An inquiry is to investigate possible links between severe illnesses suffered by veterans and British nuclear tests.
The study comes as the High Court is about to rule on compensation claims made by hundreds of former soldiers. This has led to conjecture that the Ministry of Defence has been forced into action by the possibility of the judgment going against it.
The Government's position is that there are no links between health problems faced by the veterans and the nuclear tests. About 28,000 members of the armed forces were involved in 21 atmospheric nuclear tests carried out by Britain in Australia and at Malden Island and Christmas Island, in the Pacific, between 1952 and 1958. Some personnel were positioned only a few miles from the blasts.
Most were based in areas with radiation residue for more than a year after taking part in the experiments. There are now believed to be around 3,000 survivors from the tests with many of them suffering from illnesses including cancer, blood diseases and skin problems.