The Massey Study - Very Quickly Dismissed - Why?

Following on from our previous blog regarding the Massey Study and it's importance to the Nuclear Veterans, we have uncovered more evidence regarding meetings with the MoD and the BNTVA in which the study is dismissed.

In 2019, the NZ Nuclear Veterans are still fighting with the New Zealand government.

Following a Freedom of Information request (FOI), it has been discovered that a meeting was held between the USofS and representatives of the BNTVA on 6th November 2008.

This meeting discussed many items, but also included reference to the Massey Study.

In a letter from the USofS to the BNTVA, it states:

"Turning to the Rowland cytogenetic study of a small group of New Zealand Nuclear Test Veterans, I was pleased that everyone in the meeting was generally in agreement with me that there is no point replicating this piece of research in the UK. The Rowland report is already on the table and any new work is not anticipated to tell us anything further about any possible link between participation in nuclear tests and subsequent ill-health."

If this is the case, why is the Massey study still not being recognised by the governments across the world and we waited over 10 years before a DNA study was carried out in the UK. It will be another few years before the results are published, then peer reviewed and then discussed. By then, most of our Nuclear veterans will be in their late 80's, early 90's. Everyday we lose another member of this unique community, it is a disgrace.

The Massey study findings do not lie, Professor David Brenner, the esteemed Higgins Professor of Radiation Biophysics, at Colombia University, New York, said of the study:

“In my opinion, the Rowland mFish study, provides extremely strong evidence that the nuclear test veterans have a statistically significantly increased burden of chromosome aberrations, compared to the controls. The measured aberration rates in the matched control group were what one would expect for individuals of their age – indicating that the methodology, precision and accuracy of the 2008 Rowland mFISH study was appropriate”.

Mr Roy Sefton QSM, Chair of the NZ Nuclear Test Veterans Association (NZNTVA), who was integral in the Massey study recently posted on Facebook the NZNTVA struggle:


A statement by a New Zealand naval nuclear weapons testing veteran.

In mid 2005 I answered my door to Professor Al Rowland. He said he wished to discuss a serious situation with me.

Al Rowland was the head of Massey University's Institute of Molecular Biosciences. He and his team were engaged in studying the DNA of fifty New Zealand Navy veterans who had served at the 1957/8 British Nuclear Weapons Testing Programme, Operation Grapple, at mid-Pacific Christmas Island. The purpose of the study was to identify any genetic damage as a result of being exposed to radiation at the British nuclear tests.

Two Royal New Zealand Navy frigates, HMNZS's Pukaki and Rotoiti, and 527 crewmen were loaned to the British. The ships would be employed patrolling the Exclusion Zone, weather reporting, anti-submarine surveillance, escorting intruders out of the zone, air sea rescue, placing and retrieving measuring equipment at the point of detonation, Ground Zero (GZ).

Unbelievably the ships crews were to be on deck when the detonations took place. There were nine detonations, in the megaton range, and 100's of times larger than the Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As the programme progressed the ships were placed closer to GZ until they were only 20 miles from the detonation. So called protective clothing was reduced until the crews were dressed only in shorts and sandals. After the detonations the NZ ships often sailed through Ground Zero, returning to Christmas Island sailing beneath the predicted fallout pattern.

In between detonations the ships carried out their duties in the Exclusion Zone without monitoring their environment. Tropical rain storms were frequently encountered. Because of a shortage of fresh water on the ships, crews showered, washed clothes and cleaned teeth in rain that may have contained radiation contaminants, (fallout).

I joined the Royal New Zealand Navy at aged sixteen, My first ship was HMNZS Pukaki. Almost immediately we sailed to take part in Operation Grapple. During 1957/58 I did duty at the first five of the nine detonations. In my late teens I developed unexplained body pains. These and other symptoms increased until at the age of 30, and as a Petty Officer, I reluctantly gave up my naval career. I left the Navy due to my health problems.

