'An enduring symbol of gratitude': Thousands who took part in UK's nuclear test programme to receive medal

Thousands of veterans and civilians who took part in the UK's nuclear test programme will receive a medal recognising their service following years of campaigning for the honour.

An estimated 22,000 veterans and civilians will be eligible for the Nuclear Test Medal, which has been introduced to mark the 70th anniversary of the nation's first atomic test, Downing Street said.

Those who worked under UK command during tests at the Montebello Islands, Christmas Island, Malden Island, and Maralinga and Emu Field in South Australia, between 1952 and 1967, will be eligible to apply for the medal.

The honour commemorates the contributions made by veterans, scientists and local employees from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Kiribati.

Relatives of participants who have since died will also be able to apply to have the honour awarded posthumously.

It comes after several years of campaigning by groups including Labrats International - a charity which represents people across the world who have been impacted by atomic and nuclear tests.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who today attended a commemoration event at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, Staffordshire, described the decoration as "an enduring symbol of our country's gratitude" for those involved in the test programme.

He said: "I am incredibly proud that we are able to mark the service and dedication of our nuclear test veterans with this new medal.

"Their commitment and service has preserved peace for the past 70 years, and it is only right their contribution to our safety, freedom and way of life is appropriately recognised with this honour."

Veterans' Affairs minister Johnny Mercer, who also attended the event alongside Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, said: "This medal honours those who served far from home, at a crucial time in our nation's history.

"To this day the nuclear deterrent remains the cornerstone of our defence, and that is only because of the service and contribution of the brilliant veterans and civilian personnel."

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Downing Street has said the first awards will be made in 2023.

The government is also investing £450,000 into projects which will build understanding of the experiences of veterans who were deployed to Australia and the Pacific.

It will include an oral history project to chronicle the experiences of those who supported the nation's effort to develop a nuclear deterrent.

Due to start in April 2023, the project will run for two years, and aims to build an accessible digital archive of testimonies.