Did Japan Nuke Australia?

We May Never Truly Know

There is certain foundational dogma in world history that we accept at face value as objective truth. Here are a few examples — the only time nuclear weapons have actually been deployed in anger was in 1945 against Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Thanks to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, there has not been an aboveground nuclear test anywhere in the world since its adoption in October 1963. Nation states can still do underground testing so long as no radioactive debris falls beyond their national boundaries. Even North Korea’s resident insane person Kim Jong Un has had sense enough to adhere to that. We all know that stuff to be true, right?

Well, on 28 May 1993, seismologists detected a curious anomaly in the West Australian outback. It registered a paltry 3.6 on the Richter scale and was written off to a natural seismic occurrence. However, in the context of subsequent events, there are those who firmly believe this seismological blip to have been something altogether different.

A 19th-century photograph of the Australian outback.
There’s just not a lot out there. Public domain.

The Lay of the Land

I spent some time in Australia courtesy Uncle Sam back in 1997. I found the people to be warm and inviting and the locale exotic and fascinating. However, that place was undeniably different.

For starters, Australia is absolutely huge. It is the only nation on earth that is also its own continent. Australia is like a massive reverse watermelon. The areas on the coast are rich and verdant. By contrast, the interior is a whole big, massive pile of nothing. You could easily get lost and die out there. Many do. But is the Australian outback actually big enough to hide a nuclear explosion?

The Villains

On 20 March 1995, members of a bizarre Japanese suicide cult called Aum Shrinrikyo unleashed home-brewed sarin nerve gas on three lines of the Tokyo Metro train system. Twelve passengers perished, and another 50 were injured. With the benefit of hindsight, the denizens of Tokyo were terribly fortunate it wasn’t far worse.

Aum Shrinrikyo was indeed a quirky mob. Formed in 1984 by a blind religious guru named Shoko Asahara who fancied himself the returned Christ, Aum Shrinrikyo was a weird monastic order. They ultimately devolved into a bunch of lunatics fixated on end times eschatology as depicted in the Biblical book of Revelations. Among other things, Shoko Asahara claimed he could impart spiritual powers to his followers and levitate himself off the ground with his mind.

Despite the absolute lunacy of their doctrine, Aum Shrinrikyo inexplicably thrived. They eventually had more than a billion dollars in the bank and 1,650 members. In the aftermath of the sarin gas attack, Asahara and a dozen of his acolytes were executed by hanging.

It’s tough to hide a nuclear blast. In fact, most sensible
folk would say it can’t be done. Public domain.

Now It Gets Seriously Weird …

Once the Japanese police dissected the cult, it was determined that a substantial number of its members had actually spent most of the year prior to the gas attack tucked away in Western Australia. They originally needed space to test their chemical weapons without arousing suspicion. To do so, they purchased a large tract of nothing near Banjawarn Station via a shell company. Roughly a year later, the cult members sold the property at a loss and beat feet.

There were generous uranium deposits in the area, and Aum Shrinrikyo counted a pair of Russian nuclear physicists among its membership. While it was determined that the cultists had indeed gassed a bunch of innocent sheep while there to ensure their DIY nerve agent was potent, the thought they could have successfully pulled off a nuclear test seemed pretty far-fetched. However, an Australian mining engineer named Harry Mason was convinced.

Mason rounded up eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen a blinding flash at the time of the event. The New York Times, BBC, and the U.S. Senate all cared enough to investigate. Seismologists reluctantly admitted that their data really seemed more like a meteor impact than an earthquake. However, despite some pretty aggressive searching, nobody discovered any fresh new meteor craters. The seismology results were consistent with a mine explosion. However, at an estimated two kilotons, the event was larger than any mine explosion ever recorded in Australia. That, and nobody reported any blown up mines. It was all just kind of weird.


Eventually Harry Mason was decried a crackpot, and the world kept right on spinning. While there never was a really satisfactory explanation for the weird seismic anomaly, there also was never a really aggressive effort expended on investigating it, either. Notebooks seized from the cult members described plans to harvest the raw uranium, and they were plenty crazy to try to pull it off.

So, what exactly happened 500 miles northeast of Perth, Australia, on 28 May 1993? Those who were there reported a shockwave, and Harry Mason devoted the rest of his life to trying to figure it out. Mason, for his part, eventually succumbed to a heart attack while searching for gold in Vietnam, and the quest died along with him. However, if you are prone to conspiracy theories, this is one of the better ones.

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