Nuclear test veterans call for better Government help

By Martin Johnston

Nuclear test veterans deserve a better deal on medical care and other Government support following test results showing genetic damage, a veterans' group says.

The Herald reported preliminary Massey University findings last September indicating veterans had suffered long-term genetic damage from their exposure to nuclear explosions nearly half a century ago.

Yesterday, the Nuclear Test Veterans Association released details of a separate study that confirm the preliminary results.

The lead researcher of both studies, Dr Al Rowland, said last night: "What we've found is a small but statistically significant level of genetic damage.

"Taking all confounding factors [like smoking, alcohol, and medical x-rays] into account, we are left with only one other interpretation of what it is about this group that's different to the control group: they went to Operation Grapple."

During 1957 and 1958 at Operation Grapple, 551 New Zealand naval men witnessed nine nuclear detonations at Christmas Island and in the Malden Islands in Kiribati.

In Government-funded research, scientists are comparing genetic findings from a group of veterans with those from a control group of military veterans who have not been exposed to elevated levels of radiation. Radiation is linked to various cancers, especially those of the bones and blood.

The veterans association chairman, Roy Sefton, said that following the results, nuclear-test veterans should be considered a medically at-risk group and their health specially monitored. The Government should acknowledge they were harmed.

"[The Government] should indicate what measures they are going to put in place to ensure veterans are getting better pensions, consideration of better counselling and better treatment.

"These are men who, in the main, were in their teens ... they had no choice in this and were never told participation in this programme may have long-term and fatal health effects."

Peer reviewers of the latest study, while accepting the findings, suggest that heavy smoking by the test veterans was a factor in the results, but Dr Rowland said this was incorrect.

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