UK nuclear test veterans to receive medal as Government recognises service 70 years on

Watch: New medal to honour Britain's nuclear test veterans.

Britain's nuclear test veterans are set to receive medals honouring their participation in the UK's nuclear weapons testing programme.

It is the first time the UK Government has acknowledged the veterans' service in 70 years, as veterans gathered for a special event at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

The event, taking place 70 years after the first British test of a nuclear weapon, was attended by service personnel, veterans and their families and representatives from military charities, as well as the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and Veterans' Affairs Minister Johnny Mercer.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was "incredibly proud" the UK is "able to mark the service and dedication of our nuclear test veterans" with the medal.

"Their commitment and service has preserved peace for the past 70 years, and it is only right their contribution to our safety, freedom and way of life is appropriately recognised with this honour.

"This medal is an enduring symbol of our country's gratitude to each and every person who played a part in this effort and their loved ones who supported them," he added.

The Nuclear Test Medal will be a commemorative medal that can be worn by recipients and also recognises the contribution made by veterans and civilians from across Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Kiribati.

Watch: Veteran calls for medals for all nuclear weapons test personnel.

Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey said it marks a "huge victory" for the veterans who "campaigned so hard and so long for justice".

"It is long-overdue recognition of the risks they faced in service and the lasting consequences their families suffer," the Labour MP said.

"Labour has been proud to give Nuclear Test Veterans our fullest backing and has consistently supported calls to honour their service.

"In government, Labour will review the system for awarding medals to serving personnel and veterans to ensure they get the recognition they deserve without having to resort to lengthy campaigns or ministerial intervention."

All service personnel and civilians under UK command – including close partners from the Commonwealth and Pacific region – who participated in, or were present at, the British or American nuclear tests at the Montebello Islands, Christmas Island, Malden Island and Maralinga & Emu Field, South Australia, between 1952 and 1967, will be eligible for the medal.

As well as military personnel, it also includes scientists and local employees, with an estimated 22,000 veterans eligible for medallic recognition.

The medal can also be awarded posthumously, with veterans, families and next of kin needing to apply for the medal – which is free of charge.

It is expected the first awards of the medal will be made next year.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: "I am delighted that a commemorative medal can be given to our nuclear test veterans, who have made an invaluable contribution to the safety and security of the UK, and who we recognise and value for their enduring service to our nation."

The veterans and civilian staff, including personnel from across the Commonwealth, made the UK the third nuclear power after the tests – known as Op Hurricane.

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Their work contributed to Britain achieving the nuclear deterrent. 

Minister for Veterans' Affairs Johnny Mercer said the "medal honours those who served far from home, at a crucial time in our nation's history".

"To this day the nuclear deterrent remains the cornerstone of our defence, and that is only because of the service and contribution of the brilliant veterans and civilian personnel," he said.

"It's right that we mark this contribution today, 70 years on from Britain’s first nuclear test."

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for veterans of the testing programme to be given medals in recognition of their service when leaving office, whilst Liz Truss suggested awarding medals to those who participated in the nuclear programme when running for Tory leader.

The Government is also investing £450,000 into projects commemorating the veterans and helping understand the experiences of those deployed to Australasia for the tests.

The Office for Veterans' Affairs is also providing £250,000 for an oral project chronicling the voices of those who supported Op Hurricane.    Due to start in April 2023, the project will run for two years to allow veterans the opportunity to be interviewed and contribute to an accessible digital archive of testimonies on the tests.   The Office for Veterans' Affairs has also made £200,000 available, open to bids from charities to support them in activities for nuclear test veterans.