What the Bomb would do to you


p2243-Pine-Gap-TorusLETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sir – In 1985, the Northern Territory Branch of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW) issued a research paper titled: “What will happen to Alice if the bomb goes off ?”- the consequences for Alice Springs of a nuclear explosion over the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap.
My wife and I and my daughter will be attending the the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) conference and Pine Gap protests in September in Alice, hence our interest in these matters.
(IPAN, according to its website, is a network of organisations from all regions of Australia who are united by support for an independent Australian foreign policy based on peaceful resolution of conflicts. – ED)
[The MAPW paper] was based on the assumption of a one megaton bomb being detonated one kilometer above Pine Gap which would inflict maximum damage.
It states that the blast would have maximum effect within 15 km of ground zero and that the MacDonnell Ranges would block and lessen the effects of the blast on the Alice Springs town.  However most windows in town would be shattered and there would be danger from flying glass.
The electromagnetic pulse (EMP) would stop everything dependent on electricity: lights, cars, telephones, radios and TV’s and computers would all cut out.
The flash would blind everyone up to a distance of 80 km away who was looking in the direction of the flash at the moment of the explosion or, who, noticing the flash, instinctively glanced towards it.
The effects of the heat released by the explosion would extend to 15 to 20 km. Similar to the blast, most damage would occur outside Heavitree Gap but parts of the airport road, Stuart Highway, Larapinta Dv, the Ranger’s Station at Simpson’s Gap and all scrub and animal life within a 10 km radius would catch fire.
The effects of radiation released by the blast would depend on wind direction. Radiation reaching the town would probably not be lethal and would arrive the day after; it might be sufficient to cause bone marrow suppression and gastrotestinal effects.
Prof. Richard Tanter (Nautilus Institute) states in his updated 2012 document on Pine Gap: “However none of this [the risks to population] has ever been publicly conceded by a government in office. Nor has there ever been a serious attempt to explain to people living in towns close to these targets the dangers they face. And no Australian government made a serious attempt at civil defence preparations for the populations of near these bases.”
If it wasn’t for the United States pulling Australia through the US-Australia Alliance into a confrontation with potential hostilities with China, there would be no point in discussing this subject.
But since Pine Gap has become a major US military communications facility which strategists claim would be vital to the US in a war in our region and China has nuclear missiles capable of reaching Pine Gap, this issue demands attention.
Adding emphasis to this danger is journalist David Uren’s critique of defence policy in which he reports a “secret appendix” to the 2009 Defence White Paper stating: “Defence thinking is that in the event of a conflict with the United States, China would attempt to destroy Pine Gap.”
US and CIA personnel at Pine Gap may help the Alice Springs economy with dollars but are the dollars worth the risk ?
Bevan Ramsden
Lambton, NSW


  1. Very scary and why is the base so close to our town?
    We built a prison 20 kilometers away, why not have the base well out of town?
    In the USA first strike targets with few personnel are built in sparsely populated areas such as Iowa wherever possible.
    Such a base in the USA next to a town would be moved.
    But this is Australia.
    [ED – Pine Gap is 20 kilometers in a direct line from Anzac Hill.]

  2. In the 1980s the Soviet Union stated that Pine Gap would be a target in the event of hostilities – but then they would say that, wouldn’t they?
    There has been concern and opposition to the “Space Base” ever since it was under construction in the late 1960s.
    The problem with the “first strike” scenario for Pine Gap is that an incoming missile would be immediately detected and alert the US military well before it strikes, thus the element of surprise would be lost.
    Tactically it makes no sense.
    However, the increasing tension over the South China Sea, especially with the Chinese military build-up, has overtones of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. There is far more at stake in Southeast Asia and China than our little town in the middle of an unpopulated desert land.
    It might be of interest for some that Pine Gap was at one stage in its early development intended to be a fly-in fly-out operation, with American personnel and their families based in Adelaide.
    This was strongly and successfully resisted in Alice Springs, especially by the local business community, and so led to major urban expansion of the town in the early 1970s.
    In consequence it’s a bit rich to complain that the base is too close to town – the reality is that it was welcomed with open arms.

