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Relief for Fijian atom test victims

January 27, 2015

Fijian victims of British nuclear testing in 1958 are to get compensation, according to Fiji's government. Seventy military personnel were taken to Christmas Island, a test site in the Pacific, more than 50 years ago.

Nuklear Atombombe Test Weihnachtsinseln Kiritimati Pazifik Großbritannien 1957
Image: Getty Images/picture-alliance / United Archives

Fiji's government said on Tuesday that military veterans exposed to radiation 56 years ago or their families are to get compensation for subsequent health problems, including cancer of the blood.

The Fiji Sun newspaper quoted the country's National Security and Defense Minister Timoci Natuva as saying Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama would outline compensation details on Friday.

Maleli Naigulegu, now aged 80 and one of the surviving veterans who has campaigned for decades for assistance, told the Fiji Sun it was "the greatest news."

"At last my group has been recognized," the former laboratory technician said.

During British Cold War nuclear testing in 1957 and 1958, some 70 Fijian military personnel were sent to Christmas Island on board New Zealand naval ships.

The island is now part of the Pacific nation of Kiribati.

Naigulegu said the Fijian personnel were not briefed on the purpose of their deployment to the test zone.

Several Pacific test zones

Last year, a lawsuit was filed at the International Court of Justice by another Pacific nation, the Marshall Islands, where the US conducted 60 nuclear tests between 1946 and 1958.

The Marshalls, with a population of 70,000, became fully independent in 1986 after being administered in the past by the United States.

The lawsuit seeks to hold the US and eight other nuclear-weapon nations accountable for breaching or allowing violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Nuclear weapons have been used twice - at Nagasaki and Hiroshima in Japan by the US, near the close of World War Two in the Pacific region.

Several thousand tests

From 1946 until the 1990s nuclear powers conducted more than 2,000 nuclear tests worldwide.

Frankreich Atombombentest auf Mururoa
A French 'test' over Mururoa in 1971Image: Getty Images/AFP

The United State's largest was at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific in 1954. The former Soviet Union's largest test "Tsar Bomba" took place in 1961.

France conducted tests in French Polynesia in the 1970s and 1990s, prompting strong protests from New Zealand, Australia and environmental rights group Greenpeace.

Last year, remote southern Australian land used by Britain to test atomic bombs in the 1950s and 1960s was handed back to its Aboriginal owners, the Maralinga Tjarutja, after attempts to decontaminate it.

Around 16,300 atomic bombs remain, held mainly by the US and Russia, despite the various versions of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

Some 70,000 to 80,000 had existed at the height of the Cold War.

ipj/jlw (AFP, IPS)