Atomic veteran

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Atomic veterans are military veterans who were exposed to ionizing radiation during their active service. The global cohort includes thousands of American servicemen who took part in atmospheric nuclear tests (1945-1962) as well as servicemen from the other Nuclear powers, including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, France, China, and Russia who were similarly exposed during their active duties. It also includes veterans who were stationed in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the American occupation of Japan before 1946 (including certain veterans who were prisoners of war there).


Affected veterans[edit]

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency's Nuclear Test Personnel Review has maintained a database of participants and radiation dose reconstructions since 1978. Dose reconstructions are used by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to evaluate and decide veterans' claims filed under the provisions of Public Law (PL) 98-542 and implementing regulations in Title 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations, part 3.311.[1]

John Smitherman, was a navy pilot involved in the 1946 Bikini Atoll nuclear explosions, which resulted in extensive radioactive contamination of the area. Cancer of the lymphatic system, and two leg amputations, resulted for Smitherman, who became president of the National Association of Atomic Veterans.[2] Smitherman featured in Robert Stone's documentary film Radio Bikini, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1988.[3]


A formal investigation[4] of the radiation exposure these veterans received, as well as radiation experiments conducted on humans, was initiated in 1994, by former President Bill Clinton, who apologized for their treatment in 1995.[5] "In 1996, the U.S. Congress repealed the Nuclear Radiation Secrecy Agreement Act, which rescinded the Atomic Veteran “oath-of-secrecy”,[6] thus allowing Atomic-Veterans the opportunity to recount stories of their participation in Nuclear weapon testing and post test event activities, without legal penalty.[7] By this time, however, many thousands of Atomic Veterans, the majority of whom were afflicted with a host of radiation induced health issues, such as cancer, had taken that “secret”[8] with them, to their graves.[9][10]

The remaining atomic veterans may receive special priority enrollment for health care services from VA for radiation-related conditions. In addition, atomic veterans are eligible to participate in an ionizing radiation registry examination program operated by VA.[11][12]

The only copies of service and medical records for many of these veterans were lost in a fire at the National Archives in 1973.[13] Veterans, or families of deceased Veterans, whose records were lost in the fire, were denied these services and must go through an extensive reconstruction process in order to establish their presence during the time of atmospheric tests.


The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has a different compensation program established by the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) which was passed by the United States Congress on October 5, 1990, and signed into law by President George H. W. Bush on October 15.[14] Atomic veterans who participated in atmospheric nuclear tests may be eligible.[15]

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was amended in 2013 and enlarged the geographic exposure area and the amount of compensation payable to Atomic Veterans and people living downwind of the tests. Other compensation may also be available from the United States Department of Labor under section SEC of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program.[16]

Epidemiological studies of Japanese atomic bomb survivors have shown exposure to radiation to be associated with a number of disorders including leukemia, various cancers and cataracts.[17] It has been determined that studies on the children of Atomic Vets, however, face "insurmountable" difficulties.[18]


A cohort of workers who were exposed during the French nuclear weapons test program at Moruroa Atoll in the Pacific are represented by Association Moruroa E Tatou. The organisation has been critical of the French government's initial denial of harm, and limited commitment to compensation to total value of $13.5 million. The president of Association Moruroa E Tatou estimates that between 15,000 and 30,000 people worked on the test program, but the official number remains a national secret.[19]


Australian servicemen supported British nuclear weapons test programs at Emu Field, Maralinga, the Montebello Islands and Christmas Island during period 1952-1963. Associations representing Australian atomic veterans include the Australian Nuclear Veterans Association.[20] and the Australian Ex-Servicemen Atomic Survivors Association.[21]


The Clarke Review of Veterans Entitlements considered the compensation of Australian atomic veterans in 2003.[22] Since 2010, Australian Defence Force personnel who participated in the British nuclear tests have been eligible for compensation and health care benefits for medical conditions that relate to their service. Widows and widowers of deceased servicemen and women are also eligible for benefits if their partner's death is related to that service. A ‘reasonable hypothesis’ standard of proof is applied to all claims lodged.[23]


More than 100,000 troops of China were sent into the deserts of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region to provide the labor at the test sites for China's first atomic bombs. A number of these troops later developed serious medical problems.[24][25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Public Health, Radiation". VA. Retrieved March 22, 2012.
  2. ^ Tom Wicker Serving his country, New York Times, August 29, 1983.
  3. ^ Leonard Klady, Radio Bikini: Documentary With Fallout, LA Times, March 12, 1988.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Apology by Bill Clinton to Atomic Veterans". Retrieved February 14, 2014.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Atomic Veteran Brochure" (PDF). Retrieved February 14, 2014.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "National Association of Atomic Veterans" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 25, 2013. Retrieved February 14, 2014.
  10. ^ "AARP Notification to Atomic Veterans". Retrieved February 14, 2014.
  11. ^ "U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Public Health, Radiation". VA. Retrieved March 22, 2012.
  12. ^ "U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, Benefits". VA. Retrieved March 22, 2012.
  13. ^ "National Archives Fire of 1973". Retrieved February 14, 2014.
  14. ^ "George Bush XLI President of the United States: 1989-1993 - Statement on Signing the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act". The American Presidency Project.
  15. ^ "U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Division, Compensation Programs". DOJ. Retrieved March 22, 2012.
  16. ^ "Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation". Retrieved February 14, 2014.
  17. ^ "U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Public Health, Diseases Associated with Ionizing Radiation Exposure". VA. Retrieved March 22, 2012.
  18. ^ "Adverse Reproductive Outcomes in Families of Atomic Veterans: The Feasibility of Epidemiologic Studies (1995) : Health and Medicine Division". Retrieved 2017-08-19.
  19. ^ "Nuclear workers union unhappy with offer of French compensation | Pacific Beat". Retrieved 2017-01-06.
  20. ^ Martin, Mike. "AUSTRALIAN NUCLEAR VETERANS ASSOCIATION - from the beginning". Retrieved 2017-01-06.
  21. ^ "Servicemen seek recognition for atomic survivors". ABC News. 2016-06-18. Retrieved 2017-01-06.
  22. ^ "Clarke Review". Australian Government Department of Veterans Affairs. 2014-09-18. Retrieved 2017-01-06.
  23. ^ "British Nuclear Tests". Australian Government Department of Veterans Affairs. 2016-08-10. Retrieved 2017-01-06.
  24. ^
  25. ^

External links[edit]