As the Patron of the British Nuclear Test Veterans’ Association (BNTVA) for many years, spurred on initially by a constituent who was himself a test veteran, I have been closely involved with the campaign on behalf of nuclear veterans and their families. I have stepped back in recent years largely because we achieved the aims of the BNTVA’s recognition campaign.
The test veterans are the approximately 20,000 British sailors, soldiers and airmen who participated in the testing of our nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1960s. At this time the science was largely unknown and precautions were rudimentary. Servicemen were often told simply to turn their backs and dust themselves down. Some of those not suffering from incontinence or severe blisters were ordered to collect samples of flora and fauna for scientists who were themselves wearing protective clothing.
In 2012 a cross-party campaign for official recognition by the Government of the veterans’ service was established, which was covered by the Daily Telegraph. This was achieved in 2014 with the-then Prime Minister announcing at PMQs that:
I am happy to tell the House that the Government recognise and are extremely grateful to all the service personnel who participated in the nuclear testing programme. We should be in no doubt that their selfless contribution helped to equip the UK with the deterrent that it needs..
This official recognition paved the way for the creation of the £25 million Aged Veterans Fund, announced at Budget 2015, from which test veterans and their descendants have directly benefited and continue to do so. The money from this scheme is administered by the Nuclear Charity Community Fund, which was formed as a sister organisation to the British Nuclear Test Veterans’ Association.