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Response to Review of New Zealand and Nuclear

Response from Gerald Hensley

Professor Alley and I have different perspectives on the management of New Zealand's foreign relationships but this is a fair-minded review.  I have only two comments to make.

I doubt that ‘future analysts will puzzle’ over why I did not circulate details of the proposed American ship visit to other Ministers. In New Zealand, as in other Westminster-type governments, no paper can go to Cabinet unless authorised by a Minister. It is unthinkable that any head of the Prime Minister's Department would circulate papers to Cabinet or to other Ministers on his own initiative and without the Prime Minister's authorisation.

Secondly, I am in complete agreement (and said so in the Preface) that this is not a history of the peace movement or the rise of anti-nuclear protest in New Zealand. Books have to stop somewhere and Friendly Fire confines itself to the country's external relations, making a study of how the handling of the ship visits issue affected relations with its treaty partners, the United States and Australia, and with the countries of the West as a whole.

Response from Rebecca Priestley

I would like to thank Roderic Alley for his kind review of my book Mad on Radium: New Zealand in the Atomic Age. I also enjoyed his review of Gerald Hensley’s book, which I very much look forward to reading. I was a teenager in the 1984–7 period Hensley has written about, and it was events around the American nuclear ship visits (which I marched against), the breakdown of the ANZUS agreement and the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior that raised my awareness of nuclear issues. The nuclear free policy that emerged seemed at odds with the stories I heard when I started working for the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences in 1992. The fact that we had a organisation with more than 50 years of nuclear science research seemed to conflict with our now entrenched nuclear free policy and identity where everything associated with the word ‘nuclear’ seemed bad. I wasn’t the only one who thought this – local taxi drivers called the place the ‘bomb factory’ and there were rumours there was a nuclear reactor onsite.

My research revealed a rich and interesting history, tracing back to the first uses of x-rays and radium in early 20th-century New Zealand. Alley suggests that radium was marketed as a health product in New Zealand, ‘promising beauty and an invigoration of vitality’, but we did escape some of the more bizarre applications of radium – to toothpastes, contraceptives and the like – that spread through many Western countries. That said, the radon water sold at Rotorua Bathhouse was very popular, with patients coming from around the country to drink the prescribed 6-8 glasses of radioactive water a day to treat their arthritis, constipation or gout.

Alley mentions that Ernest Marsden emerges as a key figure in this story. He does, and I found him a thoroughly fascinating character. I’m now researching his relationship and correspondence with Ernest Rutherford, and I look forward to connecting with northern hemisphere colleagues who might have overlapping research interests.