Monday, November 10, 2008

New evidence on nuclear bomb tests points to cover up

New evidence on nuclear bomb tests points to cover up

Serviceman's blood showed 'hallmarks of radiation'
By Rob Edwards, Environment Editor
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THE MINISTRY of Defence (MoD) has been accused of "a cover-up of a cock-up" in the wake of new evidence that it failed to investigate genetic damage among the veterans of Britain's nuclear weapons tests in the 1950s.

Confidential correspondence from 1984 reveals that the Medical Research Council (MRC) discovered DNA defects in a test veteran that were characteristic of radiation damage. But the council was never asked to look for similar problems in other veterans.

The revelation is seen as the "smoking gun" that could bring justice for the veterans, who have been campaigning for compensation for illnesses they blame on radiation for decades. They recently launched legal action against the MoD, which has promised an inquiry.

Between 1952 and 1962 Britain exploded 46 nuclear bombs in the atmosphere around Australia and Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean. The explosions were witnessed by more than 21,000 British servicemen, many dressed only in shorts and sandals.

A series of government investigations since the 1980s has failed to find conclusive proof that the servicemen suffered as a result. But now documents released to the national archives and obtained by the Sunday Herald suggest that this was because they were looking in the wrong place.

On January 24, 1984, H John Evans of the MRC clinical and population cytogenetics unit at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh wrote "in confidence" to a senior MRC official in London. Evans recounted how his staff had delayed analysing blood samples from Christmas Island veterans because they were expecting to take part in a nationwide study of veterans' health.

The Edinburgh researchers specialised in examining people exposed to radiation to check for aberrations in their chromosomes, a sign of genetic damage. But in the end their services were not required, Evans said, because the MoD commissioned the then National Radiological Protection Board to conduct a purely statistical analysis instead.

Evans then ordered the blood samples from the Christmas Island veterans to be examined. "I had thought that it was highly unlikely that we would find any chromosome abnormalities," he said. "But it turns out that one of these patients in fact has quite a high degree of chromosome damage in his blood cells."

This "would not be inconsistent with having received radiation exposure 20 or more years ago", Evans observed.

Sue Roff, an expert from the Centre for Medical Education at Dundee University, has been researching the health problems of the test veterans since 1995. "The scientists and military leaders who conducted the tests knew there were hazards. But few safety measures were put in place and no proper blood studies were done after the men returned," she said."It has always seemed to me to be a cover-up of a cock-up. And that's the kinder interpretation."

The type of chromosome damage found by Evans had "all the hallmarks of radiation", according to Dudley Goodhead, the former director of the MRC's radiation unit at Harwell, Oxfordshire. The under-secretary of state for defence, Kevan Jones, met with test veterans two weeks ago, and agreed to investigate the health of their children and grandchildren.

Dennis Hayden, of the Combined Veterans' Forum International, accused the MoD of making a "politically-motivated" decision to bypass chromosome studies. "Any advanced technology showing the mark of the bomb in the DNA of veterans does not suit the government's agenda," he said.


My step father was one of the American Air Force personnel used in these Cold War experiments in Nevada.

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