Catalogue description Atomic Weapons Research Establishment and Predecessors: Records Relating to Atmospheric Trials

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Details of ES 18
Reference: ES 18
Title: Atomic Weapons Research Establishment and Predecessors: Records Relating to Atmospheric Trials

Contains papers, files and reports of the atomic atmospheric trials carried out by the UK Government in the Monte Bello Islands, Emu Field, Maralinga and Christmas Island. They cover the preparation, transport, trials and clean up operations.

The following operations were carried out:

HURRICANE: 3 October 1952; 25 kilotonne bomb dropped on HMS Plym, in the Monte Bello Islands, off the coast of Western Australia.

TOTEM: 14 and 26 October 1953; two smaller bombs, Emu Field near Woomera, South Australia.

MOSAIC: 16 May and 19 June 1957; 15 kilotonne bombs dropped off Trimouille Island and 60 kilotonne bomb dropped off Alpha Island, Monte Bello.

GRAPPLE SERIES off Christmas Island:

  • Short Granite: 15 May 1957; off Malden Island.
  • Grapple X: 8 November 1957.
  • Grapple Y: 23 April 1958.
  • Grapple Z: 22 August, 2, 11 and 23 September 1958.

MARALINGA EXPERIMENTAL PROGRAMME (1955-1963): minor trials including:

  • BUFFALO: 27 September, 4, 11 and 22 October 1956; first drop test at Maralinga.
  • ANTLER: 14 and 25 September and 9 October 1957; Maralinga.

Clean up of the Maralinga and Emu Field sites: Operation BRUMBY, April-July 1967.

Date: 1951-1999
Related material:

Documents provided to the Australian Royal Commission into United Kingdom Nuclear Weapons Testing in Australia are held in other records series:

For those provided by the Ministry of Defence, the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, see: DEFE 16

For those provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, see: FCO 1

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Armaments Research Department, 1942-1954

Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, 1954-1973

Ministry of Defence, Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, 1973-1987

Physical description: 254 files and volumes
Access conditions: Open unless otherwise stated
Immediate source of acquisition:

Atomic Weapons Establishment , from 2010

Accruals: Series is accruing
Administrative / biographical background:

In 1947 Britain decided to develop her own nuclear weapons and the 'High Explosives Research' Division was established within the Armaments Research Establishment at Fort Halstead. By 1951 they had moved to Aldermaston and from 1952 was renamed the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment under William Penney who was appointed Director in 1953.

Following a preliminary survey in November 1950, and a further one conducted in July and August 1951, the first British atomic test was carried out on the Monte Bello Islands, off the coast of Western Australia in 1952. Another test of an atomic weapon followed at Emu Field, near Woomera, South Australia came in the following year, after a visit by Penney.

In 1955 the British Government announced a plan for the construction of a new atomic weapons testing range at Maralinga, South Australia in agreement with the Australian Government. The first device was exploded in October 1956 and was the first drop of a nuclear weapon successfully carried out by Britain. Preliminary tests including the explosion of a nuclear device on the ground, had already taken place on the Monte Bello Islands in May 1956. Following the tests in Australia further devices were exploded on Christmas Island in the Pacific during 1957 and 1958.

In 1958 there was a moraturium on atmospheric nuclear weapon tests which halted the atmospheric trials, although minor trials continued at Maralinga to 1963 when the Partial Test Ban Treaty halted all atmospheric trials. Britain continued to test atomic weapons through an agreement with the United States on the Use of Atomic Energy for Mutual Defence Purposes. From 1962 Britain was invovled in a series of underground nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site. Although halted by moratorium in 1965, they restarted in 1974 and continued to 1991.

In 1967 Operation Brumby oversaw the clean up of Maralinga and Emu Field. The Australian Royal Commission into United Kingdom Nuclear Weapons Testing in Australia sat in London between January and March 1985. It was established by Australian Royal Warrant in July 1984 after fears had been expressed about the safety of both military personnel and local inhabitants present at the atomic tests.

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