Britain to get bill for atom test clean-up

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The Independent Online
THE DISPUTE over the clean-up of contaminated British nuclear test sites in Australia is likely to reach a showdown next month when Australia presents Britain with a bill for more than half the estimated pounds 45m cost of restoring the land.

After a tour yesterday of the main former test site at Maralinga, in the outback of South Australia, Simon Crean, the Australian Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, said he would tell Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, that Britain had failed to discharge its responsibilities after the nuclear tests 35 years ago and should be prepared to re-open the whole clean-up question.

Mr Crean and Gareth Evans, the Australian Foreign Minister, are to meet Mr Hurd in London next month in a saga that has dragged on since an Australian Royal Commission recommended eight years ago that Britain should bear the cost of rehabilitating the test range.

London and Canberra have come under mounting pressure in recent months from the Maralinga Tjarutja Aborigines, the traditional owners of the test sites, who were removed from the land before the tests. The Aborigines claim 45m Australian dollars ( pounds 20m) compensation for loss of access to the land, and Adollars 100m for dealing with the radioactive debris.

Britain conducted nine atmospheric nuclear weapons trials at Maralinga in 1956 and 1957 and hundreds of smaller experiments until 1963. London has always maintained that its responsibilities ended with a clean-up in 1967, which consisted largely of ploughing contaminated debris into the topsoil. However, the 1985 Royal Commission, and scientific tests since then, found that the contamination was more extensive than was earlier thought.