Surviving Australian veterans of the British nuclear tests at Maralinga, Monte Bello Island and Christmas Island in the 1950s and 60s are joining British and other nuclear veterans in taking the British government to court in what could be one of the most significant compensation cases in legal history.
Thousands of servicemen were ordered into the radiation zones and forced to clean radiated planes and vehicles during the 17 nuclear bomb blasts at the three sites between 1952 and 1958, as well as dozens of secret smaller nuclear tests up to 1963. The men developed cancers at three times the rate of other men. Many of their children and grandchildren have been born with deformities.
Fallout Map appears in this submission by Paul Langley, a soldier who served at the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RAEME) Radiac Centre – where military radiation detectors were repaired. Paul Langley’s own exposure to radiation was due to stored radioisotopes used to calibrate instruments in the course of repairing radiation testing equipment. At the time the Radiac Centre also played a role in identifying fallout from the then French Nuclear tests as the fallout arrived in Australia.
Stacks/The Law Firm has agreed to represent The Australian Nuclear Veterans Association in the legal battle to take place in London in 2010.
Australian ex-servicemen, who were exposed to radiation and used as virtual guinea pigs during the nuclear tests, will join 1000 British ex-servicemen and widows who, after a long legal battle, won the right to take the UK Ministry of Defence to court in a class action.
It is a race against time as applications have to be lodged before a legal deadline of May 2010. Bad health and high death rates means that of the original 8,000 Australian nuclear veterans it is believed only 2,000 are still alive.
Tom Goudkamp of Sydney based law firm Stacks/Goudkamp will head the legal team assembled by Stacks to mount the court case in London.
“The UK courts offer the best chance for the Australian nuclear veterans to win their case. The Australian courts have a statute of limitations which would be difficult to surmount,” Mr Goudkamp said.
The class action could include up to 1,500 surviving British, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian ex-servicemen who were deliberately exposed to radiation from the nuclear tests. Their widows can also be part of the class action.
About 100 Australian veterans are ready to join the class action, but Mr Goudkamp is keen to hear from the hundreds of other nuclear veterans and their families who might wish to be part of the class action. They are urged to contact Mr Goudkamp via the law firm’s website www.stacksgoudkamp.com.au.
It will be a massive undertaking, but Stacks is running the case on a no-win, no-fee basis. Mr Goudkamp said the London law firm representing the British nuclear veterans, Rosenblatt, has already done tremendous work in winning the fight to be able to sue the UK Defence Ministry and amassing crucial evidence linking veterans’ health problems to their exposure to radiation
National President of the Australian Nuclear Veterans Association, Ric Johnstone, of Gosford NSW and senior vice president Alan Batchelor of Canberra, sat down with Goudkamp and his legal team and agreed it was best to pursue the case together with the British veterans in London rather than through Australian courts.
The Australian Nuclear Veterans Association acknowledges that the British nuclear tests in Australia between 1952 and 1963 at Emu Field and other areas were conducted on the traditional tribal lands of the Kokatha people in “Outback South Australia”.
Under a treaty with the UK, Britain paid Australia 20 million pounds sterling as a compensation fund for the victims of the “fall out”, but nuclear ex-servicemen haven’t received any of it. The veterans and their families have been battling for decades to get successive governments to acknowledge the damage done to their health by the nuclear tests.
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The Royal Commission concluded that it did not have sufficient evidence that the radiation caused the illnesses described by the residents of Wallatinna and Welbourn Hill. This was in spite of the reports of 50 eye-witnesses….
Ms Dingaman who recollects the Maralinga bombings, said “the number of children who were abducted from their homes and detained at the Umeewarra Mission had reached about seventy by the mid 1960s.
Many of these children were ill from the atomic bombs and babies were already being born deformed”. The white ones damaged our land and water with their bombs, all of it. Then changed it’s name. Maralinga is not one of our words.
“We the Kokatha have never “offered” our land to mining companies or other projects. Our grandfathers once trusted the smooth tongued men. Their sons and their children then suffered at Maralinga”.