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"New Zealand soldiers to sue Britain ove
With regard to the news article posted by Sandy Perle
"New Zealand soldiers to sue Britain over nuclear test effects"
the following additional detail may be of interest.
Sailors who observed nuclear tests in the vicinity of Christmas Island in
the late 1950s are claiming evidence of increased birth defects in children
and grandchildren. Claims were made earlier of increased incidence of
illness, particularly cancers, in the test participants, but an
epidemiological study found no evidence of rates above those of a control
population. The New Zealand Government has nevertheless agreed to grant the
veterans access to war pensions, a move which has been interpreted by the
New Zealand Nuclear Test Veterans Association as a tacit admission that the
participants were 'irradiated'. The Association is also pursuing claims
against the British Government.
Hereditary effects from radiation exposure have never been demonstrated in
irradiated human populations, including the offspring of Japanese exposed at
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The 1993 UNSCEAR report states "Epidemiology has
not detected hereditary effects of radiation in humans with a statistically
significant degree of confidence. The risk estimate based on animal studies
is so small that it would have been surprising to find a statistically
significant effect in the end-points studied in Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
In the case of the New Zealand observers at the tests there is in fact no
evidence that any significant radiation exposure was received, and certainly
none which could give rise to observable health effects.
A newspaper article in the Christchurch Press of 10 November 1997 reported
that New Zealand navy veterans are seeking compensation from the British
Government for experimental exposure to nuclear bomb tests during 1957-58.
It is alleged that they and thousands of British servicemen who observed
the tests have suffered mysterious and often fatal diseases. The report
also noted that the New Zealand Government has made available $200 000 to
assist costs if the New Zealand veterans are required to take direct legal
action against the British Government. This confirms an earlier report of
30 January on the same topic. The veterans were also seeking access to war
In response to claims by navy veterans the New Zealand Government
commissioned an epidemiological study conducted by a group at the Wellington
Medical School. The report on the health of the New Zealand participants
was published in the British Medical Journal on 5 May 1990. The study
Although the numbers are small * some leukemias, and possibly some other
haematological cancers, may have resulted from this programme. There is
little evidence of an increased risk for non-haematological cancers, and
there is no evidence of an increased risk for causes of death other than
A follow-up report following up participants for a further 5 years was
issued in 1996 (Mortality and cancer incidence in New Zealand participants
in United Kingdom nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific: supplementary
report, Neil Pearce, Wellington School of Medicine, June 1996). The
findings were essentially unchanged with no evidence of increased health
effects except for a possible increase of haematological cancers. This
excess risk was mainly due to 4 deaths from leukemia. The report speculated
that radiation may have been a causal factor and that internal exposure from
ingestion of foods or neutron radiation may have been involved.
Comments on epidemiological findings
The number of haematological cancers in the study was very small. In regard
to the four leukemia cases two points should be noted. Firstly, one of the
cases was a chronic lymphocytic leukemia which is a type which has never
been demonstrated as being caused by radiation. Secondly, the increased
risk of leukemia in the exposed Japanese (Hiroshima and Nagasaki)
populations in the 15-29 age group falls to near zero at 25 years after
exposure. In the test participants, who were largely within this age range,
3 of the 4 leukemias occurred more than 25 years after the putative time of
exposure. Without any further evidence, therefore, the epidemiological
findings do not support radiation exposure as a cause of the small increase
A much larger British study of British participants at the Australian and
Christmas Island tests found no increases in health effects in participants.
The (New Zealand) National Radiation Laboratory carried out a radiological
survey of Christmas Island in 1981 following a request from the British
Overseas Development Administration for an independent survey (NRL Report
1981/9, National Radiation Laboratory, 1981). This was in response to a
request from the newly independent state of Kiribati. This study
demonstrated that no significant radioactive fallout had been deposited on
the island and was consistent with British results of personnel monitoring
conducted at the time of the tests. Apart from small groups of British
personnel such as aircrew involved in cloud sampling missions, the doses
could be considered trivial.
In speculating on possible causes of radiation exposure, the Wellington
Medical School reports refer to neutron radiation and possible intake of
fallout products. Neither of these are credible sources of significant
exposure. The observers were stationed many miles from the detonations, and
for megatonne yields, neutron radiation is completely attenuated at
distances where blast and thermal (burn) effects do not occur. Further,
significant intake of fallout radionuclides is not possible in the absence
of accompanying external exposure.
There is no evidence that the participants received any significant
radiation exposures, and certainly no exposures that would give rise to any
observable health effects.
Andrew C McEwan PhD
National Radiation Laboratory
PO Box 25-099
Christchurch, New Zealand
Ph 64 3 366 5059
Fax 64 3 366 1156