Research and analysis

Mortality and cancer incidence 1952-1998: UK nuclear weapons tests

This report (NRPB-W27) analyses mortality and cancer incidence in UK participants in the UK atmospheric nuclear weapons tests and experimental programme.


NRPB-W27: mortality and cancer incidence 1952-1998 in UK participants in the UK atmospheric nuclear weapons tests and experimental programme

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The National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) conducted an analysis of mortality and cancer incidence among men from the United Kingdom (UK) who took part in the UK atmospheric nuclear weapon tests and experimental programmes in Australia and the Pacific between 1952 and 1967. Rates of multiple myeloma, leukaemia, other cancers, and non-cancer causes of death were studied, as in previous analyses of these men. Based on a total of 21,357 test participants and 22,333 controls identified from the same Ministry of Defence archives, information was obtained on deaths and cancer registrations up to the end of 1998.

It is concluded that overall levels of mortality and cancer incidence in UK nuclear weapons test participants have continued to be similar to those in a matched control group, and for overall mortality to be lower than expected from national rates. There was no evidence of an increased risk of multiple myeloma among test participants in recent years. The suggestion in the first analysis of this study of a raised risk of myeloma has not been confirmed in longer periods of follow-up and is likely to have been a chance finding. Analyses of subgroups with greater potential for exposure provided little evidence of increased risks, although the numbers of men involved were smaller and the statistical power was therefore less.

In common with earlier analyses, there is some evidence of a raised risk of leukaemia among test participants relative to controls, particularly when focussing on leukaemia other than chronic lymphatic leukaemia . This could be a chance finding, in view of low leukaemia rates among the controls and the generally small radiation doses recorded for test participants. However, the possibility that test participation caused a small absolute risk of leukaemia other than chronic lymphatic leukaemia among men cannot be ruled out; the evidence for any increased risk appears to have been greatest in the early years after the tests, but a small risk may have persisted in more recent years.

Published 1 February 2003