NZOOM.COM, Published on Jul 09, 2001
Nuclear vets pin hopes on DNA test,1227,46735,00.html

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New Zealand servicemen are hoping cutting edge DNA testing will prove they have suffered radiation poisoning when witnessing British nuclear tests nearly 50 years ago.

Hundreds of Kiwi veterans witnessed nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific and the Australian outback - now, for the first time, their DNA will be examined to see if it helps their compensation case.

The vets have been fighting for compensation for years, and hope the outcome of the DNA tests will help their case by proving once and for all their health has suffered from exposure to radiation.

Dr Al Rowland, of Massey University's Molecular Biosciences, is one of the scientists conducting the tests.

"There is a strong correlation between radiation exposure, genetic damage and ill-health and we are going to do a range of tests to try to gauge any damage that's been done to the veterans," Rowland says.

On ONE's Breakfast, Rowland told Liz Gunn that the research will look at any damage done to DNA repair systems.

"The research we're doing will have ramifications actually beyond just the veterans. It will extend beyond that to other cancer patients and other radiation workers and the long-term effects as a result of radiation exposure," he says.

The vets have been tested before - the difference this time is scientists will be looking at the vets' DNA for damage.

Massey University is at the forefront of chromosonal research, but the researchers claim the British government is unhappy about it.

"I think they are very scared of what we might find - they've been very antagonistic towards the study," says Sue Rabbitt-Roff of Dundee University, Scotland.

But it's been a long time coming for veterans such as Roy Sefton.

"It's part of what we've been waiting for and to be honest it's something I never really thought I would see in my lifetime," he says.

Some 50 nuclear test vets will be tested against a controlled group of 50 men who did not witness the bombs.

The study will take about two years to complete - and may be just what the vets need to finally prove their case against the British government.