The UK Government knew the risks - New Evidence - 64 years on - Part Two

Documentary evidence that the UK Government knew the risks of exposing the servicemen at the Grapple series of tests has been uncovered.

Following on from part one - this blog discusses the wartime aspect of nuclear testing.

Documentation obtained from the National Archives now shows that the Cabinet discussed the Nuclear Testing program using the findings of the Committee of the Medical Research Council (M.R.C.) on "The Hazards to Man of Nuclear and Allied Radiations". Excerpts from this document were used within Parliament to ease fears over the effects on the general population from the tests.

But the excerpts did not show the findings of the report in respect of Wartime effects on servicemen, carefully constructed excerpts were used. This blog contains information that the UK Government have kept hidden for over 60 years.

Part two concentrates on the information contained within the Medical Research Council report which was ignored by the Cabinet and not disclosed to Parliament in their statement, but was known to them before the tests.

Using the Hiroshima and Nagasaki data showed that 15 - 20 percent of the casualties were caused by the gamma and neutron radiation emitted during the explosion.

Point 37 states 'a slightly increased risk of death from the delayed effects in later years and that many will die years later from anaemia or leukaemia.'

Point 48 refers to the fall-out an that 'it may contaminate and damage the skin with which it comes on contact'

Even when presented with evidence of the Marshall Island firing and fall-out causing sickness, diarrhoea, a fall in the number of cells in the blood, loss of hair and some ulceration of the skin contaminated by radioactive material, the still continued to expose the servicemen to potential hazards.

Leukaemia was the main concern within this report. Evidence from animals that irradiation may cause some shortening of the normal life-span.

The statistics prove that an increased amount of survivors of the Japanese bombings developed Leukaemia.

Point 191 states that ionising radiation can have genetic consequences only in so far as it affects the reproductive organs - the gonads.

Point 243 states 'Clothing which may be adequate to shield the body from heat flash is "transparent" to these rays, and even four inches of concrete transmits half the radiation at a distance of one mile from the atomic bomb.'

Point 246 states 'the device exploded on 1st March 1954, produced a radiation dose which might have been lethal to man unable to take shelter was about 7,000 square miles. Over a considerably larger area, conditions in the open would have been hazardous to man and beast. The size and shape of these lethal and hazardous areas will vary with the conditions of the explosion and of the local meteorology. Nevertheless, the inferences are plain: weapons such as these can be devastating, not only locally over areas measuring hundreds of square miles, but in their more distant effects, which may occur over thousands and tens of thousands of square miles.'

Yet this was not discussed by the Cabinet, the effects of the bomb in the local area and the effects on the servicemen were not considered, just the effects on the general population in the UK.

Point 250 states: 'The second important difference relates to the accumulation of the effects of exposure on separate occasions. The genetic effects of radiation are cumulative; a mutation persists once it has been produced in a germ cell lineage, and to it are added any further mutations that are induced in the same reproductive cells. Since dose and effect are proportional, we are concerned, from the genetic point of view, with the total dose of radiation which has been accumulated up to any particular time in the reproductive period of life.'

Point 251 concludes with 'we must now entertain the possibility that repeated exposures to radiation may combine to produce certain irreversible changes in the tissues exposed.'

Bear in mind that the crew of the Canberra's that flew through the cloud to sample have an official recorded dosage of between 7 and 10r. This is from one explosion, yet it is recommended that the dose should not exceed 0.3r per week.

When concentrating on wartime hazards, the report shows the effects that the explosion would have:

'Within close range of the explosion, nuclear radiations are but one element in the destructive effect. Blast and heat would be of major and probably of more immediate importance in producing casualties but survivors, unless heavily sheltered, would have been exposed to such an intensity of radiation that they would be at risk of developing each and all of the effects we have described.'

'Explosions of atomic weapons always give rise to radioactive fission products, the heavier particles of which settle in the vicinity. In the case of a ground burst of a thermonuclear weapon, the area of intense fall-out may cover hundreds of square miles. Within this area, those who were not in shelter, and did not remain under cover until the radioactivity of the fall-out had decayed substantially, would be exposed to intensities of radiation sufficient to produce the effects described in all grades of severity. Outside this area, there would be another zone, measured in thousands of square miles, where significant intensities of radiation would occur and where a proportion of those exposed would be at risk of serious consequences. '

Point 289 is the most important point (which was not included in the cabinets statement)

'It must be emphasised that these doses, both from the point of view of the individual and of the general population, are several thousand times greater than those we have considered as possible peacetime hazards. '

Point 293 concludes - 'This does not apply to the important type of genetic effects, called gene mutation, produced by the irradiation of reproductive cells, the consequences of which are cumulative and irreversible.'

Point 295 concludes - 'The harmful effects may be classified into those which develop within a few weeks of exposure, and delayed effects which may not make their appearance until many years after exposure.'

Point 297 concludes- 'Cataracts, severe anaemias and leukaemia have been caused and there is some evidence that exposure to radiation may cause death at a prematurely early age.'

Point 298 concludes - 'Experiments on animals have shown that the incidence of leukaemia is increased by irradiation. Clear evidence that the same is true of man comes from two main sources: a study by the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission of the incidence of leukaemia in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a survey under our sponsorship of the incidence of leukaemia among patients treated by radiation for ankylosing spondylitis.'

Point 302 concludes - 'Two characteristics of cancers induced by radiation are noteworthy : the tendency of tumours to arise in tissues already severely damaged by radiation, and the long latent period, twenty years or more, before they appear.'

Point 361 concludes - 'The area in which a greater or lesser proportion of those exposed would be at serious risk from the radiation produced by the ground burst of a thermonuclear weapon is measured in thousands of square miles'

Conclusion 5 states - 'Those using radiations should be instructed in the precautions to be taken, and no unnecessary or unauthorised person should be allowed to engage in such occupations. A personal record, not only of doses of radiation received during occupation but also of exposures from all other sources, such as medical diagnostic radiology, should be kept for all persons whose occupation exposes them to additional sources of radiation.'

An Appendix is attached to the report which discusses the long range fallout of a Nuclear Explosion:

It clearly states - 'The dust is ultimately removed from the atmosphere by washout in rain-water and by direct deposition on to surfaces.' It rained after one of the tests, across Christmas Island, depositing radio-active material on the servicemen and any surface they came into contact with.


When reading the full report (which can be found here), you have to remind yourself that this report was published in 1956, before the Grapple series of tests. It was not published in the 90's after the tests. The tests could have been stopped based on this report.