Britain sent 22,000 soldiers to witness a total of 21 nuclear bomb tests in the Pacific between 1952 and 1958. Since then they and their descendants have suffered from severe health problems. Neil Kinnock believes the nuclear veterans deserve recognition and justice.
When I was Leader of the Labour Party, over 21 years ago, I made a promise to those who served on the British Nuclear Weapons tests between 1952 and 1967:
If we secured the election of a Labour Government, we would address the lack of recognition of the risks they took whilst serving our country, and respond to the issues of untypically poor health that were already becoming clear in those that were still alive.
It was a promise that I was not able to keep but it is a debt that remains with me today. That is why I am adding my voice to their recognition campaign that is currently being waged in Parliament.
I first became involved as an MP when a retired Royal Navy Chief Petty officer, who lived in my Constituency of Islwyn came to my ‘surgery’. He had been part of a large group of soldiers, sailors and RAF men that had been ordered to witness nuclear bomb tests in the South Pacific.
In his retirement he was suffering from significant ill health that he believed was a result of being present at the tests. Through him I met others who were experiencing similar illnesses.
Policy of denial
Back in the early 1990’s, the Government of the day – advised by the civil servants of the MOD – denied any link between the ill-health of the veterans and the tests. That, sadly, continues to be the position today.
It was never an argument that I accepted. I am even less convinced now when there are twenty more years of history of deaths and illnesses among test veterans.
These men and their families have been campaigning for decades. They rightly feel forgotten by the powers that be. They’ve been through the courts, and to their elected representatives.
Some progress has been made; the previous Government commissioned the Health Needs Audit, which has helped with practical measures such as improving pathways for veterans through the NHS. But more advances are vital before justice is done.
In recent months, the veterans’ campaign stepped up a gear, with a cross-party group of over 80 MPs forming in Parliament led by the BNTVA (British Nuclear Test Veterans Association) and their Patron John Baron MP.
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