Britain's nuclear testing programme veterans to be honoured in £450,000 project

James Heappey - Paul Grover
James Heappey - Paul Grover

Veterans of Britain's nuclear testing programme are to be honoured with a history project to remember the stories of those exposed to radiation.

The Government has announced it will spend almost half a million pounds commemorating the veterans' "incredible service".

It comes on the 70th anniversary of Operation Hurricane, the detonation of a plutonium bomb in Australia which installed the UK as the world's third nuclear power.

James Heappey, the Armed Forces minister, said those who participated in the nuclear tests had kept "Britain and our Nato allies safe and secure" and "forever have this nation's gratitude".

From April next year, academic and cultural institutions can receive funding from a £250,000 pot, which has been earmarked for an oral history project marking veterans' contributions.

The scheme was announced in September by Boris Johnson, the first prime minister to meet veterans of the nuclear programme, in one of his last acts in office.

'Achievements will never be forgotten'

He wrote in a letter published to Twitter: "Hearing your accounts first hand, I'm determined that your achievements will never be forgotten."

Charities will be able to bid for a separate £200,000, intended to support activities for test survivors and educate the public on the UK's nuclear deterrent.

"Veterans who supported the creation of our nuclear deterrent have played a crucial role in keeping Britain and our Nato allies safe and secure," Mr Heappey said.

"Their sacrifice contributed to achieving the ultimate guarantee of UK sovereignty and they forever have this nation's gratitude.

"In the year of the 70th anniversary of Operation Hurricane, I look forward to commemorating the incredible service and efforts of our veterans."

Around 20,000 soldiers were exposed to radiation

Around 20,000 British soldiers witnessed hundreds of atomic tests and were exposed to radiation between 1952 and 1967, with about 1,500 thought to survive today, although their efforts have never been formally recognised.

While running for the Tory leadership in August, Prime Minister Liz Truss suggested awarding medals to those who participated in the nuclear programme.

The move was also backed last month by Mr Johnson, who said it was his "firm belief" that the veterans deserved to be honoured.

According to the Cabinet Office, the issue is being considered and a decision is expected soon.