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Demand for answers over claims of cold war radiation experiments

Politicians have called for answers from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over claims that British nuclear test pilots were deliberately exposed to radiation in experiments during the Cold War.

The widow of one pilot claims to have obtained secret documents which show her husband was ordered to fly through the cloud of a thermonuclear explosion at Christmas Island in the Pacific.

Shirley Denson, 83, said husband Eric was exposed to so much radiation that it caused crippling headaches that became so bad he later killed himself, the Mirror reports.

Two of their four daughters were also said to have been born with abnormalities.

Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson described the documents as "shocking", and said the Defence Secretary should issue an unqualified apology to Mrs Denson in the Commons.

He told the paper: "We need answers about what experiments were conducted, and how many of the 22,000 nuke vets were involved in them."

Shadow defence secretary Nia Griffiths said they were "deeply worrying revelations" and called for them to be investigated by the MoD.

The department has denied claims the pilots were subject to an experiment to test the effects of radiation, and said there was no valid evidence to link the programme with ill health.

According to the Mirror, the documents revealed Flight Lieutenant Denson had flown his Canberra B6 bomber into the mushroom cloud of a 2.8 megaton nuclear explosion on April 28 1958, with X-ray badges on the seat to measure radiation.

He was reportedly exposed to 65 years' worth of normal background radiation during the six-minute flight.

Mrs Denson told the paper: "It's absolutely wicked... It seems our government used and abused its own men."

The MoD said the flight was carried out to determine the best possible arrangement on the body of dosemeters - devices which measure radiation - so that the men's exposure could be measured as accurately as possible.

A spokesman said: "It is not true to say that these men were subject to an experiment to look at the effects of radiation. The British nuclear testing programme contributed towards keeping our country secure during the Cold War and regular health checks were conducted throughout.

"The National Radiological Protection Board has carried out three studies of nuclear test veterans and found no valid evidence to link participation in this programme to ill health."