Nuclear veterans exposed to radiation “so important records could be preserved,” documents say


A document shows senior staff concerned about monitoring fallout “without unduly endangering staff” – and it speaks of measuring radiation absorbed by people

Nuclear test veterans Archie Hart, John Morris and Alan Owen join Susie Boniface to meet Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Liverpool City Area Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham
Nuclear test veterans Archie Hart, John Morris and Alan Owen join Susie Boniface to meet Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Liverpool City Area Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham

Government medical experts agreed to expose seafarers to carcinogenic levels of radiation because otherwise “important records and observations would be lost”.

Shocking new documents have been unearthed showing that top officials intended to expose soldiers to more than a decade of normal background radiation in just one day.

The revelation comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to “take personal responsibility” to solve decades of injustice for veterans of Britain’s nuclear weapons tests.

Archie Hart, 84, who was one of the exposed crew members and now has 100 benign tumors all over his body, said: “This proves what I’ve always suspected – we were guinea pigs put at risk by men who sat safely behind a Desk in Whitehall.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson


POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The revelations come within 300 pages of memos from 1956 about Operation Mosaic, in which the destroyer HMS Diana was ordered to sail through nuclear fallout from two atomic bombs for a total of 16 hours.

They state that “this was the first operation by any of the HM ships to gain first-hand experience of fallout and contamination” and “what dangers, if any, to technical personnel as a result of passage through fallout from nuclear weapons.” are to be expected”.

A memo shows senior officials are concerned to monitor the fallout “without unduly endangering staff.” It speaks of measuring the radiation absorbed by humans and adds: “Diana will not be able to determine such values.”

The papers show that the director of physical research proposes “low” radiation limits for Diana’s crew, equivalent to a background radiation level of 13 years, “higher” doses of 87 years, and a “special” dose of 219 years.

Nuclear test veteran Archie Hart


Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

Armed Forces Medical Director-General John Morley Holford agrees, saying he “estimates that in these rare and very expensive surgeries it is prudent for staff to take some minor risks rather than important records and observations being lost”.

Holford, who later became the Queen’s personal physician, adds that for the highest doses, “elderly rather than younger men should be selected” “when practicable”.

He doesn’t explain why, but at the time radiation was known to have genetic effects. Today, children of test veterans have a 10 times higher rate of birth defects.

In 2006, scientists reported that the doses described in the publications as “low” could cause cancer. Earlier this year, a government study found that 58 percent of HMS Diana’s 282 crew members have since died, two-thirds of them from cancer.

Her captain, John Gower, later said parts of his ship had become “unacceptably hot” from radiation and complained about the lack of medical care for his crew.

The veterans were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation


(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

After retiring, he said it was “an appalling waste of a unique opportunity” because there had been no attempt to figure out the physical and psychological impact on the crew.

He said: “Why not get good value for money by testing everything – both men and guns? They did it in the US. The Prime Minister’s response in 1983 was that “no one was exposed to any serious health risk”. But without testing, how is it possible to be sure?”

The papers also show senior officers who chose to sail Diana with the vents open “to find out exactly what contamination was being drawn in, but we could not say how serious a problem this might be causing”.

After the explosions, which occurred on the Monte Bello Islands off the north-west coast of Australia, “loose contamination levels in both engine rooms used were well above the health tolerance”. They add, “There might be some danger at a later date from the danger taken.”

Fallout was later found in the ship’s air vents, on boots, ladders, and decks. The newspapers also report that a meter used to detect radiation in soldiers “appears far too insensitive” and could only detect contamination if it was several hundred times worse than the exposure limit set for the crew.

Shocking new documents have been unearthed


Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

After the explosions, a report stated: “The main conclusions are… that the resulting contamination is mainly loose, that it is easily transmitted to the lungs and stomach and must therefore be regarded as a hazard, although the external dose rate is very low.” There are no test devices in operation and there is little doctrine on this hazard.”

Archie, from Warrington, was just 18 and on national service when he served as stoker on Diana. He then worked on the railroad and had five children. His eldest daughter was unable to have more than one child, his wife suffered a miscarriage, and at the age of just 65, Archie had 18 inches of his intestine removed after battling cancer.

Archie said: “Even the officers on board didn’t know much more than we did. We all happily went into this travesty, and afterwards the captain told us we were being used as guinea pigs. The fallout was poisonous and deadly.”

The Department of Defense says it is “still considering” the results of the latest study. Last week, the prime minister vowed to give Test veterans “the recognition they deserve”.

A Ministry of Defense spokesman said: “We are grateful to all service staff who have participated in the UK nuclear testing programme. The safety, health and well-being of those involved were of vital importance, as evidenced by the detailed safety measures and radiobiological surveillance during the operations.”

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