[ RadSafe ] Question re atomic tests

Andrew McEwan acmcewan at clear.net.nz
Sun Jun 14 18:57:30 CDT 2009

Ivoy Surveyor asked
"I write for information.  On June 5th in the High Court London made a
judgment allowing British, Fijian, Australian and New Zealand
veterans who witnessed atomic tests to sue the ministry of defense.

Judge Foskett referred to new evidence based on a scientific study
conducted by Professor AL Rowland which showed significant genetic damage.
Can anybody comment on this new evidence and what is it please?"

I wrote the following comment on this work (based on a report dating from
2006) in the April 2009 (Vol.26, No.1) issue of Radiation Protection in

"To address the concerns of the Grapple nuclear test veterans, and also a
larger group of Vietnam veterans concerned about potential exposure to
herbicides, the New Zealand Government at a meeting on 27 July 1998 set
terms of reference for an inquiry into the health status of children of
Vietnam and Operation Grapple veterans.

The subsequent report notes that the New Zealand vessels attending the tests
did not have primary roles in the test monitoring, and were stationed upwind
and well away from areas likely to be contaminated if a surface burst
occurred accidentally. In fact all explosions took place at sufficient
altitudes to ensure there was no significant local fallout deposition, and
the vessels were stationed at time of detonation well beyond the range of
prompt radiations from the explosions.  The Advisory Committee report

	There is no evidence, nor any suggestion from those responsible for
radiological protection, that any RNZN vessel or 	crew member received any
significant exposure to radiation during Operation Grapple.

The report addressed the two fundamental issues, (a) what were the radiation
doses received by the men, and, (b) what would the effect be on their
children of any radiation doses received. The report found that there is no
evidence of any radiation exposure of the servicemen that could give rise to
any health effects in the individuals themselves or their children, and that
no radiation-induced hereditary effects have been reported in human
populations, even for those exposed to doses giving rise to deterministic
effects. It concluded that:

	No hereditary effects in the children of the Christmas Island test veterans
may be attributed to exposure to radiation 	arising from the veteran's
observation of the nuclear tests.

The "new scientific evidence, including a study carried out in New Zealand"
refers to studies of sister chromatid exchanges (SCE) in veterans compared
with controls conducted by Al Rowland and co-workers at Massey University,
Palmerston North. The very different smoking habits of the test veterans
compared with controls is noted in these studies but discounted on the basis
that the impact of smoking on SCE frequencies is not long lived. Apart from
smoking prevalence, other factors which might affect the results are not
explored or controlled for.

The authors of these studies imply that SCEs caused by smoking are of
short-lived duration, while those caused by putative radiation exposure are
longer lasting, but no explanation is offered as to why this might be the
case. However, they state that if the difference in the mean SCE scores of
the study group versus the controls were to be attributed to radiation
exposure "this would imply, a priori, that radionuclides were still present
in their system". They conclude that the small difference they observed in
mean SCE scores between the study group and controls is attributable to
"residues of radiation particles that may still be present in the bodies of
the veterans", and that small body burdens of alpha emitters (e.g. uranium,
plutonium) "could be the source responsible" This can be shown to be totally

Andrew McEwan

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