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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.

Further background

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 
in leukemias.

A much larger British study of British participants at the Australian and 
Christmas Island tests found no increases in health effects in participants.

Radiological evidence

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