Roy Sefton on the Massey Uni cytogenetic Analysis

GA dennis.

Further to my email sent earlier today there is a situation arising from the NZ Ministerial advisory Groups’ conclusions on the Massey ‘cytogenetic Analysis’ that has left me somewhat bewildered as not being used in either the legal cases and especially the UK War Pension Appeals …

The chair of the Advisory Group made four recommendations to the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs (see my earlier email for all the set of recommendations. The first is, I believe, of considerable interest and should carry some weight against the UK Government.. i) The Massey University mFISH study results do provide evidence that the nuclear test veterans were exposed to ionizing radiation. It is not possible to determine the extent of the exposure from these studies.

The importance of this finding is that it has come from a group of 6 scientists who are considered as experts by, and appointed by the NZ Government to investigate the impact of the service on the NZ Operation Grapple cohort and their families. The Advisory Group spent two years investigating this and some of NZNTVA’s issues. They selected and subjected the Rowland studies to six experts both nationally and internationally for further peer review. NZNTVA overturned the Advisory Groups intention not to consider any input on the studies from Prof’s Rowland and Podd who were then allowed to make written statements to the Advisory group.

What we have ended up with is a situation that has been totally politically controlled by the New Zealand Government. The research was put through the most rigorous set of scientific scrutiny. The NZ Government has accepted the end result that as stated in i) the mFish study does proved (provide) evidence that the nuclear test veterans were exposed to ionizing radiation.

What the UK Government is doing is ignoring the NZ political scientific scrutiny resulting from the politically appointed Advisory Groups actions which have I believe been far more intense than those of the UK Government’s which almost casually have dismissed the Massey research. As i mentioned before if the advisory groups finding of damage to the health of the NZ group had been presented to the courts and the Tribunal and emphasised the total NZ governments control of the set up of the Advisory Group and its peer reviewing and other processing of the Massey research, and the NZ Governments acceptance of the conclusion i), then probably the Massey studies would not have been dismissed so easily.

ALAN perhaps this situation may make good reading in Fissionline..Two Governments at odds with each other on the question of exposure..

All best

Roy Sefton

Chair of the New Zealand Nuclear Test Veterans Association

ABC Australia, Catalyst, New Zealand Nuclear Veterans

Between 1957 and 1959, nine hydrogen bombs were detonated in the Pacific. Two New Zealand navy frigates were there observing and on board, with backs to the blast, were more than 500 kiwi sailors. Some of them were just 20 nautical miles from Ground Zero.

When you realise just how close some of these young men came to clouds of ionising radiation, it’s hard not to imagine some of them had their health affected. Yet to date, the science has been inconclusive, even dismissive.

But a recent study has given these sailors some hope.

Catalyst travels to New Zealand to look into the science behind the study and ponders whether the waves created by this new data will reach the other side of the Tasman, where some 16,000 Australians were also exposed to British nuclear tests.

Have New Zealand scientists finally found the mark of the bomb?


Narration In the late 1950’s, in the deepening chill of the cold war, the British were looking for places to test their powerful new nuclear weapons.
They chose Australia.

Old Cinesound Voiceover Conditions are just right so the Valiant heads for the target. Cameras roll, backs are turned to the blast, 5,4,3,2,1, 0 BLAST ……… The mighty power of the atom is released.

Dr Jonica Newby When you see just how close our young men came to clouds of ionising radiation, it’s hard not to imagine some of them had their health affected. Yet to date, the science has been inconclusive, even dismissive. That’s why the hopes of Australia’s nuclear veterans are turning here across the Tasman. Have New Zealand scientists finally found the mark of the bomb.

Narration Like the Australians, the New Zealand veterans were witness to British nuclear tests. But theirs were all at sea – in the Pacific. It was known as Operation Grapple.

In 1957, Roy Sefton was just 17 when he was assigned to the HMNZS Pukaki. He saw the first ever test of Britain’s H bomb.

Roy Sefton They told us to sit down, backs to the blast, cover your eyes.

And all of a sudden there’s just this massive flash. I had my eyes closed and goggles, dark goggles, hands over them, and there before me lay the skeleton or, or the bones of my hands. And lots of guys obviously saw that because I heard all sorts of naval language being quoted around me.

Narration As the series of 9 tests progressed, the sailors remained for months in the area, enjoying the local seafood, bathing in tropical rains.

A few years later, Roy started to get develop strange aches and pains.

Roy Sefton By the time I was thirty, it was difficult, getting difficult to walk any distance. Everything I touched was sore, everything I did created pain. So that was my life, I mean…

Dr Jonica Newby Did you get a diagnosis in the end?

Roy Sefton No.

Narration Roy wasn’t the only one. I’m on my way now to visit a woman whose husband, was the Padre on Roy’s sister ship, the Rotoiti.

After his death 25 years ago of a rare blood condition, Ruth, a former nurse started tracking the fate of other nuclear veterans.

Ruth McKenzie So 6 of the fellows died in their twenties. Most of them cancers.

Dr Jonica Newby Oh.

Narration The British denied any possibility of a link with the tests. Declassification of top secret documents, however, has revealed a stark history of coverups going back to the 1950’s.

Ruth McKenzie And we have here a, a paper saying, the Prime Minister saw the report of the committee considering genetic affects of nuclear radiation. His comment was, “A pity but we can’t help it”.

Dr Jonica Newby I must say Ruth I find this the most staggering – this is a document from 1955 and it says “we do not want you to release any statement on genetic effects or on radiation. So they were doctoring the reports?

Ruth McKenzie They did, they doctored the reports.

