The French Government is now in the process of drawing up a bill to compensate veterans of French nuclear weapon tests – better later than never as many French veterans are dead or dying. This decision leaves the UK standing alone of the old Cold War powers in denying general liability for health problems suffered by those servicemen who were present at nuclear tests. The French decision has followed a gradual acceptance in the scientific and medical community and pressure from veteran’s organisations that veterans who received relatively low doses of radiation could suffer health problems.
Of the the remaining major Cold War powers that tested nuclear weapons:
- The USA offers one-off payments or health care costs to military and civilian test workers; the US government has made $45m (£28m) available to people affected by testing on the Bikini and Eniwetok atolls in the Marshall Islands.
- In Putin's Russia, the government passed a series of decrees in 2004 to provide health care and small monthly payment to test participants, though there is no blanket compensation scheme. The Kazakh Government, Kazakhstan which contains the Semipalatinsk test site, pays compensation to the local population there.
- In the People's Republic of China, the government is believed to have a secret programme to compensate nuclear test personnel, but it has scrupulously avoided any public discussion of the issue.
Meanwhile, in the UK, successive Conservative and New Labour government has maintained that there is no evidence of abnormal levels of illness in test veterans and family members. The New Labour Government says that it compensates where liability is proven, but argues that claims currently being made were brought too late to be considered.
So UK Veterans have continued their long campaign to press for recognition from successive Conservative and New Labour Governments. At the High Court (in London) passed a ruling on Friday (5th June 2009) which means that a group of more than 1,000 veterans has won the right to sue the Ministry of Defence for compensation, but conveniently from an MoD (and Treasury) perspective any case is likely to take years to reach any conclusion.
Find out more about the veteran's campaign at: http://www.bntva.com