It was 1973 and two Royal New Zealand Navy frigates had gone to Mururoa Atoll to protest the French nuclear testing programme. They were part of 217 French tests conducted between 1960 when France first acquired nuclear weapons and 1996, when after considerable international pressure a resumption of French testing at Mururoa was stopped.
More than 45 years later, the descendants of those on board the New Zealand ships who observed the nuclear tests have raised concerns that they and their children have developed symptoms that could only have been caused by fallout. One, a lady who was born after her father sailed to Mururoa, says that her children have developed deformities and other medical issues that are most likely to be caused from ionizing radiation. She was born after her father observed testing. Her siblings born before her father went to Mururoa have not shown any of the symptoms and nor have their children.
So how does New Zealand compare with veterans from other countries?
A nuclear veteran is someone who was affected by ionizing radiation released in a nuclear weapons test. World wide they include people from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Australia and New Zealand. In Russia and China it is unlikely that any of the veterans are eligible for any compensation or acknowledgement of their conditions. Thousands of military personnel in both countries would have been involved in the tests, and many thousands more would have been exposed to radiation downwind. In the United States following an investigation, it was announced that veterans there would be eligible for priority enrolment in radiation treatment programmes. They would also be eligible for compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. It has been amended several times to include those downwind from an explosion and to broaden the geographical areas of eligibility. Thus far U.S.$2 billion has been paid out in compensation. In the United Kingdom, veterans took their case to the Supreme Court and lost, with hope now hinging on the use of D.N.A. to link their claims to nuclear testing. Of 22,000 who served only 3,000 are still alive.
One uncle of mine sailed on a Royal New Zealand Navy ship to observe nuclear testing. He did not believe he had contracted anything, and none of his children or grandchildren have contracted anything. I am not sure exactly when he observed nuclear testing.
Veteran Affairs covers the veterans who went to Mururoa. However it does nothing for the descendants of them or their children. Of the members of a group of Mururoa veterans, roughly 40% of them have children or grand children with unexplained conditions. They were never told what the radiation might do to their bodies.
The New Zealand Government owes these men and their families:
- An apology for the harm done
- Tests to see if any of the alleged symptoms can be linked to fallout from entering a highly radioactive area
- Immediate compensation for the veterans
- Testing for descendants of the veterans
They have waited too long to get this and future generations of their children have a right to know why they are more prone to cancers and other symptoms.