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Sunday, 10 June, 2001, 00:44 GMT 01:44 UK
Australia tested nukes on bodies
Warning sign at the Maralinga nuclear site
Thousands of bodies were thought to have been used for tests
By Dominic Hughes in Sydney

Australia's radiation safety authority has confirmed that the bodies of thousands of children and adults were used in scientific nuclear tests without parental consent.

Scientists say the experiments lasted 20 years and involved reducing the bones of dead children to ash.

Bones of people were collected from pathology laboratories in the capital cities and these were analysed

Dr John Loy, Arpansa
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (Arpansa) has confirmed that autopsy samples from Australian children who had died were used in studies in the United States, Great Britain and Australia.

With the approval of the Australian Government, bone samples were taken from the bodies of children from across Australia before being reduced to ash and sent overseas for analysis.

The practice ran from the 1950s up until 1978.

Nuclear fallout

Dr John Loy, the Agency's chief executive, says the experiments were to gauge the effects of the fall out from nuclear weapons.

In the standards of the time I don't think the idea of consent was even thought of

Dr John Loy
"One of the things that was done was the measurement of strontium 90, which is an isotope from bombs, in bones... and bones of people were collected from pathology laboratories in the capital cities and these were analysed - for many years they had been sent... ashes of them were sent to the US and UK for analysis and subsequently the analysis was done in Australia."

The bone samples were taken from children and babies because the skeleton is more likely to take up strontium 90 during periods of growth.

Dr Loy believes that thousands of bodies were involved, although precise figures are not yet available.

But one aspect of the experiments that has shocked Australians is the lack of public consultation.


The scientists never sought the consent of bereaved parents, something that would be thought unacceptable today. Dr Loy says that the standards of the era were very different.

"I have to emphasis that this programme wasn't done secretly, it was reported on, it was reported in the scientific literature, it was reported in public reports. It wasn't a secret but I think in the standards of the time I don't think the idea of consent was even thought of."

Australia's involvement with nuclear experiments has been long and controversial.

Parts of the Australian desert are still contaminated and unsafe for human habitation after the British tested nuclear weapons there in the post-war years.

Australian servicemen have also discovered they were subjected to experiments without their informed consent. These latest revelations will only add to the unease about Australian participation in nuclear research.

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See also:

12 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia confronts UK over N-tests
28 Jan 00 | UK
The nuclear 'guinea pigs'
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