests, and the men who were exposed to them, are a forgotten part of Cold War history. “It’s encouraging, though, that young people are beginning to take notice,” he says.

The misconception about Putin’s big red nuclear button

November 3, 2022

Spectator, Mark Galeotti, 16 Oct 22, There is a common misconception that the leaders of nuclear states have a ‘red button’ that can unleash Armageddon. As Vladimir Putin continues to hint at the use of non-strategic (‘tactical’) nuclear weapons in Ukraine, there is some comfort in the knowledge that it is not so easy.

Ironically, launching the kind of strategic nuclear missiles whose use would likely spiral into global destruction is somewhat easier than deploying the smaller weapons which – however vastly unlikely – could conceivably be used in Ukraine. These lower-yield warheads would need to be reconditioned in one of the 12 ‘Object S’ arsenals across Russia holding them, and then transported to one of 34 ‘base-level storage depots’. From there they would need to be loaded onto a bomber or mated onto a suitable other delivery system.

Given that Russia has not even used them since 1990, no one knows for sure what state they would be in, and likely no one still in service has any practical experience. There would presumably be a group of wary engineers gingerly thumbing their way through faded instruction manuals long before Putin could even give a fire order.

If he ever did, though, the process is mercifully much more complex that simply mashing a button in a moment of pique. Like his US counterpart, Putin is accompanied everywhere by an aide carrying the ‘nuclear briefcase’. Called the Cheget, this actually contains special communications gear that is used to issue and authenticate the president’s orders relating to a nuclear launch.

Chegets, which connect to the Kazbek nuclear command and control network. Were Putin so minded, his aide would activate his Cheget, and he would issue an encrypted launch command, which would be transmitted to them. Although there are protocols to deal with the theoretical possibility that both were out of action, such as if there had already been some decapitating strike against the High Command, generally at least one of the other two would need to validate the command.

Then, the approved order goes to the General Staff, which issues authorisation codes and targeting details. This would usually happen through the Strategic Rocket Forces’ command bunker at Kuntsevo, west of Moscow, or else the backup one at Kosvirsky in the Ural Mountains.

Again, in extremis, the command staff in the bunkers could launch without the command codes, had the General Staff also been eliminated……………………

This may all sound rather cumbersome. It is, and deliberately so, both to make absolutely sure that any commands really have come from the president, and to introduce some friction and delay into the process………………………..

What this also means is that were Putin somehow to go full Dr Strangelove, there are many other human beings in the chain of command. …………………

 One of the secrets of command is never to give an order likely to be disobeyed. For Putin, it would be the beginning of the end, and he must know it.

However brutal Putin’s regime may be, this is not Stalinism. Although the Federal Security Service’s Military Counterintelligence Directorate is more concerned with watching the generals than hunting foreign spies, there are no hard-eyed political commissars waiting to put a bullet in the back of any officer’s head who disobeys an order. And that should be a comfort in these uncomfortable times.

Cuban Missile Crisis 60th anniversary: How world teetered on nuclear abyss

November 3, 2022

9News, By Richard Wood • Senior Journalist Oct 15, 2022

“……………………………………… Sixty years ago, the flashpoint was Cuba and the deployment of Russian nuclear missiles to the island – just 180km from the US mainland.

Here is a look at how the dramatic events unfolded over a tense 13 days.

………………………………………………………. On Friday, October 26, 1962, fears of a US invasion were so great that Cuban leader Fidel Castro ordered American reconnaissance planes to be shot down.

The end game came in the form of a public US promise the next day not to invade Cuba and a private – long denied – promise to remove US missiles from Turkey in return for a Soviet pledge to pull out their nuclear missiles from Cuba.

How the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded

October 16: Photos taken by a US spy plane that show nuclear-armed missiles on Cuba are shown to President John F. Kennedy.

October 18: Kennedy receives an assurance from the Soviet government that his country is providing only defensive aid to Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

October 22: In a TV address, Kennedy says the weapons are a “clear and present danger” to the US and its allies.

October 23: US naval forces deploy around Cuba to enforce their blockade

October 25: Russian freighters bound for Cuba turn back.

October 26: Nikita Khrushchev writes to Kennedy offering to remove the missiles if the US lifts the blockade and pledges not to invade Cuba.

October 27: Kennedy receives a second letter from the Soviet government demanding much tougher terms. A US spy plane is shot down over Cuba and its pilot dies.

October 28: Russian state radio announces Khrushchev will withdraw the missiles in exchange for a non-invasion pledge by the US.

International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons 2022: History, Significance and Celebration

November 3, 2022 Lifestyle Desk

The day reminds people of the dangers of nuclear weapons and urges world governments to cooperate and bring about a permanent and complete nuclear disarmament.

nternational Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons is observed on September 26 every year. The devastating impact of the 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings is well known. This apart, over 2000 nuclear tests have been conducted to date; the last one in 2017, by North Korea. Such tests have caused cancers, birth defects and chronic diseases, among other illnesses in people, and severely damaged the natural world.

Though there has been a reduction in the number of deployed nuclear weapons since the peak of the Cold War, an estimated 12,705 nuclear weapons still exist in the world as of 2022, with the United States and Russia, who appear to be on opposing sides, owning most of them.


The United Nations’ (UN) objective to achieve total nuclear disarmament was underlined in the first resolution of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 1946. Nuclear disarmament was made a priority objective in the first Special Session of the UNGA on disarmament in 1978. The nations which possess nuclear weapons include a doctrine of nuclear deterrence in their security policies.

To raise public awareness about nuclear weapons, the UNGA, in 2009, declared August 29 as the International Day against Nuclear Tests. Then, in December 2013, the UNGA declared September 26 as the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons to mark the high-level UNGA meeting on nuclear disarmament on September 26 that year.


Each year, the UN member states, civil society, parliamentarians, non-governmental organisations, mass media, academia, and individuals celebrate and promote the international day through various educational activities.


The International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons reminds people of the dangers of nuclear weapons and urges world governments to cooperate and bring about a permanent and complete nuclear disarmament.

Nuclear Disarmament

Even though total nuclear weapons elimination remains a dream for now, the 1987 Christopher Reeve-starring film, ‘Superman IV: The Quest for Peace,’ (1987) shows the title character destroying all of Earth’s nuclear weapons. People, however, not aliens, are needed to establish permanent peace. The International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons rekindles that dream each year.