Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

UK officials knew deadly radiation risks of nuclear weapons tests at the time

For more than 30 years the Mirror has campaigned for justice for the brave men who took part in Britain’s nuclear weapons tests.

The Ministry of Defence has fought back every step of the way.

Some of the documents show servicemen were in fact exposed to centuries’ worth of radiation while being ordered to manually collect radioactive samples in Australia.

Thousands of test veterans have died while successive governments have fought their claims.

DEFE16/695)Scientists suggested hiding radioactive waste in Australia. A letter from a senior boffin at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment on August 29, 1958, says that it should be buried “in the forward area” which would be too toxic to enter for decades. It suggests that “so long as it is well and truly buried in such a way that there will be nothing visible by way of mounds or inscribed ‘tombstones’ to arouse the curiosity of aboriginals or others who might stray into the area”. It goes on: “If markers are considered necessary, they should not be recognisable as such to the uninitiated, nor should there be a wired enclosure which would attract attention.”

UK officials knew deadly radiation risks of nuclear weapons tests at the time  https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/uk-officials-knew-damaging-radiation-26732014

One jaw-dropping paper describes how Land Rovers contaminated with radioactive fallout were cleaned using a standard vacuum cleaner, with the filters then shaken and beaten to clear it of toxic dust in a way described as “somewhat hazardous”.

The Mirror has uncovered UK government documents showing how the weapons programme was aware of the ‘serious biological risks’ facing 22,000 men,

By Susie Boniface , 17 Apr 2022

Servicemen in the UK’s nuclear weapons testing programme were exposed to damaging levels of radiation that officials knew could kill them 40 years later.

A Mirror investigation has uncovered UK government documents showing those in charge of the testing programme were aware of the “serious biological risks” facing 22,000 men.

The documents show that cancer-inducing radiation doses were labelled “safe”, kit and equipment was irradiated, servicemen showed signs of radiation in their urine, and scientists complained about having to observe “an unnecessary margin of safety”.

Alan Owen, of the Labrats campaign group, said: “This is why our fathers died, our mothers miscarried, why our children are suffering today. These experiments were genetically devastating. No court has ever tested the evidence, but the government knew, and has lied to us ever since.”

The cache of almost 1,000 documents shows veterans were expected to have “observable genetic effects” up to four decades later.

Cancer-inducing radiation doses were labelled “safe”, kit and equipment was irradiated, servicemen showed signs of radiation in their urine, and scientists complained about having to observe “an unnecessary margin of safety”.

And, two decades after John Major’s government bought off the Australians with £20m compensation to clean up contamination, documents show radioactive material was intentionally hidden in the Outback, in defiance of scientific safety standards.

One 1958 document states: “If markers are considered necessary, they should not be recognisable as such to the uninitiated, nor should there be a wired enclosure which would attract attention.”

Other papers show the tests “created serious biological risks”, with “bone-seeking fission products” which would end up lodged in skeletons or guts of servicemen. They contain evidence of tins, medical supplies, and soap absorbing radiation and becoming contaminated on an atomic level.

Ex-Royal Engineer Ken McGinley, who founded the British Nuclear Test Veterans’ Association in 1983, said: “The government took more care of the rabbits and guinea pigs they used, than the men irradiated alongside them.

“The animals were studied to find out how much radiation they had absorbed. We weren’t. We were second-class guinea pigs.”

Veterans have complained of cancers and rare medical conditions since the 1980s. Their wives report high rates of miscarriage, and their children have been found to have 10 times the usual number of birth defects, and are 5 times more likely to die as infants.

A government study revealed in January that test veterans have 3.5 times the expected rate of radiogenic leukaemia, but the Ministry of Defence is still considering its response. Last year veterans were told there was not enough “risk and rigour” to the tests to merit a medal, by a committee later found to be accepting bogus information from MoD “compensation colleagues”.

But the unearthed papers show that “safety limits” involved significant amounts of exposure. A dose considered to be a “zero risk” was equivalent to 30 years’ of background radiation in just 5 days. A “slight risk” was the same as that of 250 years’ background. Today, scientists believe even this ‘natural’ radiation may lead to thousands of deaths every year.

