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The Black Mist and the Ban

Civil society statement for the 70th anniversary of the first mainland nuclear test in Australia from ICAN

70 years ago on 15 October 1953 the first nuclear weapon tested on mainland Australia was detonated at Emu Field, south of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands of South Australia, as part of Operation Totem. No consent was sought or given by any Anangu (Aboriginal people), in the region for the use of their lands. The two explosions of Operation Totem measured the equivalent yield of the bomb that destroyed the city of Hiroshima. The “black mist” fallout of Totem 1 rolled silently with a toxic smell, across the landscape, poisoning the ground, plants, animals and people. So began the devastating, intergenerational and ongoing health impacts for those caught in the path of the ‘black mist’ fallout.

Today, the threat of nuclear weapons use is escalating, exacerbated by war, regional conflicts and a changing geopolitical climate. The continued possession of nuclear weapons by nine nations poses grave humanitarian, human rights and major climate risks. Use of even a small portion of global nuclear stockpiles would cause nuclear winter, agricultural collapse and catastrophic harm to life on this planet.

As Australia pursues nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS agreement, it is now more vital than ever for our nation to demonstrate its commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament by joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This is also the most effective and durable course of action to ensure that nuclear-powered submarines will not lead to nuclear weapons stationed in or acquired by Australia, and that our nation ceases to contribute to the justification, threat and possible use of nuclear weapons by our AUKUS partners or others.

Since its entry into force in January 2021, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has strengthened the existing disarmament architecture, working in harmony with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and other binding instruments to further stigmatise and outlaw the world’s most catastrophic weapons. 

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is the first treaty to set out a clear direction for the total elimination of nuclear weapons and to provide a framework for supporting survivors of nuclear weapons use, including the remediation of impacted environments. It is supported by the vast majority of our Pacific and South-East Asian neighbours.

We urge Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons without delay and initiate the process of Australia ratifying it and adhering to its obligations, including to seek universalisation and assist nuclear victims and impacted environments. 

The trauma of the past cannot be undone, but we have the desire, ability and responsibility to create a peaceful and safer future.

Seventy years on from the first mainland nuclear explosion, let us put an end to any involvement with nuclear weapons, now and forever.

This statement was co-drafted by Karina Lester, Yankunytjatjara-Anangu woman and second generation survivor of the Emu Field nuclear tests.

The statement has been signed by more than 132 civil society organisations

See here for the list of organisations endorsing the statement and for the statement itself

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