  3. Alex Nelson, the base on our doorstep has a vital role in intercepting communications and it provides real time data on military targets.
    It is clearly a first strike target.
    Yes the US military will detect it but so what?
    They don’t have a Patriot anti missile system here to destroy it.
    They would retaliate against similar military targets but not launch a full scale nuke attack unless one was launched against the US.
    They would tolerate a lot of collatoral damage (to us) before launching a full scale nuclear war.
    A likely scenario is that there would be a limited exchange of nukes and both sides would back off.
    Of course we would be fried.

  4. China in Port Darwin and the US in Alice Springs prove that the NT is a multicultural place.

  5. A change the subject slightly, how come the long term American residents being told to evacuate their, who have been here X number of years, and now have to look for their own accommodation.
    The government is selling off all the American homes in the Gillian and East Side areas.
    Some Americans are long term residents of Alice and they are required to evacuate their homes, even though the Government is selling the homes.
    The families can not buy the homes, but go to the auction to purchase their home.
    At today’s price buying would be more logical.
    They are required to leave their home as they found it, X number of years ago and then try to buy through the auction.
    Real logic and time wasting by the Government.

  6. I can’t tell you how reassuring it is to know that a one megaton bomb detonated a kilometer above Pine Gap would only cause some broken windows and a bit of a tummy ache in Alice. I feel so much better now!

  7. @ Jason (Posted July 13, 2016 at 2:55 pm ) In October 1983 the Alice Prize competition held for the final time in the Nurses’ Lounge at the Alice Springs Hospital included a Golden Jubilee Award, as it was the 50th anniversary of Alice Springs officially replacing its original name of Stuart. The Award was won by Dr Jenny Gray, a member of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War.
    Dr Gray’s entry was entitled “Mt Gillen” and was a quilt composed of nine panels that depicted a mushroom cloud rising in the sky behind the main range, as viewed from Alice Springs in the direction of Pine Gap. Her “main aim was to inform the public of the medical consequences of nuclear war” and that all she “really wanted was for people to think about Alice Springs as a venue for international war”.
    That was 33 years ago, and ever since then we’ve been waiting for imminent nuclear immolation. In the meantime, everybody in Alice Springs has just been getting on with life, despite there never being any kind of anti-missile defence to counter an incoming ICBM.
    Indeed, since that time there has been an ever-increasing number of residents living south of the ranges in relative close proximity to Pine Gap and nobody seems to be all that perturbed about it.
    There has been a continuous American presence in Alice Springs since 1955, long before Pine Gap was established (the best man at my parents’ wedding in 1961 was a Texan who worked at the Joint Australian-US Geological and Geophysical Research Station in Schwarz Crescent).
    I went to school with American classmates – several were my best friends – and we had American teachers, the spouses of Pine Gap employees. What opponents of Pine Gap consistently fail to understand, it seems, is that most residents of the Alice have always welcomed the Americans here and accept the risk that might imply.
    Numerous protests over the years, especially in the 1980s, actually proved counter-productive – they served to harden local residents’ attitude of support for the Americans.
    I know, as I was an active member of the CLP during those years and the anti-Pine Gap demonstrations invariably worked to entrench political conservatism in Alice Springs.
    Once again we face the prospect later this year of protests and demonstrations against Pine Gap, and that’s fine, everyone has a right to express their opinions in our democratic society. This renewed activity is in response to the developing crisis in the South China Sea. We’re no more at risk than Darwin or Katherine, both hosts to major defence establishments and increasing US military activity.
    The Northern Territory, by virtue of its proximity to Southeast Asia, is a potential front-line region in the event of hostility to our north. That’s been the case since World War Two, when for the duration of the war this region uniquely in Australia’s history was placed entirely under military control. Indeed, one can go back much further, as the first two attempts of British settlement in the Top End in the 1820s were both forts intended to protect Britain’s strategic interests in Southeast Asia.
    Protests against Pine Gap will not change anything, the reality is that the NT is a highly strategic area and that’s only going to increase as the world’s economic fulcrum shifts ever more to the Asian region to our north.
    If you don’t like it, you at least have the freedom to leave.

