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NZ Involvement In Maralinga Atomic Tests

15 May 2001

Further Information On NZ Involvement In Maralinga Atomic Tests

The Minister of Veterans' Affairs Mark Burton this afternoon updated Parliament on the information that has been collated to date regarding New Zealand involvement in the British Atomic Test programme in Australia in the 1950s.

"This information-gathering process is ongoing," Mark Burton said, "and has involved searches of New Zealand archives, direct liaison with British and American officials, and with the University of Dundee researcher Sue Rabbitt-Roff.

"We have established that 5 New Zealand officers were sent to Maralinga in September 1956 to observe British atomic tests, and we have confirmed their identities.

"The involvement of the New Zealanders was never a secret – indeed, it was extensively covered by the newspapers of the time.

"We have established that New Zealand participation was initiated by Defence officials when they learnt that there would be observers at upcoming British atomic tests in Australia.

"New Zealand asked to send up to 20 observers and was offered 5 places.

"It appears that there was little detail about what the observers would actually do at the test site. We do know that at least 2 of the 5 New Zealanders participated in "clothing trials".

"We've also established that 2 New Zealand personnel attended atomic tests at Maralinga the following year. They too have been identified.

"Work continues to establish a full account of the facts," Mark Burton said.

"As a first priority, the Office of Veterans' Affairs will be following up the individual veterans or their families, to establish their circumstances, and to ensure that any appropriate support is available.

"It may also be that the men themselves are able to provide useful information.

"A key outstanding question is the nature of specific activities after the explosions, involving the use of protective clothing, and the degree of informed consent.

"The archival material suggests that personnel were briefed on their tasks and the nature of the hazards to which they might be exposed, and that radiation monitoring was carried out.

"New Zealand authorities were informed at the time that the five New Zealand personnel had all been monitored and that very low levels of radiation exposure were recorded.

"In 1985, a Royal Commission Into British Nuclear Tests in Australia was held, which reviewed the Maralinga testing programme. I have asked officials to check the findings of that Royal Commission.

"We will also have ongoing contact with British and Australian authorities, " Mark Burton said.


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