The key that unlocks the lies of Maralinga


PETER Webb's mates gave him a signed key to the rest of his life when he celebrated his 21st birthday at Maralinga.

But the 66-year-old former soldier's life has been far from perfect ever since.

A fortnight after his party, the Australian Army private stood with 260 military officers to watch an atomic bomb explode less than 1km away.

Seven days later, he was put into a trench with two British officers for a second nuclear explosion a similar distance from Ground Zero.

Nearby were 109 Australian, British and New Zealand servicemen sitting in other partially-covered trenches, a Centurion tank or standing in the open.

Despite having his 21st key and an engraved silver mug presented by officers he served under at Maralinga, Mr Webb has struggled for more than 35 years to prove he was deliberately exposed to radiation.

Mr Webb, from Melbourne, remains adamant the men – known as the Indoctrination Force – were used as human guinea pigs as part of a secret plan to test the biological effects of nuclear explosions.

His claims are supported by documents obtained by The Advertiser which detail how the British and Australian governments organised the "exposure of the indoctrinees to the flash, heat and blast" of an atomic explosion on September 27, 1956, at "a distance of about 4.5 miles (7.2km)".

The next stage was a "conducted tour to examine the effects of the explosion" on targets such as vehicles, bunkers, aircraft, supply dumps and weapons.

During a protracted exchange with various federal departments, Mr Webb has been sent conflicting letters about whether he was at Maralinga, whether he was exposed to radiation and what his radiation counts were.

He believes his inability to obtain information is part of a cover-up over how he and other members of the Indoctrination Force were exposed to the One Tree and Marcoo blasts – and how close they were.

"For the first test at One Tree, we were moved to the top of a small hill looking directly at the tower on top of another hill about 1000 yards away," he told The Advertiser.

Mr Webb, who unsuccessfully sought compensation for skin cancers in 1996, said the men were ordered to stand with their backs to the 100m-high tower until the 15-kiloton bomb detonated with a "deafening roar and vivid flash". "About 30 seconds after the detonation a gale force wind roared through, scorching our bare skin and taking sand, small rocks, branches, grass and all types of debris through our area," he said. "We were ordered to turn around and about five minutes later, as the mushroom cloud started to form, the wind returned and all the debris and rubbish was sucked up. One of our vehicles, a three-ton truck, was blown over.

"We were covered in dust and lounged around for about three hours before we were loaded on to vehicles and driven into Ground Zero.

"We were told we could look around and see what damage had been done to the equipment. The sand had been turned to glass by the heat of the blast. Many of the vehicles had been crumpled like empty cans and turned over or blown along like leaves in the wind.

"We were in the Ground Zero area for about two hours and people in full white protective suits kept coming and going from the direction of the atomic crater. There were even portable decontamination showers.

"We weren't issued with protective clothing. We just wore our shorts, short-sleeved shirts and boots.

"Some guys starting vomiting and were taken to a field post or the Maralinga Hospital. After we were transported back to our camp our radiation badges were collected in buckets and we were given new ones. We were later told there had been negative results but we've never been allowed to see them."

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