In 1973 the New Zealand government protested against French nuclear testing at Mururoa. The two-frigate protest sparked international pressure for the testing to stop, which forced the French to move to underground testing. Now, 42 years later, an independent report detailing likely exposure and risk from radiation is to be released in October. Commissioned by Veterans Affairs New Zealand (VANZ), the report will explore the effects the nuclear testing had on veterans, on seawater, and the hereditary effect on offspring.
The report is a result of the Mururoa Nuclear Veterans Group Inc, which was formed in 2013 with the goal of monitoring the health of the veterans, their children, and their grandchildren. The group is also establishing a trust to permit medical testing on those affected and to help those in need of medical care.
"We wanted to get it recognised as an issue, and ideally, to get help from the government in funding research and establishing a Health Trust Fund," says Wayne O'Donnell, President of Mururoa Nuclear Veterans Group Inc.
O'Donnell also hopes the report and the following discussions will "establish the truth of the genetic transfer of illnesses related to the nuclear exposure encountered by the crews."
Around 500 crewmembers, in addition to observers and media, sailed aboard the two frigates in 1973 to witness atmospheric nuclear tests. Several Mururoa veterans and their children have died at an early age. Mururoa Nuclear Veterans Group Inc reports that there have been a significant number of miscarriages, stillborn children, and children born with deformities or health problems.
Finding veterans and their children to participate in the research has proved difficult, due to the lack of data on what crewmembers were abroad the frigates. O'Donnell says many veterans don't know what health care they are entitled to.
"We need to make contact with these people so that they can be informed of any findings, be part of the testing but most of all receive the duty of care they are entitled to. We also need to record any medical issues suffered by the generational children of the nuclear veterans. Not just now but in future generations."
Until very recently, the New Zealand government had taken the position that Muroroa veterans were not exposed to a harmful amount of radiation. Neither frigate came within 20 nautical miles - the minimum safe distance of detonation. But both ships passed through the contaminated cloud and drew contaminated water into the ship.
According to O'Donnell, a former navy marine engineer and diver, the seawater was brought onboard and desalinated for drinking water and the food was stored within reach of any exposure or fallout.
"This water had been radiated for years and years. The testing of samples showed that it had high levels. We were ingesting it," says O'Donnell.
VANZ expects to release the comprehensive report in October, which will hopefully provide answers that veterans and their families have been waiting 42 years for.