Narration As the extent of misinformation became gradually apparent, the veterans came together in frustration and anger.

In 1996, they formed the New Zealand Nuclear Test Veterans Association. They blamed their collective illnesses on the effects of radiation.

But were they right?

Massey University in Wellington is home to leading epidemiologist, Professor Neil Pearce.

In 1990, he analysed the health records of New Zealand veterans – and found an increase in the overall risk of death – a slight one.

Professor Neil Pearce So they’re not huge numbers, its’ not like everyone was dying, but there was an increased risk of death and it was from the types of cancer that you would expect to find elevated from a population that was exposed to radiation.

It all depends on the dose, you know at Hiroshima or Nagasaki, clearly if you were very close to the explosion you got a very high radiation exposure and you had a very high risk of death. If you were ten kilometres or so away then, then your risk was, was very small.

Narration The New Zealanders were at least 40 kilometres from the tests.
But the Australians were much closer.

Ric Johnstone was one of the hundreds of men who went right into ground zero in the hours and days after the blast – part of the cleanup crews who retrieved and decontaminated test vehicles and equipment.

Ric Johstone I spent hours in ground zero, checking vehicles, recovering vehicles, I got sick toward the end of it, while I was doing it, I started to vomit and get diarrhoea. And when I reported up sick, his explanation was it was the bad food.

Dr Jonica Newby So no one acknowledged at the time it was possible radiation sickness.

Ric Johstone No, And the doctor that checked out my blood tests wrote on a medical document that I was being treated for radiation sickness. And I’ve still got that document and it was that document that displeased the government very much because after many years of struggling we went to court and I won.

Narration Ric won compensation – but he’s the only Australian nuclear veteran to do so.

Unlike the New Zealand study, an Australian study completed as recently as 2006 concluded that while veterans did have significantly more cancers, this was not due to radiation.

The reality is, while radiation is known to raise the risk of death, it can be hard to show a small effect against the background noise of illness in the community anyway.

And that lack of a conclusive link has long confounded nuclear veterans calls for pensions or compensation.

Back across the Tasman, it was against this context of scientific ambiguity that veterans decided to do something extraordinary.

Dr Jonica Newby In 2000, the New Zealand veterans decided to take control of the science. They decided to commission their own research.

Roy Sefton That is the most frightening decision that I’ve ever made in my life. If this research shows nothing, not only us but nuclear veterans internationally are going to be ridiculed and this research will be used against us.

Narration Weighed down with responsibility, and a quarter of a million dollars raised from the government and veterans themselves, Roy Sefton came here to Massey University – to meet top cytogeneticist, Al Rowland.

Dr Al Rowland For something that occurred fifty years ago, I did have my doubts. But the alternative was to do nothing, and I felt if we live in a responsible society we owe it to people to at least look.

Narration And they had access to a brand new technique – one that could assess DNA damage directly.

It had been used on Chernobyl victims and nuclear workers, but never before on nuclear test veterans.

In 2002, the scientists began selecting 50 veterans, and 50 controls – matched perfectly for age, lifestyle, even smoking and drinking habits – a painstaking task that took years.

Roy Sefton Yep, it was a pretty nervous time I’ve got to tell you.

Narration Last year, the scientists were finally ready to look – and this is what they saw.

These are chromosomes – the structures that contain our DNA.

Dr Al Rowland So this is a normal lining up of the chromosomal pairs. And we see this is normal, each chromosome pair has their own colour and there’s not been a switch of colour from one chromosome to another.

Narration A colour switch would be a sign of genetic damage – known as a chromosomal translocation.

Dr Al Rowland This is a nuclear test veteran.

Dr Jonica Newby Wow.

Dr Al Rowlands If you look you can see there are translocations all over the place.

Dr Jonica Newby Absolutely.

Dr Al Rowland There’s red and yellow and blue.

Dr Jonica Newby That’s really striking.

Dr Al Rowland There are thousands of genes in each chromosome and they have to have their own position. If they move to another location that’s when things can go wrong. The more translocations you have, the greater the risk of cancer developing.

Narration Overall, the nuclear veterans had 3 times the number of translocations you’d expect – that’s higher than the Chernobyl victims, higher than Al Rowland had ever seen.

Dr Al Rowlands Our view is that this is caused by radiation. Because the frequency is so high and we have taken into account every other possible confounding factor and we’re left with only one thing – this group took part in Operation Grapple and the control group didn’t.

Narration The results were delivered to a nervously waiting Roy Sefton in May 2007.

Roy Sefton Oddly it wasn’t great elation at all because I, I did feel happy that at last we had something we could pin our problems on. You know there was all, always that. But then you had the realisation, as I do and I’ve had a look at one or two of my samples and they’re not very good.

Narration While the finding is only just permeating the scientific community – already veterans groups worldwide are responding.

Ric Johstone We would like to do the same study here but also go a little more intensive and study our offspring and grandchildren.

Narration The nuclear veterans are old and dwindling in number. The arguments surrounding their claims for compensation are clearly not just scientific.

But whatever happens from here, this new study has given them something profound. It’s the validation they’ve so long been seeking. It seems the bomb left its mark in their DNA.
Topics: Archaeology & History, Environment

Reporter: Dr Jonica Newby
Producer: Anja Taylor
Researcher: Anja Taylor
Camera: Kevin May, Peter Sinclair

Sound: Guenter Ericoli, Lauren Howard
Editor: Chris Spurr

Story Contacts

Dr Al Rowland
Cytogeneticist, Massey University

Professor Neil Pearce
Epidemiologist, Massey University

Ric Johstone

Roy Sefton

Ruth McKenzie

%d bloggers like this: