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The Prime Minister has today announced that the 22,000 British and Commonwealth military and civilian personnel who took part in the UK’s nuclear weapons testing program will finally be awarded their own medal. After years of resistance in Whitehall over the creation of a new medal to honour the men involved in developing Britain’s first nuclear deterrent seven decades ago, the Government has at last decided to go ahead with a medal.
Mr Sunak has announced that the new medal is to honour “the significant contribution” of veterans and civilian staff from across the Commonwealth, who participated in Britain’s nuclear testing programme.
The award comes as the country pays tribute to the veterans of the United Kingdom’s nuclear test programme at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire this morning.
The event, which takes place 70 years after the first British test of a nuclear weapon, was attended by the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and Veterans’ Affairs Minister Johnny Mercer.
Service personnel, veterans and their families, and representatives from military charities were also present to hear the announcement.
It comes after a long-running campaign for recognition of the veterans, many of whome suffered medical consequences after being involved in the tests.
The campaign was spearheaded in Parliament by Labour’s Rebecca Long-Bailey and Conservative former security minister Sir John Hayes.
The two raised the issue last week during Prime Minister’s questions when Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab was standing in for Mr Sunak.
Sir John said: “Those brave servicemen did so much so long ago to ensure our safety.”
On the medical problems, Ms Long-Bailey noted: “A 1958 instruction from Whitehall ordered medics to take blood samples regularly from exposed veterans during nuclear weapons tests. I have been made aware that many veterans and their families have been reported being unable to obtain the test results, so are denied the ability to make any sense of what they, and in some cases their families, suffered.”
Announcing the medal today, Mr Sunak said: “I am incredibly proud that we are able to mark the service and dedication of our nuclear test veterans with this new 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.”
The veterans and civilians who participated in the United Kingdom’s nuclear test programme, the first of which was known as Op Hurricane, made the UK the third nuclear power. This work contributed to achieving the nuclear deterrent – the ultimate guarantee of UK sovereignty which continues to keep us safe today, and helps guarantee international security.”
The new medal is the first one created since 2012 when former Prime Minister David Cameron ordered officials in Whitehall to go ahead with a campaign medal for the men who servied in the Arctic convoys during the Second world War.
Veterans minister Johnny Mercer said: “This 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.
“It’s right that we mark this contribution today, 70 years on from Britain’s first nuclear test.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace added: “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.”
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The Nuclear Test Medal will be a commemorative medal that can be worn by recipients.
The medal also recognises the contribution made by veterans and civilians from across Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Kiribati. 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. This also includes scientists and local employees..
It is estimated that around 22,000 veterans will be eligible for medallic recognition.
The medal can be awarded posthumously. Veterans, their families and next of kin will need to apply for the medal, which will be free of charge. It is expected that the first awards of the medals will be made in 2023.
To further recognise the contribution of veterans of Britain’s nuclear tests, the government is investing £450,000 into projects which will commemorate and build further understanding of the experiences of veterans who were deployed to Australia and the Pacific.
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