In the years following the British nuclear tests, the NZ veterans were concerned at the early deaths and ill-health amongst the veterans. The veterans off-spring appeared to suffer elevated death, and ill-health. Miscarriages were also high, my wife 3 had three. In 1996 the New Zealand Nuclear Test Veterans Association was formed. Initially the aim of the association was to have Government address the concerns of the veterans. Progress was made with a list of cancers qualifying some veterans for a pension. An official NZ nuclear medal was authorised by HM the Queen. Despite these measures the NZ Government would not officially acknowledge irradiation of the NZ veterans.

Previously, during the Bolger/NZ First coalition Government, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters announced a $200,000 grant to investigate the probability of bringing a class legal action against the British Government. However before NZNTVA could uplift the grant, Peters was removed from office. Prime Minister Shipley refused to pay the funding. Ten years of battling Government to honour the grant followed. A change of Government, (the Clarke administration), and hard lobbying by NZNTVA, resulted in Government honouring the payment in 2002. There was a provision that NZNTVA would use $100,000 to the Operation Grapple veterans. Genetic research rather than statistical or epidemiological studies would provide a more positive answer of the veterans exposure or not to radiation. NZNTVA contracted Massey University to do a DNA Cytogenetic Analysis of the veterans.

When Professor Al Rowland unexpectedly visited, he was not his his cheerful self. He followed me into the lounge and said we should sit down. He told me that during the sampling of the DNA of the study groups blood samples, they found one showed extreme genetic damage. As the health implications of such DNA damage were so great, Rowland considered he had a moral obligation to break the code of the sample, identify the donor, and advise him of the situation. Previously the sample had been sent to the Oncology Department at Auckland Hospital. They stated that they had not seen such genetic damage, the person should be advised to make his medical practitioner aware of the situation. Professor Rowland advised me that the corrupted sample was mine. It was the worst in the group.

I experienced one of those moments when you feel the blood drain from your face and the heart races. The prime concern with damaged DNA especially that as extracted from chromosomes has the potential to cause cancer and other ill-health. But given my health history it did not come as a surprise.

In 2007 Massey University published the research findings. Massey advised..

“The genetic damage is 3 times higher in the veterans than the controls who showed normal background frequencies for men of this age. This result is indicative of the veterans having incurred long term genetic damage as a consequence of performing their duties relating to Operation Grapple”.

It was quoted elsewhere that the damage within the Grapple veterans was on a par with the Chernobyl clean-up workers.

The Massey University study was the first internationally on nuclear test veterans and the first to identify radiation induced genetic damage in a sizeable study group of nuclear test veterans. We expected such a profound finding would raise some urgent Government concern for the veterans welfare. However our politicians showed no interest, and entered into years of senseless searching for reasons, always trivial and inaccurate, to deny recognition of the irradiation of the veterans.

In 2009, Minister Judith Collins set up a “Ministerial Advisory Group on Veterans Health”. The Advisory Group consisting of a dozen national and international expert academics were tasked with reviewing the Massey University Cytogenetic Analysis.

In 2011 the Chair of the Advisory Group Professor John Campbell of Otago University, presented the Advisory Group's conclusion.

“The Massey University mFISH study results do provide evidence that the nuclear test veterans were exposed to ionising radiation”.

Unbelievably Government refused to accept the findings of its OWN Advisory Group. You have to ask, why would Government fund, and set up a highly professional investigative group, and then discard the Groups findings? From that point on we lost all trust in Government.

There was additional academic support of the Massey University studies. In particular, The London High Court of Justice, Queens Bench Division, had Professor David Brenner, the esteemed Higgins Professor of Radiation Biophysics, at Columbia University, New York, provided a review of the Massey University study. Brenner advised....

“In my opinion, the Rowland mFish study, provides extremely strong evidence that the nuclear test veterans have a statistically significantly increased burden of chromosome aberrations, compared to the controls. The measured aberration rates in the matched control group were what one would expect for individuals of their age – indicating that the methodology, precision and accuracy of the 2008 Rowland mFISH study was appropriate”.

