Veterans - British nuclear test participants in Australia

Budget Review 2010-11 Index

Budget 2010–11: Veterans

British nuclear test participants in Australia

Peter Yeend


The Government announced in the 2010–11 Budget the provision of extra assistance to some participants in British nuclear tests conducted in Australia in the 1950s.[1] The proposal is to classify the service of nuclear test participants who were also members of the Australian Defence Force as non-warlike or hazardous peacekeeping service. Hitherto, nuclear test participation has not been ascribed a service classification in the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986 (VEA). Rather, participation in the British nuclear tests has been covered by military and civilian workers’ compensation arrangements.

To describe their nuclear test service as non-warlike or hazardous peacekeeping service will provide these nuclear test participants with access to some assistance under the VEA. This will include access to the Disability Pension for illnesses/injuries arising from that service and to War Widow’s/er’s Pension (WWP) for surviving partners, where the death of the service person is attributable to that service.

Nuclear test participants

The Nominal Roll of Australian participants in the British Atomic Tests Program conducted in Australia from 1952–1963 contains 16 716 names. The names on the Roll are in the following categories:

  • Navy – 3268
  • Army – 1657
  • RAAF – 3201 and
  • 8590 civilians, including 10 Indigenous people.

Pastoralists are not identified separately within the civilian group.[2]

Thus, of the total number of participants, 8126 (or 48.6 per cent) were Australian military personnel.

Hazardous peacekeeping service

Part IV of the VEA provides for the classification of peacekeeping service for members of the Defence Force. Classification of ‘Hazardous Service’ under Part IV provides for access to the Disability Pension provided under Part II of the VEA for illnesses/injuries arising out of the service. It also allows for access to the WWP provided under Part II of the VEA to surviving partners of a person whose death is accepted as being caused/attributed to their hazardous service. Such classification also allows access to a health treatment card (White Card) for the medical condition/s accepted as being caused/attributed to the hazardous service. For those with a significant impairment arising from the hazardous service (that is with an impairment of 70 per cent or more), there is also access to the Gold Card, providing coverage for all medical conditions.

Previous assistance for nuclear test participants

For a long time, governments have considered that because the illness/injuries/death incurred by participants in the British nuclear tests have occurred in peacetime they should be covered by workers’ compensation arrangements that apply to public servants generally. For example, Senator Nick Minchin advised, in an answer to a Question on Notice:

No disability pension paid by DVA would be paid for illnesses relating to atomic testing. Atomic testing is not service covered by the Veterans’ Entitlements Act 1986. Therefore, all pensions paid by DVA are for conditions arising from service other than atomic testing.[3]

In 2006, the Howard Government extended coverage for cancer testing and treatment to nuclear test participants.[4] This was done in response to the recommendation of the 2003 Clarke Review which reviewed veterans’ entitlements.[5]

Clarke Review recommendations

In its terms of reference, the Clarke Review was specifically asked to examine the claims by nuclear test participants and consider what would be appropriate government assistance. The Clarke Review recommended the accreditation of participation in the nuclear tests for Defence Force staff as ‘non-warlike hazardous service’.[6]

Some 2160 submissions on this matter were made to the Clarke Review, with a majority of the submissions urging that nuclear test service should be classified as ‘non-warlike hazardous service’, and, as such, they would be covered by Part IV of the VEA. Most of the submissions were from Defence Force personnel.[7] A small number of submissions also sought classification of participation in the tests as ‘qualifying service’ for the service pension. This is the same as war or warlike service and would basically have allowed access to the Service Pension and also to the Gold Card for those aged 70 or above. This proposal was not supported by the Clarke Review and it did not recommend that the nuclear test participation be classified as being the same as ‘qualifying service’, or war service.

Howard Government response to the Clarke Review recommendation about nuclear test participation

Essentially, the Howard Government rejected the Clarke Review recommendation to accord Defence Force personnel involved in the nuclear testing with accreditation as being involved in non-warlike hazardous service. However, while the Howard Government chose not to change the service classification of Defence personnel involved in the nuclear testing, it made a loose commitment to meeting these personnel’s needs in other ways. The Prime Minister reported:

The Government also had decided to respond positively to the needs of those affected by the British Atomic Test programme when the outcomes are available of the Australian Participants in the British Nuclear Test Programme – Cancer Incidence and Mortality Study.

The Government will continue to provide special recognition and comprehensive assistance to those who have served Australia in times of war, at personal risk of injury or death from an armed enemy.

In keeping with this approach, we have accepted the Clarke Report’s recommendation that there be no change in the incurred danger test for Qualifying Service. However, we reject the view that this test has been interpreted too narrowly.[8]

Governments have been reluctant to accredit peacetime service as either war service or non-warlike hazardous service under the VEA

There were several submissions made to the Clarke Review to have various forms of peacetime military service accredited as either warlike or non-warlike hazardous service under the VEA.[9] Some of these claims included special submarine operations to the north and west of Australia, personnel involved in covert intelligence gathering or covert signals operations and major peacetime accidents, like the Black Hawk helicopter accident of 1996. Generally, the Clarke Review recommended that peacetime service should not be accredited as service under the VEA. The exception to this was service that included mine clearing, bomb disposal and improvised explosive device clearance. The Clarke Review recommendations that some mine clearing and bomb disposal work post World War Two (WWII) in the South Pacific be accredited, was accepted by the Howard Government. This recommendation was given effect with the Veterans' Entitlements (Clarke Review) Act 2004.[10]

Civilian nuclear test participants not covered by this measure

As stated above, only those nuclear test participants who were also members of the Australian Defence Force will gain access to the VEA assistance under the proposed initiative. This is in accordance with the Clarke Review recommendation. The 8590 civilian nuclear test participant personnel are not covered.

[1].    Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2010–11, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2010, p. 301, viewed 12 May 2010,

[2].     N Minchin, ‘Answer to Question on Notice: Atomic testing: compensation’, [Questioner: L Allison], Question 3625, Senate, Debates, 22 August 2001, pp. 26428–31, viewed 15 May 2010,

[3].    Ibid.

[4].    P Yeend, Australian Participants in British Nuclear Tests (Treatment) Bill 2006, Bills digest, no. 31, 2006–07, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2006, viewed 15 May 2010,

[5].    Department of Veterans Affairs, Report of the Review of Veterans’ Entitlements, (the Clarke Review), 2003, viewed 15 May 2010,

[6].    The Clarke Review, op. cit., p. 399.

[7].    Ibid., p. 371.

[8].    J Howard (Prime Minister), Additional benefits for veterans – government response to the Clarke Report, media release, Canberra, 2 March 2004, viewed 15 May 2010, http://parlinfo/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;adv=yes;db=;group=;holdingType=;id=;orderBy=customrank;page=0;query=AuthorSpeakerReporter%3Ahoward%20Content%3Aclarke%20Date%3A01%2F03%2F2004%20%3E%3E%2001%2F04%2F2004%20Dataset%3Apressrel;querytype=;rec=1;resCount=Default

[9].    The Clarke Review, op. cit., pp. 334–40.

[10]. P Yeend, Veterans’ Entitlements (Clarke Review) Bill 2004, Bills digest, no. 134, 2003–04, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2004, viewed 15 May 2010,

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