Maralinga Vets Join British Class Action
Article courtesy of Pia Akerman – The Australian
AUSTRALIANS exposed to deadly radiation in the Maralinga nuclear tests of the 1950s and 60s have abandoned plans to sue at home and will instead join a British class action seeking compensation for damage to their health.
Lawyer Tom Goudkamp said about 120 Australians, more than half of them widows, would file their own class action in Britain.
Mr Goudkamp hopes to lodge claims on behalf of up to 250, a number that does not include offspring with genetic problems related to the atomic tests.
“If we came to some sort of arrangement with the Australian government, then there wouldn’t be any need to litigate, but the Australian government doesn’t seem to be interested,” Mr Goudkamp said yesterday.
Australian Nuclear Veterans Association president Ric Johnstone, who worked as an RAAF mechanic at Maralinga, said a settlement was preferable to a court case.
“That could go on for generations, so if the government says, `We’ll look after the offspring as years go by’, then it would be quicker and easier to accept that,” he said. “Blokes like me that are still here aren’t particularly worried about ourselves.”
A 2007 New Zealand study found that Kiwi sailors exposed to the nuclear testing had three times the level of genetic abnormality and higher rates of cancer than the general population.
A landmark British court ruling giving British Maralinga veterans the right to sue their government has opened the door for the Australians, who faced statute of limitations in several states.
About 8000 Australian service personnel worked on the British program, which tested atomic bombs at Maralinga in South Australia’s far west and at Monte Bello Island and Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. Of those, about 2000 are still alive.
Any potential legal victory is still a long way off, with the British government planning an appeal against the court decision giving nuclear veterans the right to sue.
The handing back of the Maralinga lands to the Maralinga Tjarutja people is this Friday.
Red heart – Perth Now – 20 Nov 2009
Maralinga handover ends ‘historic blot’ – The Australian – 18 Nov 2009
Nuclear test site back with Aborigines – Adelaide Now – 17 Nov 2009
Maralinga test site returned to people – Adelaide Now – 17 Nov 2009
Owners to reclaim Maralinga bomb site – The Australian – 9 Nov 2009