The documents set a “normal working rate” greater than most Britons would receive annually, and set different decontamination standards for scientists and servicemen even though they worked side-by-side. Scientists knew at the time that normal background radiation can cause cancers, and that there is no ‘safe’ dose.

Radiation epidemiologist Mark Little said: “I am surprised to see even back in the 1950s a statement that a zero risk was equivalent to this low dose. Although the risk is lower, it is most certainly not zero.”

He added the “zero dose” daily rate was equivalent to a single CT scan, and studies have shown that repeated scans can triple the rate of brain cancer and leukaemia in patients.

In defence of the trials programme, the MoD says nuclear veterans were exposed to less radiation at the tests than they would have experienced naturally at home, due to radon gas in UK soil. Some of the documents show servicemen were in fact exposed to centuries’ worth of radiation while being ordered to manually collect radioactive samples in Australia.

Blood tests on the men were suggested to prove future medical claims, but today test veterans face a battle to access the results. Some have found proof of blood counts before the tests, but records are missing of those taken after the explosions.

Ex-sapper Dave Whyte, of Kirkcaldy, Fife, said: “My records show blood was taken and examined on August 12, 1958, and the results. There are a further seven columns for updates, but they are blank. I witnessed four bombs after that date, and went into Ground Zero on two occasions. I had further blood taken, but there is no mention of those results.”

Dave later developed gastric problems, lumps in his groin, and discovered he was sterile. He also says his signature was forged on his medical discharge papers.

The papers were classified until 1985, when they were forced open by an Australian Royal Commission into the testing programme. They were studied, but not published, as part of the final report, then stored at King’s College London.

In 2006, lawyers acting for the veterans were able to read them as research for a High Court case, but they were never used. The MoD instead claimed a three-year time limit on claims, and the lawyers had to change tack.

A source at the law firm told the Mirror: “We thought we had clear proof of the illnesses were caused by exposure. The MoD didn’t bother to argue it – they couldn’t. When the Supreme Court finally ruled against the veterans on appeal in 2012, it was without a single judge ever seeing these documents or truly testing the argument. That decision was highly irregular.”

Thousands of test veterans have died while successive governments have fought their claims – former wireless operator Bob Malcolmson, who was twice ordered to sail through fallout in Operation Mosaic, was one of the few to win a war pension. He had cancer four times, the last one being a terminal diagnosis

Searches of the National Archives failed to uncover the papers, but after a list of 967 file numbers was handed to the Mirror, we were able to extract a sample of 20, containing a total of 522 pages.

They showed that ‘protective’ clothing was heavily contaminated, efforts to decontaminate drinking water failed, and then-Prime Minister Anthony Eden lied to his opposite number in Australia about the poisonous yield of the weapons.

The MoD said: “We are grateful to all service personnel who participated in the British nuclear testing programme. The protection, health and welfare of those involved in the operations was a vital consideration, as documented by the detailed safety measures and radiobiological monitoring that took place during the operations.”

Read the full story of the nuclear tests at DAMNED.MIRROR.CO.UK

The evidence we found:

DEFE16/3)In 1954 boffins collected fallout particles just a mile from Ground Zero at Emu Field in South Australia after Operation Totem. One made 8 sorties in a Land Rover over the course of a week in the days after the blast for “manual recovery by personnel of fused debris at ground zero”. It added: “In this area the activity was of the order of 50 – 60 Roentgens per hour and the desert sand was covered at approximately 1/2 cm intervals with fused, brittle black droplets, varying in size from fine powdery particles to particles of over 1mm in diameter.” Three pounds of toxic dirt was put into a plastic bag, and the droplets were “found to be extremely active and contain very large quantities of plutonium”. The document states: “This method involves a certain amount of risk to the operator, but it does give samples which are extremely rich in plutonium.”

A dose of 50 R is equivalent to 4,380 chest X-rays

DEFE16/4)Five Lincoln aircraft ‘sniff planes’ flew through the cloud of Totem 1 in 1953 a total of 15 times, and in three cases “the aircraft encountered such intense activity that in addition to the instrument going off scale, the outside of the aircraft became contaminated sufficiently to maintain a high ‘background’ reading on the instrument even after leaving the cloud”. The instrument referred to was inside the plane.

