1. Reports surface about the use of humans as guinea pigs in nuclear experiments from the 1950s to the 1970s.
2. In a documentary, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres goes further than any other Israeli official in confirming that Israel has nuclear capability and discloses for the first time details about Israel’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.
3. The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) admits for the first time partial details of seven politically sensitive accidents involving British nuclear weapon, drawing attention to an institution shrouded in secrecy and cover-up.
4. The French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) admits that Moruroa Atoll is threatened with collapse because of sustained nuclear testing.
5. The Norwegian Radiation Protection Agency (NRPA) reveals that radioactive waste from a nuclear research plant in Norway has been wrongly fed into a town’s sewage system for nine years.
1. Humans Used as Guinea Pigs in Nuclear Experiments
The UK Ministry of Defense admitted on 12 May that it exposed British, Australian and New Zealand servicemen to radiation in tests during the 1950s and 1960s. A spokesperson for the Ministry denied that the soldiers were used as guinea pigs, stating that each man gave his consent to participate. The experiments tested the effectiveness of protective clothing during radiation experiments. According to the Ministry of Defense, officers were ordered to walk, run and crawl through contaminated nuclear test sites at Monte Bello Island and Maralinga to determine what types of clothing would give best protection against radioactive contamination. Both the Australian and New Zealand governments demanded a full inquiry into the experiments and announced that they will examine links between illnesses suffered by servicemen and exposure to radiation.
Although previously thought to be used for the first time during the Gulf War, the Australian government confirmed on 28 May that more than eight tons of depleted uranium were blasted into the air during nuclear tests at Maralinga in the 1950s. The government announced that it will prepare a study of those who may have been affected, including soldiers and Aboriginal and civilian populations in the area at the time of testing. The findings of the study will determine eligibility for compensation under military or safety stipulations. An Australian royal commission first discovered the use of depleted uranium in atomic tests at Maralinga some 14 years ago, but the government failed to take any action at the time.
On 24 June, The Sunday Times (UK) revealed that some 45,000 people, mainly Soviet soldiers, were deliberately exposed in 1954 to radiation from a bomb twice as powerful as the one dropped on Hiroshima just nine years before. At 9:33 a.m. on 14 September 1954, a Soviet Tu-4 bomber dropped a 40,000-ton atomic weapon from 25,000 feet. The bomb exploded 1,200 feet above Totskoye testing range near the provincial town of Orenburg. Thousands are believed to have died in the immediate aftermath and in the years following. The pilot flying the Tu-4 bomber developed leukemia and his co-pilot developed bone cancer. Marshal Georgi Zhukov, Stalin’s most senior World War II Commander, safely witnessed the blast from an underground nuclear bunker. Moments after the blast, Zhukov ordered 600 tanks, 600 armored personnel carriers and 320 planes to move forward to the epicenter in order to stage a mock battle. The experiment was designed to test the performance of military hardware and soldiers in the event of a nuclear war.
The UK Atomic Energy Authority admitted on 30 September that thighbones were removed from the bodies of dead babies without parents’ consent for testing from 3,400 children between 1954 and 1970. The bones were collected from hospitals throughout the UK to allow scientists to establish what effect the fallout from nuclear tests being carried out around the world was having on health. Doctors feared that the radioactive fallout from nuclear tests was contaminating milk and could be building up to dangerous levels in children’s bones.
2. France Cooperated with Israel in Launching Israel’s Nuclear Program
At a time of rising tensions in the Middle East, Israel’s broadcasting media aired a television documentary in November in which Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres discloses for the first time details about Israel’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. In the documentary, Peres goes further than any other Israeli official in confirming that the country has nuclear capability. Along with French officials, Peres gives details about cooperation between Israel and France in launching Israel’s nuclear program.
The showing of the film may be a sign that the Israeli government is beginning to relax its rule of absolute silence on its nuclear program. Mordechai Vanunu is still serving an 18-year sentence in jail for revealing in 1986 that Israel had a nuclear program and more than 100 warheads. The makers of the film also believe that the government cooperated in the making of the film because of concerns over international terrorism and the expectation that Iran could have nuclear capability in a few years.
The film reveals that France helped Israel with its nuclear program in exchange for support in the Suez War. In September 1956, Shimon Peres, then a Defense Ministry Official, accompanied Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to Sevres, France for a meeting with French and British delegations over the Suez crisis. In the documentary, Peres states, “In Sevres, when it was all over, I told Ben-Gurion, ‘There’s one piece of unfinished business: the nuclear issue. Before you agree, let me finish that.’ Of the four countries which at that time had a nuclear capability-the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and France-only France was willing to help us.”
