Number 15 - Follow up letter on irradiation of ships of the Special Squadron.

This is number 15 of a 15 part blog series, created by Mr Roy Sefton, Chair of the New Zealand Nuclear Test Veterans Association.

Earlier I posted the original letter 8th Nov 1952, advising Admiralty in London, of the irradiation of ships of the Special Squadron at Monte Bello, during the British atomic weapons tests in Australia.

The Special Squadron was tasked with hazardous duties that resulted in them being contaminated by ionizing radiation at the Australian Monte Bello atomic test site. While there is an attempt to play down the contamination it is obvious that there is serious concern about the situation.

Previously, Dr Karl Morgan, the American adviser to the British, had warned of rope, canvas, wood, rust, etc as being dangerous retainers of radiation. The letter below states ships of the Special Squadron threw contaminated rope and canvas into the sea.

The letter in part states:

“Decontamination has or is being carried out and any residual radiation is being sealed in by painting or varnishing, where practicable. Contaminated cordage and canvas has been jettisoned”.

“The radiation intensities given in the Appendix were recorded between four and five weeks after the explosion of the atomic weapon. Contamination will decrease with time, as a result of water through ?????? accelerate the reduction”.

“While detectable contamination remains it will constitute a potential ingestion or inhalation hazard...”

So for four or five weeks after the detonation, the crews are still living in ships that are irradiated.

Efforts to remove some contaminated areas include painting or varnishing over affected areas, ditching fibrous materials such as rope and canvas, and waiting for the radiation levels to decay over time. The most concerning issue is the danger to the crew on ingestion or inhalation of radio-active contaminants by the crew. The decades long statement by the British of there not being any dangers from radiation of the servicemen who served at the testing programmes is absolute rubbish.

The lack of concern for the ships crews is obvious. I find it difficult to believe that there was any meaningful increase in the safety and use of servicemen who later served at the British Nuclear Weapons Trials at Operation Grapple at Malden and Christmas Islands. Two Royal New Zealand Navy frigates served there.

Roy Sefton QSM Chair New Zealand Nuclear Test Veterans Association

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