Hope rekindled for nuclear test veterans as PM reviews evidence

David Cameron is considering whether to overturn Ministry of Defence resistance to recognising Britain's nuclear test veterans.

The prime minister has met with Conservative backbencher John Baron and has promised to ask questions within the government about the issue.

Around 20,000 British servicemen were exposed to radiation during Britain's atomic tests in the Pacific Ocean in the 1950s.

Unlike other countries like France and the US, which have provided compensation without requiring a direct medical link to future illnesses, Britain has consistently refused to even recognise a causal link.

But 39% of veterans' descendants have been born with serious conditions compared to a national average of 2.5%. The average among French nuclear test veterans is 35%.

"Our nuclear test veterans are a special case," Baron said.

"One in three of their descendents suffers from serious illness – figures supported by studies in other countries, including France.

"Their unique service, at a time when the science was unknown and the precautions rudimentary, made possible our independent nuclear deterrent. However, we compare poorly as to how other countries treat their veterans."

Remaining veterans and their relatives have been given renewed hope by Baron's meeting with the prime minister.

Ian Hall, the son of a nuclear test veteran, told Politics.co.uk the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association had abandoned calling for compensation and only wanted recognition.

He said his father, who died of leukaemia aged 1992 aged 53, had serviced the aircraft flown through the nuclear mushroom cloud on Christmas Island in the 1950s.

"When he first became ill, the very first thing the doctor said was 'have you ever had any contact with radiation?'" Hall said.

"But there are far worse stories. We want the government to look after those still suffering now. Many of the veterans are suffering anguish now every time there's a grandchild born – they're just praying they're healthy, and mentally torturing themselves, saying 'it's my fault'."

The MoD's war pension scheme requires the applicant to prove a causal link between illness and presence at a nuclear test.

Only those who flew in aircraft through the nuclear mushroom cloud have received any form of compensation. Ninety per cent of compensation applications have been rejected.

Baron is campaigning for Cameron to make a statement to parliament acknowledging the issue and an ex gratia payment of £25 million into a benevolent fund for veterans and their descendants.

"The country owes a huge debt of gratitude to our veterans," Baron added.

"The government has done well to recognise past wrongs. Our hope is that it will do so again here."