Government ignored this experts advice also. We were now entering the realms of elevated political madness.

In 2013, three years after the Ministerial Advisory Groups findings, a Lay Review of the Massey research, which the Group recommended to be written under the Groups guidance, was published by Government. The review author, Dr Sheena Hunt, could not confirm that it was written under the guidance of the Advisory Group. Without such guidance, false information which was ignored by the Advisory Group, was included in the Lay Review.

The flawed Lay Review is being used politically to undermine the interrogatory of the Massey Study, and ignore the irradiation of the veterans. One major error in the Lay Review suggests poor selection of the study groups. The inference being that the veterans to be studied were selected by the veterans association, thus biasing the research in favour of the association. There was also concern about the Control Group not being made up of naval veterans who had not served at the nuclear tests, also biasing of the study. However these 'issues' are clearly explained in the study research paper. Basically……

*The veteran study group members were independently supplied by Veterans Affairs NZ (VANZ).

*The Control group was made up of army and air force veterans, thus fulfilling the “Healthy Soldier Effect”. Naval veterans were excluded because the NZ ships returned to NZ between detonations. They may have been contaminated with Residual Radiation. Sailors visiting the ships for training, other purposes, and future crews may therefore also be exposed to residual radiation. Obviously if these people were included in the control group, they could queer the research results. Massey University strictly followed all scientific research protocols, and the procedures of the Massey University Ethics Committee. There was no selection by Massey University or NZNTVA of study group members.

The NZ Government has offered NZNTVA further research. We refused. The reason is primarily we cannot trust Government to uphold the results of any research. Evidenced in lack of recogntion of the findings of Government’s own Ministerial Advisory Group, and other experts of the Massey methodology, and the findings of Irradiation of the veterans. One Government offer, was a radiological study by NZ Environmental Science Research Ltd. (ESR). Why would we enter into a much inferior study, when the state of the art Massey genetic research, confirmed irradiation of the veterans? Further, such a study would not be possible. It would be is totally reliant on test site records and tactical information which is not held by NZ, but by the British Government. The UK, has steadfastly denied any harm to the test site service people. Even under orders of the British courts, the UK MoD refuses to release certain data. Clearly, Britain would not release any information to NZ that may compromise its stance of denial.

The New Zealand Nuclear Test Veterans Association (NZNTVA) has been involved in a number of scientific studies. All of which do include some valuable information which is ignored by Government. One study, The Psychological Impact Study, Massey University School of Psychology, determined high rates of stress and anxiety and associated ill-health in the nuclear veterans.

Governments disgraceful toying with, and disregard of the veterans concerns, further compounds the veterans and their families stress and anxiety. This produces further health problems. The veterans and their families need to have closure through political acceptance of the irradiation of the veterans. They would much prefer the rightful finding of irradiation, rather than Governments bumbling responses., The political excuse of recognition through the provision of a Presumptive List, a medal, and other benefits, whilst greatly appreciated, is a red herring. It is a shallow attempt to justify full political acceptance of the Veterans test site irradiation.

An additional major concern is that future researchers may rely on the flawed Lay Review and be deterred in continuing research on relevant scientific/health issues.

This issue was initially raised with the present Government one year and eight months ago. NZNTVA firmly believes Government should accept the finding of irradiation of the veterans and officially and publically uphold the Massey mFISH findings of irradiation of the veterans. Government should withdraw the Lay Review and not refer to it for political guidance. It will not cost Government a cent.

This 12 year political farce must end. The knowing that you have been irradiated, and then Government ignore it, has an immense negative impact on the veterans and their families. We are hopeful Minister Ron Mark will give some closure to our people. Prime Ministers Lange and Aderne have had their nuclear moments. It is time our NZ nuclear test veterans had theirs.

Roy Sefton QSM Chair NZ Nuclear Test Veterans Association

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