Letter: Suffering of nuclear test witnesses

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The Independent Online
Sir: The finding of the National Radiological Protection Board that there is no causal link between participation in British nuclear tests and subsequent cancers ('Bomb tests 'gave no extra cancer risk' ', 10 December) comes as a shattering blow to many veterans.

Twenty-two thousand British servicemen participated in a series of tests in the early Fifties at Monte Bello, Maralinga, Christmas Island and in Australia. More than 14,000 directly witnessed atomic explosions. Contrary to official propaganda at the time, protective clothing was issued to only a very small proportion of those present.

The risks, more than seven years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were well known. Indeed, the director of trials planning at the Admiralty wrote:

Ill effects may be long delayed, but in any claims for compensation I feel that some formula might be accepted by ministries which would dispose any tribunal in favour of a . . . claimant.

To my certain knowledge, many veterans are now sick. Others have died, as one would expect with the passage of 40 years. However, proof of a direct causal link between exposure to radiation and subsequent illness is extremely difficult to establish. This was realised in the United States. In 1988 Senator Rockefeller told Congress:

I think it is time to bring an end to the research and to the injustice, and to respond with recognition and compassion to what these people (ie, US atomic veterans) went through in the line of duty. We know enough to act.

Legislation was enacted to pay compensation, and President Ronald Reagan added:

The nation is grateful for their special service, and enactment of the law makes clear the nation's concern for their continued welfare.

I have dedicated memorials to tests veterans in Liverpool, Portsmouth, Paisley, Risca and Leicester. More are planned. This week we have seen six-figure compensation paid to an ex-dockyard worker who was exposed to radiation in a nuclear submarine. As you reported (10 December), the civilian nuclear industry has for years operated a no- fault compensation scheme for its workers. The Director of the National Radiological Protection Board has said: 'This is a question for the Ministry of Defence'.

It is time for Members of Parliament, of all parties, to bring real pressure to bear on the MoD to pay fair pensions to nuclear veterans who were serving the Crown in time of peace, and who are now bearing mortal sickness.

I was with a veteran two weeks ago whose identity I do not have permission to disclose. He has cancer. His daughter has cancer. His son is sterile. His two other children have already died of cancer. An extreme case, perhaps, but there are many others. I feel deeply ashamed.

Yours sincerely,


Hon Chaplain

British Nuclear

Tests Veterans Association

Liverpool Parish Church


10 December