Object of the Moment: Britian’s Nuclear Tests
As we know, the United States had already developed nuclear weapons by the time that the Second World War had come to an end, leading to the devastating events that occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This had a vast impact on the international balance of power at the time and led to a period of uncertainty as other countries looked to match the destructive capabilities of the United States.
Britain was among the countries that looked to develop nuclear weapons. The British conducted a number of major nuclear weapon tests in Australian territories between 1952 and 1963 which generated a substantial amount of nuclear fallout, affecting the members of the British military that worked on the test sites at the time but also the communities that were local to the test sites. Whilst the scope of the damage caused by these tests isn’t known for certain, we do know that the tests had an enormous impact on the areas where they occurred, causing people to suffer from a range of health problems and contaminating land to such an extent that it is now completely uninhabitable in some cases. It is estimated that approximately 16,000 people were involved in 12 major British nuclear weapons tests between 1952 and 1963 in Australian territories, although hundreds more minor trials also took place.
One item that is currently on display at The Peace Museum is a letter written by the wife of Jim Perriman, a nuclear test veteran who died of a rare form of cancer at 58 years of age, over twenty years after he was exposed to radioactive fallout whilst based in Maralinga. The letter tells a powerful story, as Jim’s wife believed that radiation exposure from the tests were to blame for Jim’s cancer and her letter highlights her efforts to understand exactly what Jim’s duties were during his time as a nuclear test veteran. Jim was a father and a husband and his life was cut short, potentially due to the impact of being involved in these tests. We feel that it is important that these stories are shared.
The Peace Museum’s Over the Fence… To the Other Side of the World exhibition explores the impact of the nuclear weapon tests on the people that were present, including military personnel, Australian citizens and Aboriginal people that lived locally to the test sites and includes a range of objects, photograph and ephemera.
Written by Liam Hemingway, a volunteer at The Peace Museum.