Number 12 - AWRE Meeting 15th July 1958.
This is number 12 of a 15 part blog series, created by Mr Roy Sefton, Chair of the New Zealand Nuclear Test Veterans Association.
The document below is classified SECRET. It details a meeting at AWRE (Atomic Weapons Research Establishment) on 15th July 1958, prior to the Z series of 4 detonations at Christmas Island in August and September, 1958. At the Z series HMNZS Pukaki was respectively stationed at 28, 35, 35, 20, miles from Ground Zero.
Basically the meeting was to discuss introducing blood tests for servicemen on Christmas Island. If so, would everyone be tested or would only those working in 'forward positions' and new arrivals to the Island.
As always safeguarding the British government as opposed to the well-being of the servicemen was the prime consideration. Staff from the AWRE, and other civilians working at the test sites had always been afforded blood tests and the best protection. This was evident when working in some areas, servicemen were in shorts and sandals, while scientists working in the same area were fully suited in protective suits.
The blood tests were to detect any people with blood counts above or below normal so they could be excluded from any possibility of radiation exposure. This was a requirement on civilians in a forthcoming Factories Act. AWRE considered that blood tests were necessary. Not so much for the well being of the servicemen but because AWRE was concerned about:
“political repercussions which might ensue if charges of negligence, however unfounded, could be proved.”
The document also states:
“5. Air Commodore Stern then stated that his objection was based on the grounds that he was not convinced that a blood count was was of any use whatsoever and he suggested that if a person was examined and found to be normal before posting to Christmas Island and who later developed leukaemia, it might be difficult to refute the allegation that this was due to radiation received at Christmas Island.”
The Task Force Commander concluded that those employed during Grapple Z in the forward area where they might be subjected to radiation hazards should be given blood tests before the commencement of the tests.
The Task Force Commander also concluded that the question of all replacement service personnel posted to Christmas Island regardless of their duties or place of work, was to be referred to the Air Ministry for decision in consultation with the other two services.
There are varying opinions as to whether those servicemen on Christmas Island and in particular those working in forward or dangerous areas were given a blood test.
During the entire Britsh testing programme, the crews of the New Zealand Frigates, HMNZS Pukaki and HMNZS Rotoiti no blood test of their crews were performed, film badges at detonations were worn by only some of the crews and the badges were not processed, clothing was reduced to shorts and sandals were worn and the distance from Ground Zero reduced, (Crawford), in between tests when patrolling the exclusion zone the ships were not fully monitoring their environment (Wright), and were unaware if rain that they encountered was contaminated.
Roy Sefton QSM Chair New Zealand Nuclear Test Veterans Association.