Australia’s Bid for the Atomic Bomb
Melbourne University Publishing, $32.95 pb, 292 pp
Australia’s bid for the atomic bomb is one of the great ‘what ifs’ of Australian history. Until now it has also been one of the greatest unknowns. According to Historian Wayne Reynolds, a convenient fiction has arisen which holds that all that really happened was that the Anglophile Menzies government allowed Britain to test its bombs at Maralinga to no great effect, except a legacy of radiation poisoning and contamination. The truth, he says, is much more complex, interesting and profound.
Although Australia did not end up acquiring nuclear weapons, the strenuous efforts made by Canberra, in the three decades following the end of World War II, to acquire them had far-reaching consequences for the economy, education system and foreign policy. The weapons programme advanced the creation of such projects as the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme and the establishment of the Australian National University. It led to an unprecedented investment in postgraduate scientific research. It even influenced sensational events such as the Petrov affair. Australia’s diplomatic relations with Britain and America were shaped by a deep desire to join the nuclear club.