ABC Australia News | August 4, 2008

After years of denials, British defence chiefs have reportedly admitted that some servicemen were exposed to deadly radiation during nuclear tests in Australia and the South Pacific in the 1950s.

The Sunday Mirror newspaper says the admission is in papers filed with the High Court in London by lawyers for the Ministry of Defence.

A class action by hundreds of British veterans is due to start next year.

And Australian veterans of the nuclear tests are planning to begin their own lawsuit if they do not get better treatment from the Australian Government.

But Ric Johnstone, the national president of the Australian Nuclear Veterans Association, says veterans are still hopeful they will not have to go to court.

“We have our own class action going now – well it’s being set up, it’s not in court yet – but we do hope that this current government now will give full recognition to our service and give us full access to the Veterans Entitlement Act,” he said.

“[We want] full recognition of servicemen who have had hazardous service. Equal to that of serving in Vietnam or Iraq or anywhere else and full entitlement to access to pensions and the gold card.

“We want a health study on our widows and our children, our offspring. They will need ongoing and continuing support.”

Bureaucratic ‘secrecy’

But the issue of compensation is a long-running one. The tests were in the 1950s and the veterans involved are not getting any younger.

“The Government has planned it this way, and by government I don’t necessarily mean just the Labor Government,” Mr Johnstone said.

“When you change the Government, you change the politicians, but you don’t change the bureaucracy. And it’s the same bureaucracy and its defendants exist now that existed in the 1950s when the tests were on in top secret.

“There’s lots of aspects to those tests that have not yet been revealed because of the secrecy that is still maintained by the bureaucracy and whichever government happens to be in [power], whether it’s the coalition or the Labor government, they are in fact only given information from the bureaucracy.”


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