4 Aug 2008

British defence admits servicemen exposed to dangerous radiation

5:03 pm on 4 August 2008

British defence chiefs have admitted that servicemen were exposed to dangerous radiation levels during nuclear tests in Australia and the South Pacific in the 1950s.

The dramatic admission, made after years of denials, features in papers filed with the High Court in London by Ministry of Defence lawyers.

Britain's Sunday Mirror newspaper says the court papers reveal that the Ministry of Defence now believes nuclear tests were responsible for the deaths of some British servicemen.

However, the ministry insists that only 159 men were affected out of the 20,000 who were present.

About 800 former servicemen from Britain, New Zealand and Fiji earlier this year launched a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against the Ministry of Defence. They claim they were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation during tests at sites including Maralinga in South Australia and Christmas Island.

Roy Sefton, the president of the New Zealand arm of the Nuclear Test Veterans Association, says the British Ministry of Defence had no choice but to make the admission after years of repeated denials.

Mr Sefton says it is a case of science finally catching up with the authorities.