Times Past: December 1, 1985

Miriam Webber
By Miriam Webber
December 31 2021 - 2:00pm
Times Past: December 1, 1985

The front page of this newspaper, on New Year's Day 1985, featured a story outlining that the Australia Defence Department had denied a report that Britain exploded two small-scale hydrogen bombs in the Monte Bello Islands off the Western Australian coast during the 1950s. The report said a Defence Department document held by the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests described the two tests as being "thermonuclear devices which contained little of the fusion materials". But a senior department spokesman said the day earlier that all British tests on Australian territory were atomic and it was a "beat up" to describe the second Monte Bello explosion as even a small-scale hydrogen bomb. He said he knew of no departmental document given to the Royal Commission which had described the Monte Bello Islands tests, in May and June 1956, as thermo-nuclear. The spokesman said it was already public knowledge that the second test in the islands in 1956 had contained some "light elements" such as deuterium which are necessary for the fusion reaction which takes place in a hydrogen bomb. But the test could not be described as a hydrogen bomb or thermonuclear, The Monte Bello tests, known as Mosaic GI and G2, made headlines earlier that year when a federal government report revealed Australians had been deceived for 27 years over the size of the second test in 1956. The report, prepared by a consultant nuclear physicist, Mr John Symonds, and tabled in federal Parliament in June, said Mosaic G2 was a 60-kilotonne test - the largest of all the tests in Australia. Australian and British officials had previously said the test was only 20 kilotonnes. The Symonds report raised questions about whether Mosaic G2 was just a test of a trigger device for a hydrogen bomb or whether it was more closely related to an actual hydrogen bomb test.

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Miriam Webber

Miriam Webber

City reporter

I'm the Canberra Times' city reporter, digging into how the capital is developing and the issues affecting residents, businesses and community organisations. Drop me a line at miriam.webber@canberratimes.com.au

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