Nuclear test, Kiritimati (Christmas Island)
The crew of HMNZS Pukaki look towards ground zero after a British nuclear test at Kiritimati (Christmas Island) 1957, Photographer unknown, courtesy of the Royal New Zealand Navy Museum, Auckland, New Zealand (AAO 0012)
The British conducted nuclear tests at Kiritimati (Christmas Island) and Malden Island (now the Republic of Kiribati) in 1957 and 1958. Two New Zealand frigates, including HMNZS Pukaki, provided transport, observation, and monitoring facilities. Their crews were exposed to radiation.
Nuclear testing in the Pacific
Kiritimati was just one of various Pacific islands used as test sites for nuclear weapons during the second half of the 20th century. The three countries responsible were France, Britain, and the US – the latter two being New Zealand's close allies.
The islands were used because they were far away ... from the testing countries. Local populations, however, were seriously affected. Many were evacuated from test sites, sometimes for decades. Radiation contaminated food sources and left some islands uninhabitable. Marshall Islanders suffered injuries from radioactive fallout, which fell like snow. Moruroa atoll sank by several metres.
New Zealand response
The idea of radiation in the Pacific upset many New Zealanders. Environmental protests were backed by increasing political support. By the 1970s, New Zealand was a leading voice against nuclear testing in the region, and it passed anti-nuclear legislation in 1987.
Read more about nuclear testing in the Pacific
Read more about anti-nuclear legislation in New Zealand