ATOMIC TESTING CLEANUPS
Various cleanups of the Atomic testing sites have taken place. These personnel need to be recognised as Atomic Veterans due to their exposure to the toxic waste that they were tasked with cleaning up.
Maralinga (Australia), Christmas Island (Kiribati) and Enewetak (Bikini Atoll) have been cleaned up.
These cleanups were designed to remove as much radioactive material as possible.
The cleanup of the Enewetak Atoll was to move radioactive fallout and debris from the surface of the islands of Enewetak Atoll to a 370 foot diameter concrete containment structure on Runit Island and to create a number of artificial reefs in the lagoon.
This three year mission allowed the dri-Enewetak Islanders to return to almost all of the 40 islands in their beautiful homeland of Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
The U.S. Government evacuated Enewetak Atoll of its inhabitants shortly after the end of World War II so the atoll could be used as a major proving ground for the U.S. Government’s Atomic Bomb Testing of over 40 atomic bombs during the 1940’s and 1950’s.
There were 15 Vixen B trials, all conducted in the period from 1961 to 1963. In twelve of the tests, both plutonium and uranium were in the radioactive mix; the other three contained only uranium. In each trial, a nuclear device was placed on a large steel structure known as a featherbed, erected on a concrete firing pad. The device was detonated in a manner that prevented a nuclear explosion. The heat of the explosion melted the plutonium and uranium and shot radioactive debris up to 1,000 meters into the air, where it was caught by the wind and spread far and wide. The featherbeds were severely damaged and contaminated and were buried along with the firing pads.
Following these tests, hundreds of tons of contaminated steel, concrete, and other items were reported to have been buried in 21 shallow pits at Taranaki, and hundreds of square kilometers of land were contaminated with plutonium and uranium.
In 1967, the British conducted Operation Brumby, a “final” cleanup of the site. The Australian government accepted that, except for some small fenced “islands”, the site was clean and absolved Britain of any further responsibility. Surveys in the 1980s by the Australian Radiation Laboratory showed that the site was far from clean and safe and their findings led eventually to the latest cleanup project.
A second cleanup of Maralinga was undertaken in 2000 at a cost of AUD $108 million. Debate continued over the safety of the site and the long-term health effects on the traditional Aboriginal custodians of the land and former personnel. In 1994, the Australian government paid compensation amounting to $13.5 million to the traditional owners, the Maralinga Tjarutja people. Their land was fully restored to them in 2014.
Christmas Island (Kiribati) was cleaned by contractors Aspinwall, in 1998, and Enviros, in 2004, and radioactive waste was shipped to the UK, to Middlesborough and placed in landfill.
The UK Ministry of Defence then funded private contractors in 2004 to conduct hazardous waste remediation on Kiritimati. However, other than disposing of radium dials on equipment, this clean-up effort did not deal with radioactive or UXO contamination. Residents of Kiritimati claim that further military detritus remains offshore or buried underground.
Maralinga is a tract of Aboriginal land in South Australia that was commandeered by the Australian government to be used by Britain for the development of atomic bombs. The Australian government had its own aspirations to possess nuclear weapons and perhaps hoped that this would be an avenue for their acquisition.
Seven atomic bombs were exploded at Maralinga; perhaps 25% to 30% of the plutonium in those devices would have been fissioned (i.e. split, with the release of energy). The remainder would have been spread around the ground zeroes (the point exactly above or below the exploding bombs), or carried into the air to be deposited later as fallout. Many development trials were also conducted at three sites within Maralinga (Taranaki, TM, and Wewak). Those at the two latter sites resulted in plutonium spread over relatively small areas but a series of trials at Taranaki, code named Vixen B, were much more damaging.