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Hell came down

Sunday, June 07, 2009

PAUL Aphoy had just left school when he enlisted in the navy and was sent to look for a site for British nuclear tests in the Pacific.

He was among the 28,000 personnel from four Commonwealth countries sent to Christmas Island and the Monte Bello islands, northwest Australia, in 1956.

One year later, he was among those on Christmas Island who witnessed seven nuclear blasts.

"We were told to look West when they dropped the nuclear bomb about 10 to 12 miles behind us at sea," the 73-year-old veteran recalled yesterday.

"It was a terrible feeling. We started to wriggle in our shirts, it was so hot. Even with our eyes shut and our hands over our face, we could see the bones in our hands through the bright light from the explosion.

"Later, we were told to drop our hands and turn around slowly.

"We just saw this huge mushroom in the sky."

Eight years later, he had the first of 59 operations for lumps that started to grow on his body from that day. He lost his daughter, who was conceived after his return, at the age of three and blames the ill effects of radiation for her death.

Mr Aphoy is among the 60 survivors of the 289 Fiji men who were sent to monitor the tests.

Yesterday, he thanked God that a British court had allowed them to pursue compensation against the British Government.

Fiji Nuclear Test Veterans Association president Jone Tabaiwalu said they would meet at the Holiday Inn at 11am on Tuesday to discuss their claim.

Tumateu Moceica, 73, who travelled from Verata, Ucunivanua, to celebrate the news with Mr Tabaiwalu at his Nakasi home, said it gave him great satisfaction to know that their fight for compensation was making a headway while he was still alive.

Mr Tabaiwalu, 80, who travelled to Christmas Island after the tests, said he had never seen such desolation.

"It was declared a danger zone and we were not allowed to cross through.

"The nuclear bomb blew up thousands on miles in the air and it affected the land. Nothing grew," he added.

"It's been long because the law in England allows us to claims three years after the tests but it's almost 50 years now."

At the limitation trial in London, the court heard the British Government and military with-held details of the dangers of atomic testing in the Pacific, not only from the servicemen who took part but also the Australian Government of the day, according a report in the Independent.

The men were promised "the greatest show on earth" but instead were exposed to radiation that years later would kill many from a series of illnesses.

Justice David Foskett said the turning point in the case was cutting-edge research by New Zealand scientist Al Rowland, whose findings were released in 2007. These have since become a crucial piece of evidence for the claimants, according to a Reuters report.

Those who were close to the drop zone also saw their children and their children's children suffer genetic defects.

Military aircraft and ships were ordered to pass close to the mushroom clouds.

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