The Guardian June 20, 2001


Cold war nuclear secrets oozing out

by Peter Mac

A report that surfaced last week in Britain reveals that bone samples from 
stillborn Australian infants were collected without parental consent and 
taken to the United States to monitor the effects of post-war nuclear 
testing. The report indicates that from 1958 to 1978, in a program called 
the Sunshine Project, the US collected such samples from a number of 
countries, in order to assess the level and global distribution of the 
nuclear isotope Strontium 90.

US nuclear scientist, Dr. Laurence Kulp, has confirmed the existence of the 
program, on which he worked. He has also confirmed the testing of infant 
bone ash, and has admitted that the project "probably" involved Australia, 
since it was necessary to obtain samples from both hemispheres.

Kulp's later statement that samples were not collected without parental 
consent is hardly plausible, since seeking consent would have put the 
secrecy of the project at risk.

There is no record of parental consent ever having been sought for such 
purposes in Australia. In fact, far from parental consent being sought for 
use of infant remains, until quite recently stillborn deaths were not even 
recorded in most Australian States.

The former President of the Australian College of Obstetricians and 
Gynaecologists has also confirmed that the bodies of stillborn children 
were often used in experiments at that time.

Moreover, new documentary evidence contradicts Dr Kulp's statement.

The British report quotes official documents that outline the secrecy of 
the project and specifically name Australia as a contributing country.

Dr William Liddy, the project's originator, is officially recorded as 
having told a 1955 US Atomic Energy Commission conference on the Sunshine 
Project that: "Human samples are of prime importance and if anyone knows 
how to do a job of body snatching, they will be really serving their 
country...

"We could develop a program in Australia, South America, Africa, in the 
Near East and in Scandinavian countries. Within a matter of three or four 
months...we could get 10 or 20 samples per month from these sites..."

Secret Queensland nuclear test?

In 1963, some eight years after Dr William Liddy's address to the US Atomic 
Energy conference on the Sunshine Project, an experiment was conducted in a 
remote far North Queensland rainforest.

The stated aim of the experiment, code-named Operation Blowdown, was to 
replicate the effects of a nuclear explosion on a tropical rainforest, 
using conventional explosives.

Contemporary newsreel footage of the aftermath of the experiment showed 
Australian soldiers standing triumphant in a vast landscape of flattened 
and blackened trees.

The subsequent public reaction was one of astonishment and a degree of 
anger at such apparently pointless and expensive devastation in a pristine 
natural environment.

However, in hindsight it is likely that the experiment was intended to test 
the feasibility of the use of nuclear weapons to clear the jungles of 
Vietnam, an operation which was ultimately carried out with the aid of the 
hideous pollutant Agent Orange.

It should be remembered that by the early 1960s, the evil consequences for 
those living near nuclear test sites were patently obvious.

Suitable sites in politically co-operative countries for testing nuclear 
weapons on rainforests were relatively few and far between, and there was 
widespread and growing public opposition to the 1950s testing of nuclear 
weapons within Australia.

Prime Minister Bob Menzies himself was fully aware of the risks to the 
public in such tests.

In 1953 he sent a panicky telegram to the British Government when the 
nuclear fallout from the 1953 Maralinga test looked as though it would 
drift over Adelaide.

However, the Australian Government of the time was a sycophant client of 
the US, entirely capable of covering up the real intentions of the test.

The mild controversy aroused by the 1963 test is now likely to be dwarfed 
by the public reaction to recent reports that the test was no "simulation", 
and that the explosive used was, in fact, a small nuclear device!

It has now been revealed that the medal citation to Australian soldier 
sergeant Brian Hussey for his key role in Operation Blowdown described the 
explosive unequivocally as an "air-burst nuclear device". (Hussey died some 
years after the blast from multiple carcinoma.)

Recently declassified documents in the British National Archives also 
describe the operation as "an investigation into the effects of nuclear 
explosions in a tropical rainforest".

New Scientist magazine has also quoted Australian archive documents 
which use the same description.

What a neat thing, to set off a nuclear device, all the while proclaiming 
it to be just a very large conventional weapon! If the story is true, it 
appears that Australia's conservative leaders have kept the Australian 
public in the dark about this nasty little cold war secret for nearly 40 
years.

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