(DEFE 16/12)Investigation of clothing worn during work on Operation Hurricane in 1952 found “hot spots” on cuffs, legs, gloves, boots, and socks worn by men five months after the explosion. Their radioactivity was measured in counts per second, which indicates the number of atoms that decay in that time. The document says the “normal background” recorded was 2 to 3 c/s, while suits, boots, gloves and puttees were found to be more than 2,000 c/s – the limit of what they could measure. People entering the Chernobyl disaster zone recently have reported hot spots of up to 1,500 c/s.

(DEFE16/17)Immediately after the Hurricane blast in 1952 “men entered the radioactive areas without respirators and it was possible to find traces of radioactivity in their urine within a few days”. There was “convincing evidence that such radioactivity in urine had been due to the inhalation of fission products, rather than by other possible routes of entry”. One man had “inadvertently bathed in and swallowed mildly contaminated water”, and others needed five decontamination showers before being considered safe. The same paper shows boffins fed 13 guinea pigs and 10 rabbits with grass grown on irradiated soil, then studied their organs, urine, faeces, and bones, “because of their clinical importance of injury to the blood-forming cells from bone-seeking fission products”. It found that 25 per cent of a dose went to the thyroid gland, with 8 per cent deposited in bones. It concluded: “The Monte Bello explosions created serious biological risks”.

(DEFE16/48)After the Totem explosions, a total of 582 men were ordered into the blast zone. Nine per cent had doses of more than 2,000 counts per second on their hands or feet afterwards. Despite this, the documents claim: “The organisation achieved its purpose of protecting personnel against radioactive contamination.”

(DEFE16/74)In 1954 the War Office decided to investigate ways of removing radiation from drinking water, believing that if it gathered in the bones or thyroid it was a threat to troops. “The dose to the gastro-intestinal tract from all fission products is of equal, if not greater, importance,” say the documents.

(DEFE16/87)Bottles and tins left on the ground at Op Buffalo showed “considerable induced activity” – the previously-stable molecules from which the containers were made showed signs of neutron decay. When food was put in inch-thick iron chests, buried three feet deep, and covered in sandbags, the contents still showed signs of radioactivity 3 weeks later.

(DEFE16/174)Six experiments codenamed Operation Vixen in 1959 at Maralinga placed metal rods of plutonium, uranium and beryllium in a petrol fire. Scientists measured how poisoned smoke was spread by the wind for more than 1,000 yards and rose to heights of at least 300ft. A total of 4.7kg of uranium was burned, but only 1.3kg was recovered.

(DEFE16/198)A 1955 document set the safety limits for radiation hazards at Emu Field in South Australia, where two devices had been exploded. Any area that would expose a man to “6 rep over 112 hours of exposure” in 10 weeks was categorised as “zero risk”, and a “slight risk” was anything up to 50 rep.

There was no need to collect irradiated material: “In the immediate vicinity of the firing sites small areas of Slight Risk may exist. These could be reduced to Zero risk by covering with a thin layer of earth. There may also be some widespread debris of fairy high activity, such as pieces of Asbestos Wool, but it is felt that this may be neglected.” It added that “because of the long half lives of the more dangerous isotopes present, there will not be much change in the situation in the main craters over the next decade”, and that even areas designated “zero risk” would have “small quantities of contamination present”. It says: “We cannot choose a value merely because we are sure that it is safe.” It claims that troops will not be exposed to dangerous levels merely out of “expediency”, but goes on to set a “normal working rate” of 0.3 rep per day, which is more than any Britons are normally exposed to over the course of an entire year in the UK. In “extreme urgency”, it says, troops can be exposed to 50 rep a day.

