Page 3: British Nuclear Testing

British Nuclear Tests Veterans Association memorial in Leicester.

The health impacts of the tests were highlighted by the British Nuclear Veterans Association in a 1999 survey of 2,500 veterans, many of whom had been at Maralinga. The survey found that:

  • 30 percent of the men had died, mostly in their fifties;
  • Spina bifida rates in grandchildren of veterans were more than five times the usual rate for live births in the UK;
  • More than 200 skeletal abnormalities were reported; and
  • Over 100 veterans’ children reported reproductive difficulties.
In addition to British ... personnel, thousands of Australians were exposed to radiation produced by the tests...also Aboriginal people living downwind of the test sites, and other Australians more distant who came into contact with airborne radioactivity.Australian Institute of Criminology

Concerns by New Zealand government result in extensive survey

In 1987, the New Zealand government commissioned a survey of the New Zealand participants in Operation Grapple. Extensive studies were carried out by Otago University’s Wellington School of Medicine over a five year period starting in 1987. The research accepted indications of a possible correlation between participation in the tests and the development of leukaemia and other cancers such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas. A study by the New Zealand Test Veterans Association also pointed to various ill-health links, including abnormalities in some of the children of test veterans.

Battle for compensation

The Compensation (Commonwealth Government Employees) Act 1971 permitted ex-service personnel to receive compensation if they could prove that their disability resulted from exposure to radiation from the tests. The Royal Commission recommended that eligibility be extended to civilians at the test sites and to Aborigines and others exposed to the 'Black Mist'. Furthermore, claimants should be entitled to compensation unless the government could prove that the disability did not result from radiation produced by the tests. The British government continued to deny both legal liability or moral responsibility for the consequences of its tests in Australia.

A study by the New Zealand Test Veterans Association also pointed to various ill-health links, including abnormalities in some of the children of test veterans.

Many claims rejected

By October 1986, a total of 272 claims arising from the testing programme had been registered with the Australian government, of which 116 were denied.

An article in The Guardian on 26 July 2006 described how a critically ill British ex-serviceman, Roy Prescott, who had been exposed to radiation during Operation Grapple, had been awarded compensation of US$75,000 by the United States in July 2006. The U.S. government recognized that Prescott’s lung cancer had been caused by radiation released in the tests. Prescott had been a member of the Royal Engineers and was seconded to the U.S. military when it was testing its nuclear bombs off Christmas Island. According to the British Ministry of Defence (MoD), the American compensation scheme was less stringent than the British one which required "those claiming compensation to show a reasonable link between their service and their illness".