International Disarmament Institute News

Education and Research on Global Disarmament Policy

Addressing British nuclear tests in Kiribati: a new opportunity for victim assistance and environmental remediation


The first Meeting of States Parties (1MSP) of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is taking place in Vienna from 21-23 June 2022. Countries will come together to begin operationalising the victim assistance, environmental remediation and international cooperation and assistance provisions of the TPNW.

Launched ahead of 1MSP, “Addressing British nuclear tests in Kiribati: a new opportunity for victim assistance and environmental remediation” is co-written by Dr. Matthew Breay Bolton of Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute, along with NGO experts and academics who have conducted significant field and policy research relating to the UK’s nuclear testing. The report, published by the UN Association of the UK, focuses on the harm caused by the UK’s tests in Kiribati in the context of new opportunities for recognition and remediation, given Kiribati’s role as a state party to the TPNW.

From 1952 to 1991 the UK undertook 98 nuclear weapon tests internationally including 45 explosive nuclear weapon tests, as well as 29 minor trial series and facilitation of a further 24 tests which took place on British administered and colonised lands. These tests have had long lasting humanitarian and environmental consequences. Victims include affected communities in the countries where tests took place, including indigenous peoples, as well as the British and colonial service personnel directly involved or serving nearby.

With work under the TPNW bringing a new focus to responding to nuclear legacies, the UK has an opportunity to make a crucial contribution to addressing ongoing humanitarian and environmental impacts. Nevertheless, the UK Government has so far stated that it will not participate as an observer in meetings of the TPNW.  UNA-UK together with civil society orgs, faith groups, academics and scientists is urging the UK to participate in the Vienna meetings.

Key recommendations for the UK from the briefing include:

  • Recognising the rights of indigenous and local peoples, whose health and environments have been affected by British nuclear weapons testing, production and ongoing related activities and making an official apology to the local population for the testing
  • Using the opportunity of the victim assistance and environmental remediation framework of the TPNW to cooperate fully with efforts to assess the harm caused as a result of the UK’s nuclear testing and provide corresponding redress, support and assistance
  • Declassifying archives, studies and documentation on Britain’s nuclear weapons testing and associated programmes, including any that relate to accidents, environmental or health impacts arising from nuclear programmes or activities, and should assist affected people in their efforts to address all the impacts on their rights, including to their health, environment and access to justice
  • Providing cooperation and assistance – including information, technical and financial assistance – to states working to address the impacts of UK nuclear tests on the rights of their populations and their environment

The briefing shares lived experience and expert contributions from Kiribati islanders. We hope it will be useful for UK officials, parliamentarians and civil society organisations, and complement work by others on communities affected by UK tests, including work relating to indigenous populations in Australia and the US, and nuclear veterans.

Click here to read the report

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