Maralinga is part of the Woomera Prohibited Area in South Australia and where the British Nuclear Tests were carried out between 1956 and 1963. It is approximately 800 kilometres north-west of Adelaide (South Australia). A total of seven nuclear tests were performed with approximate yields ranging from 1 to 27 kilotons of TNT. There were hundreds of other minor trials many of which were intended to investigate the effects of fire or non-nuclear explosions on atomic weapons. Other nuclear tests in Australia were held in Western Australia (Monte Bello) in 1952 and 1956 and at Emu Field (South Australia) in 1953.
The site was contaminated with radioactive material and a clean-up was undertaken in 1967. In 1985 a test found that significant levels of radiation still existed in many Maralinga test areas. Another clean-up was undertaken which was completed in 2000 at a cost of $108 million. In 1994 the local Maralinga Tijanutja people were paid $13.5 million compensated for any long term health effects that they might suffer.
A veil of secrecy hung over the Maralinga test site. In the late 70’s there were changes as to how journalists reported the British tests at Maralinga. There have been many documentaries on these tests and they show dignitaries and government personnel standing not far away and in full view of the test. Yes, cancer was a result of this folly. By 1980 some Australian servicemen and traditional Aboriginal owners of the land were suffering blindness, sores and illnesses such as cancer. It was agreed that these sicknesses were due to exposure to nuclear testing.
Australia is set to ease access restrictions to the Prohibited Area – an area larger than England – to unlock and estimated $35 billion in untapped mineral resources. Some other estimates are as high as $1 trillion. These minerals include iron ore, gold as well as many other minerals.
The Woomera Prohibited Area covers 127,000 square km of mostly barren desert and has been closed to the public since 1947. This sprawling site, which is almost free from electronic signal interference, was also chosen this year as the test site for the joint British-French unmanned supersonic stealth drone Taranis, under development by BAE systems.
Under new access arrangements the Military would remain in charge of the area, but a permit system would give civilians the right to enter Woomera. As well as miners, indigenous Aboriginal residents can also enter the zone, and environmental or other researches.