  8. It’s par for the course for new age alarmists to post predictable but sensationally inaccurate spin wherever they can get ink on pages.
    Most of this shite is absolute scaremonger fodder for the uneducated.
    The first inaccuracy is about a 1 megaton bomb exploding 1 km above Pine Gap. The truth is Pine Gap would remain fully operational after such an explosion because the majority of the operation is conducted underground in sealed concrete bunkers.
    The facility has been specifically designed to withstand nuclear war.
    The chance of such a strike in open air is practically zero. Bunker busting missiles (EPW’s) may have the desired effect, but would not be a threat to the Alice Springs township as the majority of the radiation would be contained underground.
    The second inaccuracy is about the randomness of such a strike. If the US and Australia go to war with China then the frontline will be placed on a war footing. That means Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs would be placed under military control and non essential personnel would be evacuated.
    Thirdly, intercontinental ballistic missiles launched from the South China Sea would need to travel in open airspace some 5000km.
    The missile would over fly three to four nations that would side with the US Alliance. The chances of those ICBMs reaching Alice would be practically zero. The flight time for such a missile from launch is about 20-30 minutes. Plenty enough time for those missiles to be shot down by US air defense systems which would be stationed near Darwin or in Indonesia in the event of war.
    The main reason the facility was built in Alice in the first place was because it is remote and largely secure from attack.
    All the information stated above is available as technical data online if anyone with half a brain would care to do the research.
    Most alarmist mantra can be disproven given enough research time.

  9. I can’t agree that we’re no more at risk than Darwin or Katherine even though all host major defence establishments.
    Pine Gap is a very special military establishment. It is the eyes and ears of the US military, theoretically ours as well as a joint facility but in reality it’s a US spy base.
    There is no equivalent in the NT and probably none in Australia as a whole.
    To direct strikes against moving targets a military needs coordinates in real time. The Base gets a constant stream of data from satellites in geostatic orbit over potential enemy nations.
    The very first target in a nuclear but also a non nuclear exchange is the eyes and ears.
    A full scale nuclear attack is MAD (mutually assured destruction) so no country will rush into that.
    A war is likely to start with one country taking out the other’s communications satellites and then the other doing the same, tit for tat.
    If hostilities continue the next targets will be the spy bases with us part of the collateral damage.
    Still no MAD, but thousands killed in various countries but probably not the mainland countries involved in the conflict.
    Our relatively low population compared with Darwin actually makes it more likely we could be attacked.
    To directly attack each other is to risk MAD so that will be avoided.
    So it doesn’t take a full on nuclear war to see Alice Springs wiped out. With the incremental nuclear war strategies in place to avoid MAD, plus the expanded role of the Base, the risk to our town is much greater than ever before.
    That’s not to say that it is likely that we will be wiped out as collateral damage but it is a risk.

  10. Strikey dear oh dear! Let’s apply some research to your propositions:
    “The facility has been specifically designed to withstand nuclear war.”
    The US command centre built under 2,000 feet (610 m) of granite deep within the Cheyenne mountains is such a facility.
    The Base next door to us is not.
    1 Megatonne not enough to take it out?
    Well, double that payload. No problem at all.
    “Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs would be placed under military control and non essential personnel would be evacuated.”
    Unfortunately nuclear wars can start rather quickly.
    “The missile would over fly three to four nations that would side with the US Alliance.”
    More likely it would be launched from a nuke sub lurking off the coast, it would probably be undetected.
    “The flight time for such a missile from launch is about 20-30 minutes. Plenty enough time for those missiles to be shot down by US air defense systems”
    What US air defence systems and attack is way ahead of defence when it comes to nukes. Today’s missiles have multiple war heads so it’s not just a matter of shooting down one missile.
    “Alice is remote and largely secure from attack.”
    Remoteness is no saviour at all with the latest nuclear armed missiles.

