Operation Hurricane detonation

Five Things You Didn't Know About Britain's First Nuclear Test

Operation Hurricane detonation

Britain was the world's third nuclear power, after the United States and the Soviet Union.

Here's a few facts you might not have known about that momentous day...

1. It wasn't dropped from a plane


HMS Swale

Unlike the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which effectively brought the Second World War to an end, the device used during 'Operation Hurricane' was not dropped from an aircraft.

The bomb was in fact exploded inside the hull of a frigate, HMS Plym (similar to the vessel pictured above), with the British keen to test the effects of a ship-smuggled atomic bomb on a port - a threat of great concern at the time.

After the test, which took place in the lagoon in the Montebello Islands in Western Australia, all that was left of Plym was a "gluey black substance" that washed up on shore.

2. The test was a 'big' success


Operation Hurricane cloud

The 1952 test was a powerful success.

The explosion, which took place 2.7 metres (8 ft 10 in) below the water line, left a 6 metre (20 ft) deep crater on the seabed, measuring 300 metres (980 ft) across.

It was clear that had the bomb exploded in a port, it would have been a disaster worse than the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

3. Animals can be surprisingly resilient


Legless lizard

Despite a fairly indifferent attitude towards the area's wildlife ahead of the test taking place, the local animals proved themselves impressively hardy.

Churchill joked in parliament that the survey team had 'only seen some birds and lizards' when asked about the impact on the local flora and fauna.

Amateur biologist Frank Hill, who was among the scientists to collect samples of the wildlife living on the islands before the tests, catalogued more than 400 species of plants and animals, including 20 new varieties of insects, six new plants and a new species of legless lizard (like the one shown above).

After the detonation the Montebello Islands remained a prohibited area until 1992.

It was discovered by a zoological survey 14 years later that not only had the wildlife recovered, but the legless lizard, the Aprasia rostrata, was not extinct.

4... But fallout remains to this day



While the fallout cloud, which rose to 10,000 feet (3,000 m), was blown out to sea as planned, the wind later reversed direction and blew it over the Australian mainland.

Very low levels of radioactivity were detected as far away as Brisbane, with it estimated that the collective dose to the Australian population as a result of the test was statistically enough to have caused one death from cancer. Studies of British nuclear test veterans have not found conclusive evidence of health damage, though.

By the 1980s the radioactivity on the islands had diminished to the point where it was no longer dangerous to the casual visitor, although there were still radioactive metal fragments containing cobalt-60 - the remains of Plym.

Nowadays the area is a park, with a pyramid-shaped obelisk marking the site of the explosion.

Visitors are advised not to spend more than an hour per day at the test sites, or to take relics as souvenirs.

5. Despite the test's success, the Brits were still behind


Ivy Mike

Despite the success of Operation Hurricane, the British still had a lot of catching up to do.

The technology that had been trialled was ultimately six years old - and just four weeks later the US successfully tested a hydrogen bomb (see above).

It would also be a further year until production bombs were delivered to the RAF and another two before the Air Force had bombers capable of carrying them.

More: The Most Powerful Nuclear Weapon In History

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