BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Asia-Pacific
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Michael Peschardt
"There was a growing sense... that this country was badly used by Britain during the nuclear testing era"
 real 56k

Minister responsible for veterans Dr Lewis Moonie
"No British personnel were put at exceptional danger"
 real 28k

Saturday, 12 May, 2001, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Australia confronts UK over N-tests
Warning sign at the Maralinga nuclear site
The legacy of nuclear testing at Maralinga is still visible
The Australian Government is considering demanding compensation from Britain for using Australian servicemen in radiation experiments in the 1950s.

We were testing the effects of very low level radiation fallout on clothing not personnel

UK Ministry of Defence spokesman
The UK Government admitted on Friday that Australian troops had been ordered to run, walk and crawl across contaminated nuclear test sites.

But it says the troops were only exposed to very low levels of radiation and were not put at risk.

The Australian Government will raise the issue on Monday at a meeting with Britain's defence minister in London.

Not satisfied

"I think where a clear connection can be made between servicemen and women suffering as a result of the tests and what happened during those tests, of course the federal government would look at those questions, " Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said on Saturday.

Mr Downer's comments are an indication that his government is not satisfied with British reassurances about the safety of tests.

New research into Australian archive documents at Scotland's Dundee University has revealed that 24 Australian servicemen tested different types of clothing to find out what protection they offered against radiation.

The researcher, Professor Sue Rabbitt Roff, said the archives contradicted statements by the UK Government that no humans were used in experiments in nuclear weapons tests.

Britain conducted a series of tests at Monte Bello Island off Western Australia and at Maralinga in the southern Australian desert during the 1950s.

In one test at Maralinga, the servicemen were asked to wear particular types of clothing as they walked and crawled in the area hours and days after the detonation.

Asked to participate

But Britain denied that this amounted to using people for experimental purposes.

Soldiers crouching before a detonation
Servicemen were told to crouch moments before a detonation
"We never used people as human guinea pigs," a Ministry of Defence spokesman said.

"We did conduct tests in the 1950s and 1960s on Commonwealth officers and they were asked to participate as logistical support.

"We were testing the effects of very low level radiation fallout on clothing, not personnel."

Those issues will be raised on Monday when Australia's Minister for Veteran Affairs, Bruce Scott, meets UK Defence Minister John Spellar in London.

Nuclear tests timeline
1952-63 - British Government carries out nuclear tests in Australia
1956 - Maralinga becomes location for all tests in Australia
1967 - Maralinga officially closed
1984 Australian Royal Commission set up in response to safety concerns

One survivor of the nuclear trials in south Australia says the death rate among his former colleagues is alarmingly high because of illnesses caused by the exposure to radiation.

Avon Hudson, who served with the Royal Australian Air Force in the early 1960s, said the dangers were so great, men had a better chance of survival in a war zone than they did at Maralinga.

Morris May, a lawyer representing a group of 30 Australian veterans seeking compensation for exposure to radiation during nuclear testing, told Australian radio his clients had long claimed they were used as guinea pigs.

He said one veteran, a driver, had described how he had been instructed to walk through a contaminated area wearing army issue woollen clothing. No one had believed him.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

28 Jan 00 | UK
The nuclear 'guinea pigs'
09 Jun 98 | UK
A-test veterans' court hope
29 May 98 | Despatches
Britain's nuclear legacy buried
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Asia-Pacific stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Asia-Pacific stories