Thursday, September 4, 2008

Canada to Compensate 'Atomic Soldiers'

Canada to Compensate 'Atomic Soldiers'

September 03, 2008
Associated Press

CALGARY, Alberta - Hundreds of former Canadian soldiers will receive compensation for being assigned to participate in atomic bomb tests by the U.S. and British militaries in the 1960s, the Defense Ministry said Sept. 2.

Defense Minister Peter MacKay said the soldiers were involved in operations in the United States, Australia and the South Pacific from the end of World War II until the international treaty banning atmospheric test explosions was signed in 1963.

Canada's government will also compensate former military personnel who assisted with emergency decontamination efforts at the Chalk River nuclear plant in Ontario following two major nuclear reactor accidents in 1952 and 1958, MacKay said.

"The participants have received no recognition for their dangerous assignments in the service of Canada," MacKay during a speech Tuesday in Calgary.

In total, 900 former soldiers or families of deceased veterans will receive payments of $22,000 each, Mackay said.

"All those who serve their country, past or present, deserve the respect, admiration and care of a grateful nation," he said.

Many of the surviving former soldiers have complained of health problems associated with being exposed to radioactivity during the test blasts or the nuclear cleanups.

Ken Umpherville of Calgary, who is now 78, was a sergeant when he took part in testing in Desert Rock, Nev. in 1957. He declined to discuss his war experiences, but feels the recognition is long overdue.

"I think its a fair settlement," said Umpherville, who suffers from lung cancer. "It recognizes the service that the Canadian atomic veterans put toward the country. I would like to see them expedite claims for legitimate people who do have problems because of being exposed to radiation."

The nature and extent of Canadian participation in the nuclear tests was not fully known until a study was commissioned by the government in 2006.

In a report published last year, historian John Clearwater identified approximately 700 former soldiers who participated in up to 29 American and British nuclear weapons trials between 1946 and 1963. The tests attempted to simulate battlefield conditions expected in a nuclear war.

The report also identified about 200 ex-soldiers who helped decontaminate the Chalk River plant, where their duties included mopping and scrubbing buildings tainted with radioactivity.

"The duties involved specialized training and/or unique operational deployments unlike any other carried out by the Canadian Forces and members of the National Defense Department. Until now these veterans have received no recognition of their exceptional service to Canada under these circumstances," MacKay said.

Bob Bergen, from the Center for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, has written about the experiences of Canadian soldiers involved in the tests.

"They took them out into the desert and had them watch several nuclear explosions," Bergen said. "They were being denied benefits because the government would say it's just old age and they said no, this is because we were exposed to these nuclear bombs."

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: