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South Australia
Red Earth Desert.jpg
Landscape of Maralinga site
Maralinga is located in South Australia
Coordinates 30°09′S 131°35′E / 30.150°S 131.583°E / -30.150; 131.583Coordinates: 30°09′S 131°35′E / 30.150°S 131.583°E / -30.150; 131.583

Maralinga, in the remote western areas of South Australia, was the site, measuring about 3,300 square kilometres (1,300 sq mi) in area, of British nuclear tests in the mid-1950s.

In January 1985 native title was granted to the Maralinga Tjarutja, a southern Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal Australian people, over some land, but around the same time, the McClelland Royal Commission identified significant residual nuclear contamination at some sites. Under an agreement between the governments of the United Kingdom and Australia, efforts were made to clean up the site before the Maralinga people resettled on the land in 1995. The main community, which includes a school, is Oak Valley. There are still concerns that some of the ground is still contaminated, despite two attempts at cleanup.

Nuclear tests and cleanup

Maralinga was the scene of UK nuclear testing and was contaminated with radioactive waste in the 1950s and early 1960s. Maralinga was surveyed by Len Beadell in the early 1950s, and followed the survey of Emu Field, which was further north and where the first two tests were conducted.

On 27 September 1956, Operation Buffalo commenced at Maralinga, as Emu Field was found to be too remote a site. The operation consisted of the testing of four fission bombs. Two were exploded from towers; one at ground level and one was released by a Royal Air Force Vickers Valiant bomber from a height of 30,000 ft (9,144 m). This was the first launching of a British atomic weapon from an aircraft.

Operation Antler followed in 1957. Antler was designed to test the triggering mechanisms of the weapons. Three tests began in September. The first two tests were conducted from towers; the last was suspended from balloons. Yields from the weapons were 1 kiloton, 6 kilotons and 25 kilotons respectively.

Participants in the test program were prohibited from disclosing details of its undertakings. Risking incarceration, nuclear veteran Avon Hudson became a whistle-blower and spoke out to the media in the 1970s. His disclosures helped pave the way towards a public inquiry into the tests and their legacy.

The McClelland Royal Commission of 1984–1985 identified significant residual contamination at some sites. British and Australian servicemen were purposely exposed to fallout from the blasts, to study radiological effects. The local Aboriginal people have claimed they were poisoned by the tests and, in 1994, the Australian Government reached a compensation settlement with Maralinga Tjarutja of $13.5 million in settlement of all claims in relation to the nuclear testing. Previously many of these facts were kept from the public.

Despite the governments of Australia and the UK paying for two decontamination programs, concerns have been expressed that some areas of the Maralinga test sites are still contaminated 10 years after being declared 'clean'.


  • Temperature from 6.5 °C in winter to 44.7 °C in summer; overnight minimum of -3 C in winter.
  • Rainfall average 0.75 mm – 1.25 mm
  • Parkinson, Alan 2007. Maralinga: Australia’s Nuclear Waste Cover-up
  • Mattingley, Christobel; Yalata & Oak Communities. 2009. Maralinga: The Anangu Story. Allen & Unwin – a children's book about the history and culture of the region, the nuclear testing controversy and the region's original owners
  • Agreements, Treaties and Negotiated Settlements (ATNS) project at the Indigenous Studies Program, The University of Melbourne

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