Skip to main content

Nuclear Weapons: Testing

Volume 486: debated on Monday 12 January 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence for what reason his Department commissioned an exercise to decontaminate the atomic test sites on Kiritimati in 2005. (246872)

Work on Kiritimati Island was commissioned in response to a request from the Government of Kiribati for the removal of the military waste (not necessarily decontamination) resulting from military activity during the 1950s and 1960s.

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what levels of radioactivity were recorded during the 2005 decontamination exercise on Kiritimati; what materials were recovered during the exercise; what types of contamination were removed from the island; and at what levels. (246874)

Removal of waste arising from the UK nuclear weapons test programme on the island of Kiritimati was undertaken between 2005 and 2008. Previous survey work had identified elevated levels of radioactivity associated with the presence of radium-226, commonly used to luminise vehicle instruments at the time of the test programme, but no other elevated levels of radioactivity substances were identified during the 2005 and 2008 programme.

The materials (including non-radioactive) comprised approximately:

Cubic metres/kg


15,000 cubic metres

Metal items

25,000 cubic metres


150 cubic metres


150 cubic metres

Radium luminised dials

175 kg

A total of 111 individual locations were identified where elevated levels of radioactivity associated with radium-226 were present. Removal of the radium required both the actual instrument and a small quantity of soil to be taken from the site.

The highest radioactive material fell into the low level waste category.

All of the sites were extremely localised with radium-226 restricted to an area of no more than a few square metres.