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Living in a Nuclear Landscape: Rehabilitation and Resettlement of Proving Grounds in Australia and Islands of the Western Pacific

Long-Term Management of Contaminated Sites

ISBN: 978-0-76231-319-8, eISBN: 978-1-84950-419-5

Publication date: 7 December 2006


Between 1946 and 1962 the United States detonated 109 nuclear weapons in an area of the Pacific Ocean called the Pacific Proving Grounds, mainly at the Enewetak and Bikini Atolls in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The British nuclear testing program spanned eleven years (1952-1963) and involved detonation of 21 weapons in addition to a number of smaller-scale experiments (the “minor” trials) in South Australia. In both cases lands that were inhabited by an original people were extensively contaminated by the testing and, following its cessation, these people desired the return of their lands in a condition that would support resumption of traditional lifestyles. Cleanup and reoccupation of the contaminated lands in these two arenas raised similar questions of cultural identity and communication and the importance of cultural as well as technical understanding in establishing conditions for safe resettlement. The approaches taken to resolving these questions in the two situations have been very different—featuring extensive stakeholder involvement in a technocratic decision making process in the Maralinga case and a series of attempted negotiations and claims under the terms of trust agreements with the U.S. government in the Marshall Islands case. Similar questions regarding what constitutes a safe final condition and the means by which safety will be maintained remain in each case however. The Australian case has reached the more definitive outcome of the two. A jointly drafted comprehensive environmental management plan, if fully implemented and sustained over the time periods necessary, could facilitate a semblance of the outstation lifestyle that the aboriginal Maralingan people desire. But what has been agreed to may still prove very difficult to live with given the levels of residual contamination and the many ways that traditional cultural practices put people in intimate contact with the land.


Ballou Jennings, A., Seward, A.M. and Leschine, T.M. (2006), "Living in a Nuclear Landscape: Rehabilitation and Resettlement of Proving Grounds in Australia and Islands of the Western Pacific", Leschine, T.M. (Ed.) Long-Term Management of Contaminated Sites (Research in Social Problems and Public Policy, Vol. 13), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 165-192.



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