The Federal Government has released a preliminary list of more than 17,000 military and civilian personnel who served at the British atomic tests in the 1950s. The register - first recommended by a royal commission in 1985 - will be used to conduct national studies into how many of the men have died since the tests, especially how many suffered from cancer.
The mortality and cancer studies are expected to confirm long-standing claims by veterans that thousands of army, navy, air force personnel and civilians died as a result of being exposed to radiation.
The veterans plan to use the register in their campaign to win compensation for mental and physical illnesses they believe were caused by their involvement with the nuclear explosions.
Their claims have been strengthened in recent months by the release of secret documents detailing how hundreds of servicemen were deliberately exposed to radiation as human guinea pigs.
The Advertiser has obtained new evidence that, in addition to servicemen, civilians were ordered to watch four explosions at Maralinga during the 1956 test series codenamed Operation Buffalo.
The Advertiser has also obtained documents which confirm earlier reports that inadequate attempts were made by the British and Australian governments to remove desert Aborigines from the vicinity of the tests.
The Veterans Affairs Department said it had been unable to compile a list of Aborigines who may have been involved with the 12 explosions at Emu Field, Maralinga and the Montebello Islands, off Western Australia, between 1952 and 1957.
Instead, the 257-page list posted on to its website yesterday contained the names of 1658 army, 3235 navy, 3223 air force and 8907 civilian personnel who were part of the five-year program. The list was compiled from extensive searches of Defence Department records, personnel files of private contractors, the 1985 royal commission report, security cards issued for Maralinga and lists previously prepared by veterans groups or government departments.
However, the Veterans Affairs Department warned the roll was likely to contain errors because "of the length of time that has elapsed and the difficulty in locating and verifying authentic records".
Veterans Affairs Minister Bruce Scott last night said a consultative forum would meet next month to determine how the health studies would be conducted, with a senior researcher expected to be announced in August.
"This is a major task and when complete will provide information about the nature and extent of any health problems suffered by veterans of the atomic tests," he told the SA RSL state congress in Adelaide.
The Atomic Participants Nominal Roll can be inspected on http://www.dva.gov.au while veterans or civilians with corrections or additions can call 800 445-006.