Canada offers to compensate nuclear test veterans

Tue Sep 2, 2008 7:18pm EDT
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By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canada said on Tuesday it would spend up to C$24 million ($22.4 million) compensating veterans forced to be exposed to Cold War-era nuclear blasts but never recognized for their sacrifices.

The recognition of Canada's so-called atomic veterans, which comes days before an expected election call, also extends to military personnel who decontaminated an Ontario nuclear plant in the 1950s after two reactor accidents.

The president of the association that has been fighting for official and financial acknowledgment for decades, said she may accept the C$24,000 settlement being offered on behalf of her husband, who died 15 years ago, but stressed that it did not nearly make up for her loss.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said as many as 1,000 veterans, or their estates, could be entitled to payments. He said in Calgary the move was years in the making.

"We simply felt that now was the time to deliver on this commitment to see a form of financial recognition, but more importantly public acknowledgment, of the tremendous contribution that atomic veterans made to the security of our country, and made with, really, little choice," MacKay told reporters.

"They were given an order, which they obeyed valiantly."

Earlier this year, some of the veterans launched a class-action lawsuit against Ottawa, saying many had suffered and died from the effects of radiation.

From the end of World War Two until 1958, Canada's military took part in nuclear weapons tests in Nevada, the South Pacific and Australia, with personnel exposed to blasts wearing little or no protection in the top-secret missions.   Continued...