Sunday, June 7, 2009

NZ Mururoa veterans want compensation

Stuff, Herald


Last updated 11:40 07/06/2009

New Zealand veterans exposed to radiation from French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll are hoping the Government will take a lead from a British court judgment and pay them compensation.

Last week the High Court in London announced veterans from New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Britain could sue the British Ministry of Defence for compensation for radiation exposure from British nuclear testing in the 1950s.

The High Court clearance came about because of cutting-edge research by New Zealand scientist Dr Al Rowland, who proved the radiation New Zealand sailors were exposed to in the South Pacific and Australia between 1952 and 1958 caused illnesses including cancer and chromosome damage.

Mururoa Veterans Society president Peter Mitchell said today the New Zealand Government should also allow compensation for the New Zealand sailors affected by radiation exposure in 1973.

He said 500 New Zealand sailors were exposed to radiation when the Government sent the frigates Otago and Canterbury to Mururoa to draw world attention to French atmospheric nuclear testing.

The exposure has had lasting effects because they were not told the dangers of being so close to the nuclear explosions he said.

"Nobody told us that many of us, and our children and grandchildren, would subsequently suffer radiation effects."

The society approached the Government last month for compensation but Minister for Veteran Affairs Judith Collins wrote back setting out pensions and benefits currently available, Mr Mitchell said.

Because of the British High Court decision the UK government is now exposed to a potential compensation bill running into hundreds of millions of dollars if the 1000 veterans of tests in the South Pacific and Australia prove their illnesses are a result of the nuclear exposure.

The British MoD argued that the group had waited too long to lodge its claim and was excluded under limitations regulations.

But giving his verdict in the High Court in London last week, Justice David Foskett said Dr Rowland's scientific study involving veterans in New Zealand had provided new evidence of the potential health impact of the tests.

This was "crucial and pivotal" for any potential case against the MoD, he said.

The MoD would be allowed to appeal, the judge said, but he urged ministers to consider a settlement rather than drag out legal proceedings further.

The veterans took part in the programme on the Australian mainland, Monte Bello islands and Christmas Island between 1952 and 1958 and have claimed that is the reason they suffer cancer, skin defects and fertility problems.
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Many of them are terminally ill and seven have died since the hearing at London's High Court in January.

Dr Rowland's study compared the frequency of chromosome translocations in a group of 50 nuclear-test veterans with a control group of 50 men of similar ages and lifestyles.

- NZPA