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Between 1952 and 1967 the UK undertook nuclear weapons testing at sites including Australia and several islands in the Pacific Ocean. 

In the time since the nuclear tests, it has been alleged that veterans and civilians who took part in the operations (and their children) have suffered health conditions as a result.  There have been legal cases seeking compensation on this issue, and ongoing research.

The UK Government states that it recognises and is “grateful to all Service personnel who participated in the British nuclear testing programme.” The Prime Minister announced a new Nuclear Test Medal in November 2022, which he said recognised nuclear test veterans’ “contribution to our safety, freedom and way of life.”  In relation to health concerns, the government has stated that numerous studies “have consistently demonstrated that cancer and mortality rates for the Nuclear Test Veterans are similar to those serving contemporaneously in the UK Armed Forces who did not participate in the testing programme, and lower than for the general population.”

Any veteran who believes they have suffered ill-health due to service has the right to apply for no-fault compensation under the War Pensions Scheme.

In September 2023, a new legal case was launched by a group of nuclear test veterans for access to medical records held by the Ministry of Defence (MOD).  BBC News reported that the discovery of new documents showed that the MOD may have a number of medical files recording the results of blood and urine sample testing but, when veterans request these reports, they had been told they were “missing or incomplete.”  The Government have said no records have been withheld from veterans and that these can be requested from the MOD.

The Supreme Court ruled against a previous class action of over a thousand veterans and family members in 2012. The Court held that the case was not brought within the statutory timeframe and that there were no grounds for the Court to exercise its discretion to disapply the prescribed time limit, as the veterans’ claims had no real prospect of success.

This briefing will provide background information on nuclear weapons tests, the Government’s recognition of nuclear test veterans and current and previous legal action in this area.

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