[1989:] My brother-in-law told me that when he'd been in the army in the 1950s, he was sent to Christmas Island. The whole north end of the island was flat and black from nuclear tests. He was one of 1100 soldiers who were marched down one day to witness a nuclear explosion. They were told to stand with their hands over their eyes and turn their backs to the blast. Jim said that when the flash came it was so bright that through his closed eyes he could see the bones in his hands. The army had told them it was an experiment, and that it was a risk, but it was an acceptable risk. (Intro Iain MacKintosh)
[1994:] The Foreign Office illegally smuggled lethal radioactive debris from H-bomb tests back to Britain in diplomatic bags carried on ordinary passenger airline flights [...]. The debris from the early nuclear tests on Christmas Island in the Pacific was gathered by RAF crews who were ordered to fly their Canberras through the nuclear clouds, taking samples. The air crews were exposed to radiation doses more than 30 times higher than the internationally-agreed safety limit of the late 1950s, when the first British H-bombs were exploded.
Whitehall records newly placed in the Public Record Office at Kew, West London, reveal that those in charge of the operations were well aware of the dangers. One file includes a first-hand report on 'cloud sampling' by an Air Ministry official, Squadron Leader S. J. Pooley, an observer sent out to monitor the tests from the ground. Marked 'Top Secret - atomic - UK eyes only', it says: 'The most striking feature of the sampling procedure was the remarkably penetrating quality of the radioactivity. It was quite impossible to confine it. In fact, the sampling tent was soon so active that the samples had to be taken outside for radiation counts. After four showers and a haircut, I was still above the permissible level of activity which did not fall until the following day.' He guessed his radiation dose could have been about five times permissible levels.
Despite that acknowledged danger, scheduled Qantas flights were then used - without the airline's knowledge - to get the unmarked, deadly and illegal 'diplomatic' cargo back to London, and Aldermaston's Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. The flights went via Honolulu, San Francisco and New York, and the covert cargo was secretly approved by the State Department in Washington. Military flights had been abandoned because of the costs involved; scheduled cargo was cheaper.
Although the H-bomb dust was sealed in cans, placed in polythene bags and loaded into lead-lined boxes before being despatched under bogus diplomatic cover, it is impossible to know whether innocent Qantas passengers and crew were exposed to radiation. [...] William Norman Saxby, the courier who accompanied the first 'diplomatic bag' consignment from Christmas Island in 1957, died from two different types of cancer in 1991. [...] The chilling indifference of officials for public safety - let alone the lives of servicemen - was best illustrated by a Foreign Office letter stating that, while every precaution should naturally be taken to protect airline passengers and crew, the H-bomb material was to be kept well away from Whitehall, ignoring the usual rule that all diplomatic bags should be taken straight to the Foreign Office for opening. (Anthony Bevins, Observer, 6 Feb)
[1997:] In all, 12,000 men, mostly conscripts, were exposed to radioactive fall-out in the Christmas Island tests. Up to 60 per cent of those troops suffered illness as a consequence. Many have died, some in the most horrible circumstances. To this day, their sons and daughters are prone to genetic disorders. [They] were made to parade on the beach as the bombs went off. The troops were dressed in standard army gear for the tropics, shirt and shorts, without goggles or protective clothing. Nor did they have radiation checks afterwards. It was no accident that the troops were there. In fact, you could say that [those who died were] murdered by the British Government. Classified documents unearthed in the Public Records Office in Kew make it clear that one purpose of the tests was to ascertain the effects of radiation on soldiers. [...]
Ken McGinley is 59 and has been unable to work since 1973 - made sick, he believes, by nuclear fall-out. He witnessed the tests and his face is scarred by the blisters that erupted days after the explosion. Like many test 'veterans' he is sterile. [...] 'It was a glorious day, 28 April, 1958. We were told to sit on the beach and a voice came from the tannoy. "Three...Two...One...Zero. Cover your eyes." I had my fists shoved into my eyes and my back to the area where the bomb was going off. There was a flash and I was able to see straight through my hands - the veins, the blood and worst of all I could see the flesh itself. There was a scorching pain and I screamed. "Look at the bomb now," ordered the voice on the PA.'
Three days later, the blisters started to appear on his face, hands and neck; his leg became numb. The army doctor told him not to worry. Ginger Redman, McGinley's mate, was probably told the same. A few days after the blast, Redman died - the cause of his death was 'unknown'. [...]
The local doctor confirms [that today] there are very few old people on the island. [Few islanders] live more than a few years beyond 50. [...] He tells of a patient in her teens who died recently of leukaemia. Her parents were on Christmas Island at the time of the tests. Of course, he suspects the obvious but he shrugs his shoulders. Kiribati [Christmas Island] lacks the technology to do the necessary tests. [...] He talks about the tons of equipment the British left behind here. [...] The debris is ugly, but much worse, it is toxic. At best, the water supply is being contaminated by heavy metal poisoning. At worst, it contains radiation. [...]
