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Monday, 6 September 1993
Page: 993

(Question No. 39)

Senator Newman asked Minister for Veterans' Affairs, upon notice, on 4 May 1993:

  With reference to the answer to Question on Notice No. 2183 (Senate Hansard, 12 October 1992, p1623) which states that `Currently there are no statistics available on the numbers of such servicemen believed to have died of radiation-related disease. Efforts are being made to extract this data from the Department of Veterans' Affairs database but it is likely to take some considerable time with the accuracy of any information obtained uncertain at this state':

  (1) What progress has been made on extracting this data.

  (2) What priority is the department giving to these efforts.

  (3) If it is thought that the accuracy of the information obtained may be uncertain, what other avenues is the department exploring in order to obtain more accurate information.

  (4) What studies have been conducted on Australian servicemen who served in Japan to assess the effects of: (a) direct; and (b) indirect exposure to atomic radiation.

  (5) Is it true that the 1975 study of ex-POWs did not afford any substantive conclusions because the sample size was too small.

  (6) Is the department considering conducting a comprehensive survey of those who served in the British Commonwealth Occupational Force in order to properly assess the long-standing claims of former members that direct or indirect exposure to radiation in Japan has led to a high incidence of carcinomas, sarcomas and other disorders; if not, why not.

Senator Faulkner —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) It has not been possible to extract meaningful statistics from the Department's client data base.

  (2) Given the answer to the first part of the question, there is no need for a reply to this part.

  (3) There is no avenue open to the Department to obtain relevant information from any other source.

  (4) As far as can be ascertained, no studies have been conducted on Australian BCOF personnel to assess the effects of radiation.

  The first Australian BCOF personnel 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.

  My advice is that when the first Australian servicemen arrived in the area, the level of radiation present in the environment in Nagasaki and Hiroshima was essentially at normal background levels.

  For example, in the case of Hiroshima, the maximum dose to entrants into the city immediately after the blast has been calculated by studies at 24 units of radiation. By the time any Australian serviceman in BCOF entered the city, the residual radiation level calculated to an infinite time would have been less than 1 unit.

  To put this in context, if a serviceman had been at the middle of the blast area for a full year, his dose of radiation would have been the same as 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.

  (5) No. The 1975 study found evidence of chromosomal damage in a small number of POWs who had been exposed to radiation. The study did not seek to draw other conclusions.

  (6) My Department is not considering such a survey. I am advised that malignancies that may have been caused by radiation have no special features that will distinguish these from other malignancies. Unless there was a great increase in the rate of cancer, only a survey of very large numbers could detect any increase in cancer. The number needed to be surveyed to detect small increases may be larger than the total number in BCOF.