Why have the UK Government never compensated the Commonwealth servicemen present at Nuclear Tests?

Updated: Jan 19, 2019

Delay, Deny until they Die


The UK Government continue to deny any responsibility for the health effects on the servicemen who took part in the British and US Nuclear testing program. These brave servicemen were sent to remote locations, forced to work in terrible conditions, creating an infrastructure which would ultimately allow for Nuclear Weapons testing to be conducted whilst they were still present.

Forced to watch the explosions with little or no protective clothing, many on National Service with no choice, these servicemen did their duty for their country, turning the UK into a superpower with Nuclear capabilities.

Over 60 years later, after legal battles, challenges from Veteran’s organisations, leaked documents, national newspaper campaigns, they still refuse to acknowledge the servicemen.

The BNTVA are campaigning for a medal for these servicemen to get the recognition they deserve, but 6 months after meeting with the Secretary of Defence, Gavin Williamson MP, there is still no sign of the committee being formed to look into their request.

Why has the UK taken this stance, who made the decision not to follow the American RECA program and introduced legislation for compensation for the Nuclear Veterans.

The RECA Program

The US have paid out over $2 billion as part of the RECA program, paying out if anyone of the participants contracted one of these diseases:

· leukaemia, but NOT chronic lymphocytic

· primary cancer of the thyroid leukaemia

· primary cancer of the pancreas

· multiple myeloma

· primary cancer of the female breast

· primary cancer of the pharynx

· primary cancer of the male breast

· lymphoma, other than Hodgkin’s disease

· primary cancer of the oesophagus

· primary cancer of the small intestine

· primary cancer of the bile ducts

· primary cancer of the salivary gland

· primary cancer of the liver (except if primary cancer of the brain cirrhosis or hepatitis B is indicated)

· primary cancer of the stomach

· primary cancer of the gall bladder

· primary cancer of the urinary bladder

· primary cancer of the lung

· primary cancer of the colon

· primary cancer of the ovary

Each person present will receive $75,000 if they have one of the conditions, if the participant has died, the surviving spouse or children can also apply.

The RECA program has the following statement:

The United States conducted nearly 200 atmospheric nuclear weapons development tests from 1945 to 1962. Essential to the nation’s nuclear weapons development was uranium mining and processing, which was carried out by tens of thousands of workers. Following the tests’ cessation in 1962 many of these workers filed class action lawsuits alleging exposure to known radiation hazards. These suits were dismissed by the appellate courts. Congress responded by devising a program allowing partial restitution to individuals who developed serious illnesses after exposure to radiation released during the atmospheric nuclear tests or after employment in the uranium industry: the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was passed on October 5, 1990. The Act’s scope of coverage was broadened in 2000.

The Act presents an apology and monetary compensation to individuals who contracted certain cancers and other serious diseases:

• following their exposure to radiation released during the atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, or

• following their occupational exposure to radiation while employed in the uranium industry during the Cold War arsenal build-up.

This unique statute was designed to serve as an expeditious, low-cost alternative to litigation. Significantly, RECA does not require claimants to establish causation. Rather, claimants qualify for compensation by establishing the diagnosis of a listed compensable disease after working or residing in a designated location for a specific period of time.

The UK conducted tests from 1952 to 1991, it was the largest Tri-Service operation since the D-Day landings. Over 22,000 servicemen participated in the Weapons Tests. The tests were carried out at Montebello, Emu Field, Maralinga, Christmas Island and Nevada. British forces also participated in the American ‘Operation Dominic’ series of tests.

Operation Dominic

Members of the UK armed forces took part in Operation Dominic, which was a US led testing program in the South Pacific. The UK servicemen who participated in these tests are eligible for compensation under the RECA program. These servicemen stood on the same Island as the UK servicemen witnessed nuclear tests and they can claim, yet the participants of the UK tests held years before cannot. The servicemen who witnessed Operation Dominic, witnessed the greatest number of tests in the shortest space of time, but it was the same island, same infrastructure created by the UK servicemen.

The time is right for the UK

The task forces who took part in the UK tests, came from across the commonwealth, it effected not only the UK based servicemen, but servicemen from across the commonwealth including New Zealand, Australia and Fiji. The UK claim that they do not have accurate records of the people who served and that record keeping at the time was not to ‘todays’ standards. Yet Public Health England have announced that they are going to conduct a 4th study into the Nuclear Veterans using the 21,000 people present at the tests and have continued to collect data regarding their health until the present day.

If they know of the 21,000 people who participated in the testing program, why not award them compensation?

If the award was £50,000 and 50% of the participants qualified under the RECA criteria, the total bill would be £550,000,00 which seems a lot of money, but when you compare this to the spend on Brexit of £39 billion or the budget for defence of $37.6 billion, it is a fraction of the cost. It is estimated that the government spend for 2016-17 was £772 billion.

The government have provided for projects for the Veterans under the Aged Veterans Fund, but this was reduced from £25 million to £6 million, of which £2 million will be used on a DNA program at Brunel University which should not be funded through Charity money and £400,000 will go in fees to the consultants running the project. Veterans should not have to apply for help and fill in pages of information relating to income and expenditure to be given a grant, they deserve more.

Whilst the RECA program is not perfect and some Veterans have been refused payments, it is a scheme which recognises the effects on the Nuclear Veterans

On average we lose one Nuclear Veteran in the UK every week, these men go to their graves without any recognition. Their families are suffering each day and the UK cannot even convene a committee to look into Medal recognition, it is six months since Alan Owen met the Defence Secretary and still no announcement.

These servicemen did their duty and suffered for the rest of their lives, their families are suffering, and our UK government still continue to delay and deny.

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