[Tonga, now in his seventies,] speaks nostalgically of the troops, but not of their government: 'We are a happy people. We do not have wars or bombs. Most of the people who were here during the tests passed away of strange diseases we had not seen before. When they exploded the bombs they didn't think of us, of our wives or our children. We didn't know what was happening to us and they did not care. Why did they do it here and not over England? Why have they left all the equipment which is making our water very poor?' [...] Christmas Island has but two legacies of British rule - Christianity and radiation. Evidence of the former is abundant, to prove the effects of the latter is more difficult. Or is it? The island has few visitors and boasts just one 'tourist attraction'. It stands proudly, a few hundred yards from the ocean: a seven-headed palm. Palms are supposed to have one head. 'Do you know the scientific term for that?' asks an Australian aid worker. 'Mutation.' (Barry Hugill, Observer, 26 Oct)
[2003:] He was there on Christmas Island, at 17, when they tested three H bombs and two A bombs. Chris had gone there with the Royal Engineers to build the runways for the tests. Afterwards, they kept them there. The troops - about 1,000 men - lined up in cotton overalls and felt the blast. It was amazing. They were 15 miles away, but even then they could see it through their eyelids; some said they saw the bones in their hands lighting up through their skin. [...] In 1984, while he was still in the RAF, he'd discovered tumours on his chest. The next year, he left the service. [...] But at 64 he's just been diagnosed with cancer of the bladder. He's been in hospital to have three tumours removed. It's because of Christmas Island. He's sure of it. He has been a member of the British Nuclear Tests Veterans' Association for years. He goes to their annual meetings when he can, and marches with those that make it to the Cenotaph once a year. He has no doubt they were used as guinea pigs; now they're dying for it. He remembers his friend who washed down the dusty Canberras after they'd flown through the mushroom cloud to take samples. He's long, long dead. Sometimes it makes him angry that he was just 17 when they sent him there, but he tries not to get too worked up about it. 'What's the point?' The government and the MoD are never going to do anything to redress what happened, he believes. Besides, in those days, it was blind allegiance to your queen and country. That's what made Britain great. We could do with a bit more of it these days, Chris reckons. So, in October, instead of going to Cyprus, he goes back to Worthing hospital to find out whether more tumours have grown. (Observer Magazine, 10 Aug)
[2005:] Mit dem Ziel, die eigenen Supermachtansprüche zu demonstrieren, führte Frankreich seit den sechziger Jahren Atomtests durch, sicherheitshalber am anderen Ende der Welt: auf Atollen des paradiesischen Französisch-Polynesien. Um Umwelt und Bewohner machte man sich nicht allzu große Sorgen, sie waren der radioaktiven Strahlung fast schutzlos ausgeliefert. Gut neun Jahre nach dem letzten Test besuchte der Autor Ben Lewis für seine Dokumentation Greenpeace-Aktivisten und verstrahlte Insulaner und zeigt dazu die Bilder der überirdischen Atombombenexplosionen. Eine Gefahr, so behaupten die Verantwortlichen vor laufender Kamera, habe es nie gegeben - doch im Film vorgeführte Geheimdokumente belegen das Gegenteil. (Zur Sendung 'Das verstrahlte Paradies', Spiegel, 25. Juli)
[2007:] The surviving crew of a British warship ordered into the radioactive fallout of a nuclear bomb test have [given] remarkable new testimonies that form part of their case to win government compensation. The destroyer HMS Diana was sent by defence officials into the zone of an atomic test in the South Pacific in 1956 to discover the effects of a nuclear explosion on naval vessels and their men. Of the 308-strong crew, around two-thirds have died, with survivors claiming that a range of illnesses including cancer, cataracts and lung disorders may have been caused by 'ingesting radiation'. [The testimonies] reveal for the first time how some of the Diana's crew were mysteriously infertile or with radiation levels 36 times higher than the natural background level. In others, wives tell how fit husbands became suddenly frail and died prematurely. Some describe how they gave birth to dead or deformed babies. [...] The Ministry of Defence refuses to admit liability and compensate the men, arguing that they have submitted their claims too long after the tests. The decision could see the entire case thrown out and the full truth of what happened during Britain's controversial nuclear tests of the Fifties never heard in court. [...]
The atomic experiments on the deserted Monte Bello islands, 200 miles north of Australia, involved the vessel being required to enter the blast zone to 'pick up as much contamination as possible'. Yet even before the tests, internal papers provided by the government's atomic weapons agency reveal that officials were attempting to distance themselves from the Diana tests if adverse health effects were later diagnosed. [...] The scores of statements depict how men were grouped on the upper deck of Diana during detonation, many in white shorts and sandals and without goggles to shield them from the blast. A crew member [...] believes they were deliberately contaminated. He said: 'Men were standing or sitting for 12 hours a day on metal plates that had been deliberately left open to see what contamination could be picked up. Three hours after the second bomb went off, the ship was ordered to sail through the fallout to pick up as much rubbish - contamination - as the ship and crew could take.'
The MoD is contesting the claims using a legal technicality that requires them to be lodged within three years of a diagnosis. But lawyers argue that only now has science suggested the link between the tests and the men's illnesses. (Mark Townsend, Observer, 6 Jan)
See also :
Robinson, Just Testing
Nuclear 'health threat' to generations
Nicht ganz so harmlos. Französische Atombombentests in Polynesien steigerten Krebsrisiko