The Guardian September 12, 2001


Gruesome nuclear secrets revealed

by Bob Briton

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has 
recently confirmed reports in Adelaide's local press which provide 
disturbing detail of some of the practices linked to the atomic tests held 
in the State during the 1950s.

In a report released last week, the Agency revealed that Adelaide medical 
institutions were given secret payments to encourage pathologists to supply 
bones to the Australian Radiation Laboratory for testing.

The sealed bags of chest, leg and spinal bones, from babies and adults were 
sent for testing to determine whether highly radioactive strontium 90 was 
present.

This by-product of the British atomic tests was thrown into the atmosphere 
along with the mushroom clouds and is known to cause leukemia and other 
cancers, particularly in children.

The secret payments of $50 a month and later $100 a month were given to 
pathologists as an incentive to keep up a steady stream of bones from the 
Royal Adelaide Hospital, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the Institute of 
Medical and Veterinary Science and the former Adelaide Children's Hospital.

Initially the bones were incinerated and sent to the US and Britain for 
testing before Australia got its own facilities in the early 1960s. 

Adelaide reportedly had this role as part of an international operation 
code named Project Sunshine that involved the collection of 21,830 bones 
from bodies in Australia and Papua New Guinea between 1957 and 1978.

Needless to say, in most cases no consent was obtained from the families 
for the removal of the bones and it appears that a number of families have 
sought legal advice about compensation. 

The report follows on the heels of a series of highly revealing articles in 
the Adelaide "Advertiser" in June and July. The revelations were based on a 
number of classified documents obtained by the daily "Advertiser" and 
caused public outrage and a lot of editorial hand wringing.

The latest coverage does not mention claims that organs, especially thyroid 
glands, were removed from dead children and adults and tested for traces of 
caesium 137  another radioactive material linked to deformities and 
cancer.

Nor does it discuss information contained in the classified documents, 
which showed that testing of milk supplies, flour, water, rainfall, soil 
and the thyroid glands of sheep and cattle confirmed the presence of 
strontium 90, caesium 137 and radioactive iodine 131 in all state capitals 
every year between 1957 and 1971.

Reports from the Atomic Weapons Tests Safety Committee established by 
Menzies and headed up by Sir Ernest Titterton considered the dangers 
presented at the time by these radioactive elements at the levels recorded 
"to be so trivial, they are meaningless". 

In view of the suffering of the weapons tests veterans and Aboriginal 
people affected, and the mounting evidence of cover-up concerning the whole 
weapons testing program, it is doubtful anyone would be reassured by that 
voice from the past.

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