Medals to be awarded to Nuclear Test Veterans

Following on from many years of campaigning, a new medal has been announced on the 21st November, 2022, at the National Memorial Arboretum, for the nation’s Nuclear Test Veterans.

A new medal was announced today at the @Nat_Mem_Arb for the nation's Nuclear Test Veterans. Defence Secretary @BWallaceMP , Prime Minister @RishiSunak and Veterans' Affairs Minister @JohnnyMercerUK gave recognition and paid tribute to those who served.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (pictured with veterans above) 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.

Around 22,000 veterans are expected to be eligible for the new honour, marking their service and contribution to the United Kingdom’s nuclear test programme.

And the Nuclear Test Medal will be a commemorative medal that can be worn by recipients.

Around 28,000 members of the UK Armed Forces were involved in the military nuclear test programme during the 1950s and 60s. This was part of the government’s efforts to ensure the UK had an appropriate deterrent against hostile action during the Cold War.

Many of the men present at nuclear tests or involved in the clean up of test sites have long argued that exposure to radiation has adversely affected not just their health, but also the health of their children and families. They cite miscarriages and stillbirths that occurred after exposure and instances of children and grandchildren developing genetic illnesses. 

Over the past decade, the Royal British Legion has been involved in supporting claims for adequate compensation.

In light of emerging evidence, in recent years the MoD have allowed compensation claims to be pursued as a result of cancers that may have been caused through exposure to ionising radiation.

With the exception of Leukaemia which can automatically be claimed within 25 years of exposure to a cause in Service, other cancers within nuclear test veterans will be looked at on a case-by-case basis and the presumption remains that those who as a matter of course were present at atmospheric nuclear test detonations were not exposed to harmful levels of ionising radiation.

It should also be noted that the Office for Veterans Affairs’ incoming Veterans Strategy Action Plan contains a theme of “addressing historic hurt”. This may include measures to address any outstanding calls from nuclear test veterans.

The Royal British Legion said:

We welcome the significant news that Nuclear Test veterans will now rightfully be awarded a medal in recognition of their service and sacrifice. The announcement, made on the day we marked 70 years since the UK’s first atomic test, brings an end to years of campaigning by those in the Armed Forces community to ensure Nuclear Test veterans and their families receive the acknowledgment they so clearly deserve. However, we are still calling on the Government to do more to allow this group better access to the compensation they are entitled to. Many of those who served during this programme are still living with the health implications today and more should be done to support them and their families.

How to apply for the medal

The Office for Veterans Affairs (OVA) will release more details in 2023 on the eligibility for the medal and how veterans can apply for it.

Read more about the Nuclear Test Medal announcement on GOV.UK