Operation Crossroads:

Personnel Radiation Exposure Estimates Should Be Improved

RCED-86-15: Published: Nov 8, 1985. Publicly Released: Dec 4, 1985.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed certain issues concerning radiation safety activities during the 1946 Operation Crossroads nuclear test to answer questions raised by private citizens about the accuracy of the Defense Nuclear Agency's (DNA) radiation exposure estimates, which are used by the Veterans Administration (VA) in adjudicating former participants' radiation-related disability claims. These issues concerned the: (1) reliability of the radiation dose film badges used; (2) adequacy of the personnel decontamination procedures; (3) appropriateness of the military response to recommendations made by the radiological safety office regarding safety issues; and (4) accuracy of DNA reconstruction efforts.

The DNA report on Operation Crossroads concluded that personnel had not been overexposed to radiation, based on data recorded on film badges worn by about 6,300 of the 42,000 participants and reconstructed external and internal radiation dose estimates for the participants. GAO found that the exposure estimates for each of the four radiation types may need adjustment because: (1) the film badges were not reliable for measuring both external gamma and beta radiation, as intended, and were not worn by all Crossroads participants; (2) personnel decontamination procedures did not provide adequate protection for Crossroads personnel throughout the operation; and (3) the DNA dose reconstruction analysis for alpha and beta radiation did not properly estimate the possible personnel exposure from inhalation, ingestion, or open wounds.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD did not directly respond to this recommendation in its official comments. Since the DOD position has remained unchanged for nearly 2 years, it is unlikely that any future work by GAO would alter that position.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should require DNA to document, where any of the preceding actions have been determined not to be feasible, the reasons for each such determination so that the military services can provide this information to VA and the affected veterans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD does not believe it needs to adjust its external beta radiation dose estimates because external beta radiation has not been shown to be a long-term health hazard. Since the DOD position has remained unchanged for nearly 2 years, it is unlikely that any future work by GAO would alter that position.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct DNA to adjust, where feasible, the Crossroads participants' exposure estimates by reassessing the accuracy of the external beta radiation dose information for those Crossroads participants who wore film badges and, given that all Crossroads participants did not wear film badges, performing a dose reconstruction for external beta radiation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD does not believe it needs to analyze possible internal radiation exposure from ingestion or through cuts or open wounds because a worst-case scenario of each pathway shows that internal exposure doses would have been low. Since the DOD position has remained unchanged for nearly 2 years, it is unlikely that any future work by GAO would alter that position.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct DNA to adjust, where feasible, the Crossroads participants' exposure estimates by analyzing possible internal radiation exposure from ingestion or through cuts or open wounds; moreover, with respect to ingestion, assessing those scenarios that offered the greatest opportunity for internal radiation exposure, such as when crews remanned target ships after Operation Crossroads.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD does not believe any errors or uncertainties exist in its analysis of internal radiation exposure by inhalation. Since the DOD position has remained unchanged for nearly 2 years, it is unlikely that any future work by GAO would alter that position.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct DNA to adjust, where feasible, the Crossroads participants' exposure estimates by reevaluating and disclosing the possible errors or uncertainties associated with its analysis of internal radiation exposure by inhalation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD does not believe there was a lack of comprehensive personnel decontamination procedures at Crossroads. Since the DOD position has remained unchanged for nearly 2 years, it is unlikely that any future work by GAO would alter that position.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct DNA to adjust, where feasible, the Crossroads participants' exposure estimates by estimating the extent to which personnel received additional radiation exposure from a lack or violation of comprehensive decontamination procedures.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Defense (DOD) believes that its exposure estimates for Crossroads personnel already account for inaccuracies associated with film badges. Since the DOD position has remained unchanged for nearly 2 years, it is unlikely that any future work by GAO would alter that position.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct DNA to adjust, where feasible, the Crossroads participants' exposure estimates by assigning, given the limited sensitivity range of the Crossroads film, some external gamma radiation dose to each film badge that was reported to have read zero, and developing an error range for each Crossroads film badge reading that recognizes film and film processing inaccuracies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD has requested NAS to conduct a study of film badge accuracy. Should such a study determine a need for reporting the possible error in film badge readings reported to VA, DOD stated that it would adopt a course of action. Steps to encourage corrective action will be dependent upon the DOD reaction to the NAS study.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct DNA, in implementing its new standards for reporting radiation exposure estimates to VA, to not only require the military services to disclose the error range associated with reconstructed exposure estimates, but also require them to disclose the error range associated with individual film badge readings.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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