  11. The geopolitical situation has changed since the original “What happens to Alice” with the USA and China facing off in the west Pacific but the fundamentals are the same.
    It is a US military base (even if a joint one), part of signals intelligence and command / control systems, part of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and would be involved in any conflict with China.
    So the question of how its role makes it a potential target for nuclear or other types of weapons is a valid one for residents in Alice.
    Just because nothings happened so far is not indication of the future. We should know our risk status.

  12. @ Jason: Seems you are living in some absurd science fiction movie and suffer from Nucleomitaphobia.
    Your disillusioned comment “unfortunately nuclear wars can start rather quickly” validates my claim.
    I guess in your movie role you have experienced such phenomena. In my last 60 years I have never heard of a nuclear war that was conducted anywhere on this planet.
    Other sensationalist statements you make like doubling the power of the warhead would still have no effect on Pine Gap. You clearly do not know anything of the PG design which enables it to continue to operate during a nuclear war.
    To help foster your insatiable appetite for doomsday, I feel it appropriate that you clue up and read this informative guide on the current state of US intelligence. https://supersoldiertalk.com/2012/12/07/what-lies-below/

  13. Strikey, thanks for your informative guide, that states:
    “From Pine Gap there is a 1400 mile long tunnel to North West Cape Submarine Station where Submarines can travel deep in the interior of Australia in Pine Gap to refuel.”
    Getting back to reality.
    A one megaton (1 MT) warhead is equivalent to one million tonnes of TNT dynamite.
    Think about that, one million tonnes.
    1 MT produces a 50 million degree fireball 1000 meters round.
    If a surface blast it creates a 33 meters deep hole about 300 meters across with a ring of earth piled up 10 stories deep around it.
    To protect Pine Gap would have cost at least US$1b and it would not have been cost effective.
    Once a US foe found out about the protection they would simply double or triple the payload.
    Cost of a 1 MT warhead is US$300k.
    Cost to protect is US$1b.
    Cost of a 2 MT is warhead US$400k.
    Cost to protect US$1.5b
    And so on.
    Let’s hope the US didn’t try to protect Pine Gap because if they did we could have a 2 MT + warhead coming our way in the event of nuclear exchange.

  14. Aside from the debate about how much of Alice would be destroyed by a nuclear attack, I do doubt if such an event will ever come to pass. Far more likely, in my view, is that if push comes to shove between the US and Russia and/or China there would be an attack on the satellites that transmit the data coming out of Pine Gap.
    But how likely is even that? We see blustering and posturing galore these days, but my impression on it all is it’s primarily a bankers dispute. As in who gets to cut the cake and eat it too?
    Nuclear war? Surely not even that political sociopath Hillary Clinton is that mad!

  15. Agree Hal, very unlikely but in my my lifetime many unlikely things have come to pass.
    In my lifetime and those of my kids even more unlikely events will become reality.
    The risk is very small but is it necessary?
    Well no.
    Pine Gap could be 100 kilometers from our town and should be, in my opinion.

  16. A bit of “what if”. What if the fuel and other chemicals being driven through our town daily were involved in an accident in our Gap Area.
    That would wipe us all out in an area of 50k plus. Pine Gap is the least of our concerns.

  17. In my humble opinion and being here when the base was built, I would opt for a smaller blast at a lower height which would be confined nicely in the basin in which the base resides. This would restrict the primary effects to Alice Springs, limiting the secondary effects to some tremor and fallout dust.
    In contrast to Japan the buildings are cement and brick plus insulated which improves protection to blast and radiation.
    I grew up in the atom bomb scare era plus time in the armed services and do not wish to see this bogyman rebirthed.
    Only an absolute madman with a death wish would start an atomic war and certain death is counter to persons with a power complex.

  18. Our eyes in the sky. This joint is more relevant now than ever. I wouldn’t like to be living next door to Alice.


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