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From atomic energy to nuclear science: a history of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission

posted on 29.03.2022, 02:33 by Anna-Eugenia Binnie
Nuclear energy was once seen as a possible answer to man's energy needs, but it could also be used to produce the most destructive weapons known. The initial research into the phenomenon of nuclear fission was done at university laboratories in Europe on the eve of the Second World War. This war led to the development of the first nuclear weapons. After the war, many nations wanted access to both the weapons and the source of cheap power that the process of nuclear fission provided. Australia was one such nation. -- The Australian Government wanted nuclear energy to help develop the dry interior of the continent. There were many in Government who also wanted nuclear weapons. This work focuses on the Australian pursuit of nuclear energy for peaceful uses. The achieve this aim an organisation was established which would train scientists and engineers in nuclear science and technology. This organisation, the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, is the subject of this thesis. -- This work will examine the political influences that governed the Commission in its function and scientific research paths. Specifically, it will examine how successive governments caused the Commission to cancel projects, change the direction of its research, attempted (on several occasions) to amalgamate the Commission with the CSIRO, forcing the organisation into uranium mining and finally abolishing it and replacing it with a new organisation, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. Government interference would continue with this new organisation which had its entire board dismissed in 1993. -- The Commission was essentially a scientific and engineering organisation and hence this thesis will also consider a number of projects with which the Commission was involved such as the Beryllium Project, uranium exploration and mining, the uranium enrichment programs, the purchase of two nuclear reactors, the Synroc project, and the ill-fated Jervis Bay power reactor project. Other projects which were started in the early days of the Commission, the neutron diffraction work and the isotope production projects, will be mentioned in passing. Both these projects require a more detailed appraisal than is possible in this thesis.


Alternative Title

History of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission

Table of Contents

Introduction -- Oliphant: a finger in many pies -- Men of vision and a world power in embryo -- The birth of the Commission -- We need secrets to trade: the Beryllia Project -- The Commission: a hive of activity -- The reactor that never was: the Jervis Bay Project -- The reinvention of the Commission -- The Commission is dead, long live ANSTO -- Conclusion.


Bibliography: p. 269-277

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Division of Information & Communication Sciences, Department of Physics

Department, Centre or School

Dept. of Physics

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Peter Browne

Additional Supervisor 1

Arthur Pryor

Additional Supervisor 2

Duncan Waterson


Copyright disclaimer: http://www.copyright.mq.edu.au Copyright Anna-Eugenia Binnie 2003.






viii, 278 p. ill

Former Identifiers

mq:6293 http://hdl.handle.net/1959.14/44919 1293759