Research Article

Follow up of New Zealand participants in British atmospheric nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific.

BMJ 1990; 300 doi: (Published 05 May 1990) Cite this as: BMJ 1990;300:1161
  1. N Pearce,
  2. I Prior,
  3. D Methven,
  4. C Culling,
  5. S Marshall,
  6. J Auld,
  7. G de Boer,
  8. P Bethwaite
  1. Department of Community Health, Wellington School of Medicine, New Zealand.


    OBJECTIVE--To study the health of Royal New Zealand Navy personnel who participated in atmospheric nuclear weapons tests conducted by the United Kingdom at Malden Island and Christmas Island in 1957 and 1958. DESIGN--Blinded, controlled follow up of up to 30 years. SETTING--New Zealand. SUBJECTS--528 Men known to have participated in the tests and a control group of 1504 men who were in the Royal New Zealand Navy during the same period but did not participate in the tests. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Mortality and incidence of cancer. RESULTS--Follow up for the period 1957-87 was 94% complete in test participants and 91% complete in the controls. There were 70 deaths among test participants and 179 deaths among controls, yielding a relative risk of 1.08 (90% confidence interval 0.85 to 1.38, p = 0.29). The relative risk of death from causes other than cancer was 0.96 (0.71 to 1.29, p = 0.59) whereas the relative risk of death from cancer was 1.38 (0.90 to 2.10, p = 0.09) and of the incidence of cancer was 1.12 (0.78 to 1.60, p = 0.29). For cancers other than haematological malignancies the relative risk was 1.14 (0.69 to 1.83, p = 0.31) for mortality and 1.01 (0.67 to 1.50, p = 0.48) for incidence. There were seven deaths from haematological cancers among test participants (relative risk 3.25, 90% confidence interval 1.12 to 9.64, p = 0.02), including four leukaemias (5.58, 1.04 to 41.6, p = 0.03). The relative risk for incidence of haematological cancers was 1.94 (0.74 to 4.84, p = 0.10) and that for leukaemia was 5.51 (1.03 to 41.1, p = 0.03). There were no cases of multiple myeloma in the test participants during the follow up period, but the expected number was only 0.3. CONCLUSIONS--Although the numbers are small, the findings for leukaemia are similar to those for British participants in the nuclear weapons test programme. Some leukaemias, and possibly some other haematological cancers, may have resulted from participation in this programme. There is little evidence of an increased risk for non-haematological cancers, and there is no evidence of an increased risk for causes of death other than cancer.