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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 January 2008, 14:50 GMT
Test veteran's compensation fears
Doug Atkinson: Pic Doug Atkinson
Mr Atkinson was a cook in his mid-20s when the tests took place
A veteran of Britain's nuclear bomb tests who has terminal cancer fears he may not live to see if a compensation claim against the MoD succeeds.

Doug Atkinson, 75, from Plymouth blames his illness on unprotected exposure to radiation during the tests in 1956.

He was a leading cook on board Devonport-based HMS Diana when the ship was sent to the Monte Bello islands off Australia on a highly secret mission.

The crew witnessed two nuclear bomb detonations. The MoD denies liability.

Mr Atkinson said there was little in the way of protection and afterwards the ship sailed through the radioactive cloud.

Radiation was in its infancy and they were not sure what they were up against
Doug Atkinson

"We were dressed in sandals and shorts and told to turn our backs on the explosion. There was a big flash and the brightest lights you could ever see," he told BBC News.

After the explosions the young seaman's back erupted in large ulcers and he experienced a series of health problems.

He retired early with back problems caused by a crumbling spine.

Last year he was diagnosed with cancer affecting his bones and stomach, and he has been told he has between six months and two years to live.

"I would like to see a successful outcome. But, unfortunately, if the medics are right - and I hope they're not - I won't see it," he said.

About 60% of HMS Diana's crew have now died.

Mr Atkinson said little was known about the effects of nuclear weapons 50 years ago.

"Radiation was in its infancy and they were not sure what they were up against," he said.

"But they were prepared to take the risk because they were thousands of miles away, while we were in the thick of it."

HMS Diana crew. Pic: Doug Atkinson
About two-thirds of the crew is no longer alive

Thousands of British servicemen were involved in nuclear testing in the 1950s, but no government has accepted liability for illness.

The MoD has said for years there was no independent evidence that veterans had suffered unduly, despite recent scientific evidence from New Zealand showing a link between the nuclear tests and the men's illnesses.

About 800 servicemen are fighting a legal battle for compensation, but it will be about a year before a court decides if the trial can go ahead.

Mervyn Fudge, acting as a consultant for the law firm Rosenblatt which represents the British Nuclear Test Veterans' Association, said it was a scandal and even more men would die by the time the case was heard.

In a statement, the MoD told BBC News: "The government recognises its obligations to veterans of the UK nuclear tests.

"However, this group action refers to events which took place more than 50 years ago and it will ultimately be the courts which decide whether this action can proceed."

Mr Atkinson said the veterans wanted the government to accept it had a duty of care to protect their health - and it failed in that duty.

Australia probes nuclear test claims
17 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific

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