UK 'tampered with evidence of nuclear tests'
By Kathy Marks in Sydney
14 June 2001
A document given by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to a royal commission into Britain's atomic tests in Australia in the 1950s was doctored to remove details of Australian servicemen exposed to high levels of radiation.
The royal commission which reported in 1985 was set up by the Australian government after pressure from test veterans who claimed that they suffer from accelerated rates of cancer and other radiation- induced illnesses.
British scientists monitored the exposure of some servicemen to radioactive fall-out after they witnessed nuclear blasts at two sites Maralinga, in the South Australian desert, and Monte Bello, off the coast of Western Australia and worked in contaminated areas.
The MoD submitted a 41-page document to the royal commission that was supposed to be a complete list of Australian personnel, with daily radiation dosages recorded against their names. The original classified document, which is held by the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire, contains a list that runs to at least 75 pages.
The Independent has seen a portion of the original document. A comparison with the royal commission's version shows names have been deleted, including those of men who recorded high radiation dosages.
The maximum permissible dosage was 0.5 millirems per year of radiation absorbed by the body. Yet some of the servicemen removed from the list received as much as 5.2mrem in a single hit. Those names struck out include members of the Indoctrination Force, a group of officers who watched detonations at Maralinga from close quarters, and personnel who were at Monte Bello for the first test, Operation Hurricane, and who are known to have been exposed to high levels of radiation.
Britain exploded 12 atomic bombs on Australian territory between 1952 and 1958, with tests also done on Christmas Island in the South Pacific. Some 22,000 British and 16,000 Australian servicemen took part in the trials.
The dosages were based mainly on data from radiation detection badges, which were worn by the men and contained a small piece of negative film. Some people were also swept with Geiger counters after they returned from contaminated areas. Many of the men were informed, misleadingly, that their badges would change colour if they were exposed to a dangerous level of radiation.
The royal commission found that only 40 per cent of badges functioned properly. Sheila Gray, secretary of the British Nuclear Tests Veterans Association, whose late husband, Frank, suffered multiple health problems after being sent to Monte Bello in 1952, said the badges were not taken seriously. Mr Gray told her that after he watched one detonation from a ship, the Narvik, "they threw the badges into a bucket, and when the bucket was full, they tipped it into the sea".
In Canberra, meanwhile, there were calls yesterday for an investigation into allegations reported by The Independent this week that disabled people were flown from Britain to Maralinga and used in experiments on the effects of radiation.
Lyn Allison, a member of the opposition Democrats in the Senate, said: "If it is true that people with disabilities were brought to Australia ... then there are some very serious questions about how they came to be here." A Royal Air Force pilot who claims to have flown disabled people to Australia has been identified as Allen Robinson, who went on to work in disability services in Perth.