Until Israel’s agreement with France, no country had supplied another with the means for developing nuclear capability. Jean-Francois Daguzan, Deputy Director of the Foundation for Strategic Research, said the agreement was kept secret for some 30 years. He stated, “It was well known in military and political circles, but it didn’t become public knowledge until the mid-1980s after a book was published about that era and the agreement was mentioned. There was no suggestion that France had given Israel its nuclear capacity, but it had certainly helped the country acquire it.”
Israel still will not officially confirm or deny making nuclear weapons at the plant near Dimona. Israel’s policy of ambiguity is designed to deter Arabs from attacking Israel while at the same time avoiding the political fallout of becoming a declared nuclear power.
3. UK Ministry of Defense Releases Carefully Worded List of Nuclear Accidents
In July, the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) admitted for the first time some details of seven politically sensitive accidents involving British nuclear weapons. However, the MoD admitted that it only released partial information, drawing attention to an institution shrouded in secrecy and cover-up.
In 1974, a torpedo was dropped on top of a nuclear weapon on a British nuclear submarine, the HMS Tiger, anchored off Valetta Harbor, Malta. According to Shaun Gregory, a Bradford University academic, if the torpedo had exploded or caused a fire, it could have detonated the high explosive within the nuclear weapon, scattering radioactive debris for several miles around. The Maltese government was not told about the accident.
In August 1977, a Polaris missile was dropped while being hoisted onto a submarine at a nuclear weapons depot at Coulport, Argyll and Bute. The military documented both events as “handling incidents.”
The MoD documented three road accidents involving military convoys carrying nuclear weapons–in Wiltshire in January 1987, on the M8 near Glasgow in August 1983, and near the Coulport depot in April 1973.
In 1974 and 1981, protective casings around Polaris missiles were “compressed” on board submarines at sea, but no other details are given.
According to the MoD, a full description of these incidents can not be released to protect the “operational security” of the weapons. However, some information was released under a freedom of information request by “The Guardian” in a carefully worded list to “allay public worries.” The MoD insists that the accidents did not endanger public safety since none of the weapons were damaged or leaked radioactive material.
However, the MoD has refused to give any details of other mishaps because they did not “involve any threat to public safety”. In 1992, an inquiry by Ronald Oxburgh, the then MoD chief scientific adviser, found that since 1960 there have been around 20 mishaps.
4. Moruroa Atoll Threatened With Collapse
Reports that surfaced in March from the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) admit that the rock of Mururoa Atoll is threatened with collapse because of sustained nuclear testing. Between 1966 and 1996, France exploded 178 nuclear bombs on Mururoa and Fangataufa Atolls. Of those tests, 137 were below ground explosions and 41 were atmospheric.
An official spokesman for the CEA stated: “We are observing an acceleration of the natural, seaward progression of certain perimeter areas in the northeastern zone, as well as compression at the surface. There has definitely been a weakening of the atoll rock that has been amplified by the nuclear tests.” The atoll has been dotted with seismic sensors, linked to Paris by satellite, to give early warning should a major collapse occur.
For many years, environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists have warned that the Atoll could collapse and release radioactive debris because of the French nuclear testing. Matt Robson, Disarmament Minister of New Zealand, said that New Zealand first expressed concerns as early as 1973 and had known about the damage when a report was released in 1998. In 1999, the International Geomechanical Commission released a report on plutonium “hotspots” and the risk of portions of the atoll collapsing, possibly causing tidal waves. New Zealand announced that it will formally ask the French Government to explain the reports of the atoll’s possible collapse.
5. Plumbing Mistake Creates Nuclear Fertilizer
The Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority (NRPA) revealed on 17 April that radioactive waste from a nuclear research plant in Norway has been wrongly fed into a town’s sewage system for nine years. As a result, some of the radioactive waste ended up as farm fertilizer. The NRPA stated that waste water was incorrectly linked in 1991 to a sewage system in Halden when it should have been pumped directly into the sea. The “plumbing” mistake was not rectified until 1999. Officials deny that there has been any risk to human health, but ecologists are demanding radiation tests for local farmers. Mr. Sverre Hornkjoel, a scientist for NRPA, said that the mistake was made by municipality officials, but Norway’s nuclear industry is ultimately responsible.