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Wednesday, 15 July 1998
Page: 6253

Mr Laurie Ferguson asked the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, upon notice, on 26 May 1998:

(1) What is the estimated number of Australian veterans who served with the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces (BCOF) in Japan.

(2) Has his Department established a nominal roll of the veterans.

(3) When did the first Australian BCOF personnel arrive in Japan and how many were involved in the initial contingent.

(4) How many Australia personnel, including prisoners of war, were in Japan before the first BCOF contingent arrived and in what locations.

(5) How many other Australian veterans in total were at any time in the vicinity of Hiroshima and Nagasaki between August 1945 and July 1946.

(6) How many BCOF veterans have been accepted for disability pension purposes as having (a) cancer, (b) leukaemia, (c) lymphomas, (d) cataracts, and (e) tumours.

(7) Has his Department ever conducted a health or mortality study of BCOF veterans: if not, why not.

Mr Bruce Scott (Veterans' Affairs) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) Approximately 20,000.

(2) Not at this stage. However, my Department has commissioned a study into the feasibility, cost and means of producing a nominal roll of all who have served in the Australian military forces since Federation. A nominal roll for the members of BCOF could be one outcome from this exercise.

(3) February 1946. The Official Historian of the Korean War, Dr Robert O'Neill, in Australia in the Korean War 1950-53, Volume 1 Strategy and Diplomacy, (p32), advised that: "Approximately 11,500 Australians had been sent to Japan by February 1946 to join other service personnel from the United Kingdom, India, New Zealand and Australia to make up the British Commonwealth Occupation Force."

(4) The required information is not available. However, the official history states that at the end of the war 2700 Australian prisoners of war were in Korea, Manchuria and Japan. Australian ships serving with the United States Navy and the British Pacific Fleet operated in Japanese waters before and after the surrender.

(5) It is understood that 26 Australian veterans were in the vicinity of Nagasaki when the atomic bomb was detonated. No Australian veterans were in the vicinity of Hiroshima. Between February 1946 and July 1946 all members of BCOF would have had the opportunity to visit Hiroshima. The numbers who actually did so are unknown.

(6) The required information is not available. Departmental electronic records do not readily enable a distinction between those members of BCOF with Word War II operational service and others who had only served in BCOF. The cost of researching the information is prohibitive.

It should also be noted that the first Australian veterans who served in BCOF arrived in Japan in February 1946, some five months after cessation of hostile action and some seven months after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

By February 1946 the level of radiation present in the environment in Nagasaki and Hiroshima was essentially at normal background levels. In the case of Hiroshima, Professor P L T Ilbery, a leading researcher in this subject, advised my Department on 7 January 1985, that the maximum dose to entrants into the city immediately after the blast had been calculated by studies at 24 units of radiation. By the time Australian servicemen in BCOF entered the city, the residual radiation level calculated to an infinite time would have been less than one unit.

To put this in context, Professor Ilbery provided the following hypothetical example. If a serviceman had been at the middle of the blast area for a whole year from February 1946, his dose of radiation would have been about equivalent to the figure permitted for public exposure by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. This figure for the general public is itself one tenth of the annual dose equivalent limit for those engaged in radiation work.

Information available from some studies indicates that the incidence of cancers among ex-prisoners of war of the Japanese (ex-POWs-J) is the same as that in the control group. One study in particular was published in the 8 September 1960 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, ie "Delayed Radiation Effects in Survivors of the Atomic Bombings: A Summary of the Findings of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, 1947-1959" by Dr J W Hollingsworth, MD, Chief, Medical Service, Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission; and assistant professor of medicine, Yale University School of Medicine.

(7) No. There has been no evidence found to date that the health of these veterans was different to that of other veterans. A nominal roll would need to be established before such a study could be undertaken (see (2) above).