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Seventy years ago, on 15 October 1953, the first nuclear weapon tested on mainland Australia was detonated on Emu Field, south of the 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 measured the equivalent yield of the bomb that destroyed the city of Hiroshima in 1945. The “black mist” fallout of Totem 1 rolled silently with a toxic smell, across the landscape, poisoning the ground, plants, animals and people. And so began the devastating, intergenerational and ongoing health impacts for those caught in the fallout.

Fast-forward to today and dozens of leading organisations, including the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), are marking the anniversary by urging Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons without delay and initiate the process of ratifying it and adhering to its obligations, including seeking universalisation and assisting nuclear victims and impact environments.

In a joint statement for the 70th anniversary of the first mainland nuclear test in Australia, organisations say 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,” the statement reads.

“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 AUKUS members 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 organisations say.

“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.”

Labor first committed to signing and ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) at its National Conference in 2018, reaffirming that commitment in 2021 and in 2023. But it is still yet to sign the Treaty.

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 statement says.

“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.”