Nuclear `guinea pigs' call for inquiry

Australian veterans who monitored British nuclear tests in the outback in the Fifties yesterday called on the Australian government to launch a study into birth defects and illnesses they say were caused by radiation.

The call followed the publication in Australia of a British study which found high rates of birth defects in the grandchildren of British veterans of nuclear tests in Australia and the South Pacific.

Ric Johnstone, president of the Australian Nuclear Veterans Association, said many of the 12,000 to 15,000 Australian nuclear veterans had died from cancer and had deformed children. Many were ordered to stand with their backs to the explosions or to enter test sites immediately after an explosion, wearing little if any protective clothing, he said, adding: "We were definitely guinea pigs."

Defence ministry officials were unavailable for comment.

- Reuters, Sydney