30 Sep 2015

High hopes for nuclear fallout report

6:43 pm on 30 September 2015

The man spearheading a campaign to seek redress for those exposed to nuclear radiation in the Pacific 40 years ago hopes an official report due next month will validate his and others' concerns.

Mururoa Lagoon, Mururoa, French Polynesia

Mururoa, French Polynesia Photo: Supplied

Mururoa Nuclear Veterans Group president Wayne O'Donnell said a government-led scientific report will assess the the impact on veterans from nuclear testing during the Labour government's two-frigate protest against French nuclear testing at Mururoa in 1973.

Scientists have assessed the external radiation dose rate, the internal dose rate from seawater used in ships, and the hereditary effect on offspring.

The study and report is being carried out by Crown research agency Environmental Science and Research, at the suggestion of Veterans Affairs Minister Craig Foss.

The veterans' group said about 500 crew, observers (including a government minister, Fraser Colman) and news media sailed aboard HMNZS Canterbury and HMNZS Otago to witness two atmospheric nuclear tests at Mururoa Atoll.

The Australian navy vessel HMAS Supply, with a crew of more than 200, was also sent to replenish the frigates with fuel and food during the deployment.

New Zealand veterans are hoping the report will prompt a closer look at the effects of radiation on their children and grandchildren. The veterans' group say many are showing signs of inter-generational conditions they believe are linked to nuclear fallout.

Mr O'Donnell believed the cancer he has battled for the past nine years is linked to his exposure. He was an engineer on the frigate Canterbury. The ships sailed close to the zone where atmospheric tests were conducted.

One of Mr O'Donnell's jobs was to desalinate water from the sea for the crew to wash in, and drink. He said the process took out the salt, but definitely not the radiation.

'Duty of care'

Mururoa Veterans Group vice president Tony Cox, who was on the Otago at the time, has battled cancer for more than a decade.

"When we went away the prime minister of the day - Norm Kirk, actually stood in front of me and said, 'If anything happens we [the government] will take care of you', and 42 years later we're still trying to put our point across and get the government to honour a duty of care to our children and grandchildren, and their children further down the line.

"It's no good looking after us, because we're already history," Mr Cox said.

Mr O'Donnell said the ESR has tested environmental factors, such as water from the area and has researched archives for the report due to be released next month.

He hoped it would form the basis of a secondary study on the effects on the veterans' children and grandchildren, that would "establish the truth" of the genetic transfer of illnesses related to the nuclear exposure encountered by the crews.

"There are two things going on here - there's the independent report which is a first for us, and the second thing we are looking at is to get the children genetically tested.

"We've started to set up a trust fund for our kids and our grand kids now in case the government or whoever doesn't come to the party and provide the adequate health care we feel they deserve," Mr O'Donnell said.

He said the veterans' group was formed in 2013 and has been monitoring the health of the veterans, their children and grandchildren. It is establishing a trust fund to enable their medical testing, and to help those in need.

"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."

Mr O'Donnell said at the end of June this year there were 93 veterans who served at Mururoa receiving a war disablement pension under the Veterans' Support Act.