DEFE16/199)Man-made isotope Strontium-90 was found in bones of British children and in British milk and sheep. A memo from top atomic scientist Sir John Cockroft in 1957 discussed a public relations campaign involving the Royal Society and Russian scientists to put the public’s mind at ease about strontium. He suggested a “series of newspaper articles” in the Australian press to “explain what a dangerous world we live in and what the risks of war are and so on, and would lead to the conclusion that it is better to accept the very mild risks of fallout from weapon tests than it is to be confronted by the enormous conventional forces of our possible opponents”.

A government briefing note from March 14, 1957, speaks of “genetic hazards” and warns: “Certain constituents of the fallout, which are entirely new elements – such as the element strontium-90 – non-existent in the world before atomic fission, may be absorbed into the body through food.” It says Sr-90 is “chemically similar to calcium and may likewise be incorporated in bones, particularly the bones of young children. Its accumulation as a source of continuously emitted internal radiation may in time produce bone cancers and possibly leukaemia.” The document claims that only 1,000 or more units of the isotope would present a health risk, and evidence showed British children had a dose of 1 unit. But it also quotes Professor Haddow of the Medical Research Council who said that “there is no dose of radiation too small to produce leukaemia”.

DEFE16/239)States that “contamination from firings on lower towers will be more severe” at Operation Buffalo than at US tests in Nevada. There were not enough decontamination facilities for more than 25 sevricemen, but they were prepared to send 125 through. It was necesssary only to put a fence around contaminated areas, but it was too dangerous for a month after firing; “even then it would entail exposing the fencing party to very considerable radiation hazard”. It adds that “indoctrinees should be sited where they can experience the flash, heat and blast effects to the best advantage”.

(DEFE16/540)A June 1956 letter from the UK High Commissioner to the acting Australian PM talks about “genetic effects” from fallout and adds: “Recognising all the inadequacy of our present knowledge, we cannot ignore the possibility that is the rate of firing increases and particularly if greater numbers of thermonuclear weapons are used, we could within the lifetime of some now living be approaching levels at which ill effects might be produced in a small number of the population.” It goes on to say that, after Operation Buffalo, the UK will seek to limit any future nuclear blasts because “they cannot ignore the warnings of leading UK scientists and that a proposed limitation of future tests by agreement is the least that can be done in view of their report”. There is a message from Sir Anthony Eden to the Australian PM, telling him the 1956 Operation Mosaic blasts would be small. In fact one was 90 kilotons – six times bigger than the Hiroshima bomb.

(DEFE16/695)Scientists suggested hiding radioactive waste in Australia. A letter from a senior boffin at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment on August 29, 1958, says that it should be buried “in the forward area” which would be too toxic to enter for decades. It suggests that “so long as it is well and truly buried in such a way that there will be nothing visible by way of mounds or inscribed ‘tombstones’ to arouse the curiosity of aboriginals or others who might stray into the area”. It goes on: “If markers are considered necessary, they should not be recognisable as such to the uninitiated, nor should there be a wired enclosure which would attract attention.”

(DEFE26/551)A 1955 plan to gather evidence about ingested fallout states: “Human beings in a contaminated zone could absorb fission products from the air they breathe, from water or from food onto which fission products had fallen, or from the produce of animals which has previously ingested fission products.”

For more than 30 years the Mirror has campaigned for justice for the brave men who took part in Britain’s nuclear weapons tests.

The Ministry of Defence has fought back every step of the way.

We have told countless heartbreaking stories of grieving mums, children with deformities, men aged before their time and widows struggling to hold their families together, all while campaigning for recognition.

Two years ago we launched an appeal for a medal for the 1,500 survivors.

For the first time we were able to prove some were unwittingly used in experiments.

Our appeal was backed by then-Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson but his review foundered after he lost his job.

It had only six meetings in two years. They never asked to meet veterans. They never questioned the evidence.

Instead they asked for information from the MoD, which has a track record of denying what its own paperwork later proves.

And as our medal campaign gathered steam, civil servants simultaneously withdrew public documents from the National Archives.

Would anyone working in Whitehall today stay there, if 3 megatons of plutonium exploded south of the river?

The test veterans and their families will never stop fighting. The Mirror will never cease to demand they are heard.

Prime Minister, listen to them. Overturn this disgraceful decision.

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April 18, 2022 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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