downplayed the dangers of radiation so
that they can avoid paying compensation
to veterans of nuclear tests and carry
on deploying depleted uranium (DU)
Dr Keith Baverstock, who was the
World Health Organisation’s senior
radiation adviser in Europe, says that
science has been “perverted for
political ends” by government agencies
which should be protecting public
“Politics, aided and abetted by some
in the scientific community, has
poisoned the well which sustains
democratic decision-making,” he told a
conference on low-level radiation in
Baverstock, now advising the UK
government as a member of the Committee
on Radioactive Waste Management,
delivered a fierce attack on government
scientists. He accused the National
Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) of
“misusing” science in their studies of
nuclear test veterans.
Over 21,000 members of the British
armed services watched 46 nuclear tests
in Australia and the Pacific between
1952 and 1962. Many have since become
ill, and campaigned for compensation
from the Ministry of Defence.
The MoD has rejected their claims on
the grounds that there was no proof that
radiation from the tests made them sick.
The ministry is backed by three major
studies carried out by the NRPB over the
past 20 years, most recently in 2002.
Yesterday, Baverstock alleged that
there was a “serious flaw” in the NRPB’s
methodology because as many as 15% of
the veterans could be missing from the
studies. This could conceal an excess in
cancer deaths, he said.
He pointed out that there was a lack
of information on how much radiation
people had been exposed to. A
statistical excess of leukaemia among
the veterans had also been dismissed as
a “chance” finding.
“The conclusion is that the NRPB
survey is deficient,” he said. “Further
work needs to be done. It is sad that
the NRPB, which should be an independent
body, was complicit .”
The NRPB, based at Didcot in
Oxfordshire, strongly denied the
accusation. “We used standard methods
for finding deaths and cases of cancer.
These have been used in hundreds of
studies,” said Gerry Kendal, head of
population exposure at the NRPB.
He maintained that to have introduced
additional cases in an ad hoc way would
have produced “biased” results. The
independent committee that oversaw the
research was happy with the approach
that was taken, he added.
The 2002 NRPB study was originally
challenged by Sue Roff, a senior
research fellow at Dundee University
Medical School. She contended that up to
30% of multiple myeloma cancer cases
among veterans had been overlooked by
“I’m not sure if this was a political
or a scientific decision by the NRPB.
But it was certainly more of a comfort
to the MoD than to veterans,” she said.
Baverstock also accused the World
Health Organisation of having
“suppressed” a report he wrote in 2001
highlighting the dangers of DU in Iraq.
The Sunday Herald revealed in February
that the report predicted that DU from
US and UK weapons would increase cancer
rates among adults and children in the
By downplaying the risks from
radiation, government agencies had
undermined public trust in science and
technology, he concluded. This was going
to make it much more difficult to find
an acceptable solution to the problem of
how to dispose of radioactive waste from
nuclear power stations.
04 July 2004