Following a campaign of dirty tricks a decisive case in Britain’s nuclear test veterans fight for justice will reach the High Court in June 2014, writes Chris Busby. The case will also put on trial the dominant risk model for radiation and human health.
Secret and missing evidence
In the course of the earlier litigation I had looked through all the paperwork Rosenblatt had assembled, all the historic reports and letters and documents relating to the test sites and exposures, maybe 30 large ring binders.
My arguments were all about internal exposures to the fallout, exposures which the MoD denied occurred as (they said) bombs were exploded far from where the veterans were.
I had been struck by the fact that although the MoD kept arguing that there had been no exposures, there were hardly any radioactivity measurements. So I made a Freedom of Information request for all documents containing any “radiation measurements”.
After a long time, and much stalling, the MoD sent a list of some 40 documents. I was told that I could have copies of two of these and I had to choose which ones. This was because “to photocopy more than two would exceed the £600 limit on copying defined in the Freedom of Information Act.” (Yes!)
The list omitted some reports which I had already obtained from contacts in Australia and so they were clearly holding back. I complained and haggled. By then I had figured it out. I had obtained reports on the clean-up of the Christmas Island runway carried out in 1963, after the tests were over.
Uranium mysteriously missing
These established that a missing radionuclide in all the measurements was Uranium. Yet the bombs were all made of tons of Uranium. The entire test series was based on Uranium, the main component of the bombs.
Among the documents I had found were the minutes of a meeting at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment Aldermaston in 1952, where the US expert Dr Karl Z Morgan had warned the British to beware of the effects of Uranium-234.
This rare isotope of Uranium is produced in nature at very low levels by the decay of Uranium-238, but is concentrated in the ‘enriched uranium’ used in nuclear bombs, with its higher fraction of Uranium-235. It is also produced in nuclear explosions from the intense neutron irradiation of 235U (via a so-called ‘n, 2n reaction’).
Studies at the Hiroshima nuclear explosion site show that 234U is present in the ‘black rain’ fallout from uranium bombs at enhanced levels. This is important because 234U has a half-life of 246,000 years – 18,000 times shorter than the main Uranium isotope, 238U, with its 4.47 billion year half life. So even a small increase in 234U causes a big increase in radioactivity.
The 234U was present in huge quantities on the Test sites – but it was not measured by the Geiger counters that were employed, because it produces the ‘wrong kind of radiation’ – alpha particles rather than the beta and gamma rays that Geiger counters pick up.
Yet no-one had provided any measurements of the vast quantities of Uranium that were vaporized when the bombs exploded. These minutes later vanished from Rosenblatt’s files.
After much correspondence with the MoD, the key report on the composition of the fallout was denied on the basis that it was “information likely to affect the UK’s relationship with a foreign power“. I was asked to sign the Official Secrets Act. I refused.
But immediately after this there was a surprising development: Rosenblatt promptly and suddenly pulled out of the case on the basis that they had run out of money.
This seemed rather odd to the vets, since Rosenblatt had been working pro bono – i.e. for no money – all along. Shortly after this a new outfit took over, Hogan Lovell International. What was going on?
The key issue? ‘Dose’ …
The key issue, which won all the previous cases, is the failure of the concept of ‘dose’ for internal radiation exposure, especially to Uranium. In the last ten years there have been many research studies by eminent scientists showing that inhaled and ingested Uranium cannot be dealt with on the basis of absorbed dose.
Yet it was the ‘dose’ of the veterans that was the lynchpin of the MoD argument.
The outcome of this appeal will seal the future chances of any nuclear test veteran proving that he or his children were affected by the exposures at the Test sites. It will affect decisions in Australia and New Zealand.
It will also have implications for the many Depleted Uranium veteran victims of the Gulf War increasingly appearing with cancer, and will ultimately also affect political decisions affecting nuclear new build, disposal of radioactive waste, nuclear weapons and the use of Uranium weapons.
◇See also Atomic bomb veterans deserve justice!