Research reveals genetic damage to nuclear test veterans

A significant level of genetic damage in the DNA of New Zealand nuclear test veterans has been found in a study by Massey molecular scientists led by Dr Al Rowland.

The Nuclear Test Veterans Association has released the results of the study, which confirm those found in preliminary results of a previous study released last year by the Department for Veteran Affairs. Dr Rowland led both studies, and says the results of the Government-funded study (still underway) are likely to be released in November.

The larger Government-funded research involves the comparison of genetic findings from a group of Navy veterans with those from a control group of other veterans who have not been exposed to elevated levels of radiation. At the completion of the study, the scientists will have carried out five analyses, to determine factors such as the amount of translocation in chromosomes, the efficiency of DNA repairs, and the level of DNA degradation.

Dr Rowland says preliminary results show a small but significant level of genetic damage to the chromosomes of veterans who were exposed to nuclear explosions almost half a century ago. 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.

Dr Rowland says the factors of smoking, alcohol consumption and the use of medical x-rays were taken into account when comparing the DNA of the two groups. He says the suggestion by university peer reviewers that the heavy smoking of the test veterans was a factor in the results is incorrect. Although the Navy veterans had smoked at a greater frequency than the other group in the past, both groups had similar levels of cigarette consumption at the time of the test. He says this is an important consideration as the test looks at what is in the blood at the time of the test, which puts both groups on a level testing ground.

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