WASHINGTON--Navy veterans exposed to nuclear bomb tests at Bikini a half century ago have a higher death rate than sailors not present at the tests. However, this increased mortality does not appear to result from radiation exposure.
Researchers at the Institute of Medicine's Medical Follow-up Agency drew on death certificates and other records to examine the mortality of those present at the tests. The study assigned deaths to more than 40 categories, but focused on three--all causes of death, all cancers, and leukemia--under the assumption that if radiation exposure caused death, mortality rates would be higher in the all-cancers and leukemia categories.
The study found that exposed personnel died at a 4.6% higher rate than nonexposed persons. However, deaths from all cancers and leukemia, while slightly elevated among those present at the blasts, were not significantly different from those of nonparticipants.
Moreover, the increases in the two categories were actually lower than the increases in deaths found in some other categories. Interestingly, the researchers discovered that men believed to have been exposed to the highest radiation doses during the tests did not suffer a high incidence of cancer or leukemia.