In the British version of the Plutonium Files, which we interviewed author Eileen Welsome about on Dreamland March 4, it has been revealed that the British government conducted secret nuclear testing on Australian and New Zealand soldiers in the 1950s.
The British Ministry of Defense has admitted that it used Australian and New Zealand servicemen in clothing tests during the 1950s, after Scottish researcher Sue Rabbitt Roff unearthed a reference to the tests in documents she found in the Australian archives. Roff says that the documents she found contradict claims by the British government in the European Court of Human Rights in 1997 that no humans had ever been used in such experiments. ?The British government lied in court,? she says. She is checking to see if any of the soldiers involved in the tests have made any health claims against the government and is studying the rate of cancer among them.
According to the documents Roff found, troops dressed in a variety of protective clothing had to run, crawl and drive through a contaminated area to test the protective quality of the clothing. The documents showed that they entered the ?ground zero? areas of atomic bomb blasts at the Maralinga test site in South Australia shortly after nuclear devices had been detonated.
?We did conduct tests in the 1950s and 1960s on Commonwealth officers,? a Ministry of Defense spokesman admits. ?We were testing the effects of very low-level radiation fallout on clothing, not personnel.? However, the documents show that more than a third of the 76 people involved in one of the tests received more than the maximum permissible dose of radiation.
Thirty-five of the servicemen who took part in the tests have spoken up. John Burns, now age 83, and Roger Peart, now 78, told reporters that trucks were used to speed past them and raise dust, making sure they got radioactive fallout on their heads. They wore protective clothing, but other servicemen exposed to the 1956 tests in the Maralinga desert wore only shorts and short-sleeved shirts.
?I don?t suppose it mattered how we felt,? says Peart. ?We were all serving officers. We just had to do it?I don?t think they intended to kill us.? He has never noticed any side-effects from the testing.
John Burns says that they did not think too much about the danger because high-ranking officers were sent. ?It wasn?t as if ordinary soldiers were being put through something that the top brass knew about but kept quiet?We were all in our ordinary uniforms. The only protection we had was by turning our backs.?
Asked if he felt the men had been used as guinea pigs, Burns said it was a difficult question. He did not recall signing anything to give his consent, but he was aware of the dangers involved. He has had no health problems, other than a small bout of skin cancer, but he says he feels he now feels morally bound to join the other soldiers seeking compensation from the British government.
One of the outrages of this revelation is that the British military used so many Australian and New Zealand officers, whom they may have seen as more expendable that British soldiers. New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark says, ?This story is about New Zealanders who in effect were experimented upon at Maralinga.?
Avon Hudson, who served in the Royal Australian Air Force at Maralinga in 1960, says that only 1,000-1,500 of the Australian servicemen who participated in the tests are still alive. ?Many of them died due to radiation,? he says.
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