Nuclear Health and Safety:

Radiation Exposures for Some Cloud-Sampling Personnel Need To Be Reexamined

RCED-87-134: Published: Sep 29, 1987. Publicly Released: Oct 28, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO examined the Department of Defense's (DOD) atmospheric nuclear weapons testing program to determine: (1) how many military personnel participated in the cloud-sampling work between 1952 and 1962 during operations Tumbler-Snapper, Redwing, and Dominic 1; and (2) the extent of their exposure to radiation.

GAO found that: (1) approximately 300 Air Force personnel took part in the sampling; (2) the amount of radiation personnel received was questionable due to inadequate information; (3) at two of the test sites, ground personnel failed to wear protective breathing devices when working around the aircraft used for the sampling; and (4) the records gathered at two of the sites had high error rates. GAO also found that: (1) the methods used to measure internal exposure to radiation were inadequate, since only one urine test was performed within a 24-hour period; (2) the monitoring devices installed in the cockpits showed a higher level of exposure than the devices the crews wore; and (3) individual records kept at one of the test sites showed a 6-percent error rate.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: By letter dated May 11, 1988, DOD took strong exception to the recommendation. GAO maintains its original position. The President signed the Radiation-Exposed Veterans Compensation Act of 1988 on May 20, 1988, enabling "radiation exposed" to obtain VA benefits regardless of amount of exposure. Therefore, continuing debate over individual dose measurements is no longer important.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA) to correct the GAO-identified errors in the film badge exposure records of cloud-sampling personnel participating in operations Redwing and Dominic 1 and, given the frequency of such errors identified, review for similar errors the film badge exposure record of each Air Force individual who participated in any of the other atmospheric nuclear weapons tests.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: By letter dated May 11, 1988, DOD took strong exception to the recommendation. GAO maintains its original position. The President signed the Radiation-Exposed Veterans Compensation Act of 1988 on May 20, 1988, enabling "radiation exposed" to obtain VA benefits regardless of amount of exposure. Therefore, continuing debate over individual dose measurements is no longer important.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct DNA to use integron readings in conjunction with film badge readings to better define the radiation dose received by cloud-sampling personnel for all atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, including operations Redwing and Dominic 1.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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