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Nuclear test findings grim news for veterans

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http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/nuc ... 19477.html

By Cynthia Banham

April 27, 2006

A STUDY into cancer rates among Australian veterans exposed to radiation during British nuclear tests in the 1950s and '60s has found their incidence of cancer 23 per cent higher than the general population.

The British nuclear tests were carried out on the Monte Bello islands off Western Australia, and at Maralinga and Emu Field in South Australia between 1952 and 1963.

The Department of Veterans Affairs agreed to carry out a study into the cancer incidence and mortality among former defence personnel who were exposed more than five years ago.

About 17,000 servicemen and civilians, including a large numbers of Aborigines, were exposed to the tests. Many of the service personnel were ordered to line up unprotected in the open air and turn away from the blasts.

The findings, which have not yet been released by the Government but have been obtained by the Herald, show the overall death rate among participants was similar to that of the general population. But death from cancer was 18 per cent greater among test participants than among the general population.

The study also showed "the number of cancer cases found among participants was 2456, which was 23 per cent higher than expected".

It found a significant increase in the number of deaths from, and cases of, cancers of the lip, oral cavity and pharynx, lung cancer, colorectal cancer and prostate cancer. Cancer cases, but not deaths, were also significantly greater among participants for oesophageal cancer, melanoma and leukaemia.

Avon Haudson, 69, was serving in the RAAF when he was exposed to the British nuclear tests at Maralinga. He has been fighting a compensation battle against the Government for 45 years and blew the whistle on the testing in 1975.

"We have known that all along. This doesn't come as a surprise to me … We have all got mates who have died," he said.

However, the study concludes that "the increases in cancer rates do not appear to have been caused by exposure to radiation".

"No relationship could be found between overall cancer incidence or mortality and exposure to radiation."

A spokesman for the Defence Minister, Brendan Nelson, said the report was "a matter for the Department of Veterans Affairs".

The study's findings are likely to offer little comfort to the veterans, who have been waiting for years for their compensation claims against the Government for physical and psychological illness caused by the exposure to nuclear radiation.

A 1999 report found no clear link between exposure to the tests and deaths, because of the limited information available. The Federal Government then conducted a more comprehensive study. The latest study was carried out on 11,000 participants.

A total of 12 nuclear bombs were exploded during the British tests. There were also hundreds of minor trials in which raw uranium, plutonium, beryllium and other toxic materials were blasted with conventional explosives to simulate accidental detonation.

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