Nuclear Health and Safety:

Mortality Study of Atmospheric Nuclear Test Participants Is Flawed

RCED-92-182: Published: Aug 10, 1992. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on a National Academy of Sciences report on nuclear test participants, focusing on: (1) the accuracy of the participant and radiation exposure data that were supplied to the Academy; (2) when and how inaccuracies in the data occurred and were discovered; and (3) what actions have been taken to correct the data and update the 1985 mortality study.

GAO found that: (1) the Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA) has consolidated and refined participant nuclear test series databases and comparisons of preconsolidation and postconsolidation data show inaccuracies; (2) DNA discovered through its comparison that about 15,000 of the 47,435 individuals assessed did not participate in the tests and about 28,000 participants were not included in the study's results; (3) the inaccuracies resulted from pressures to complete the work, inexperienced data gatherers, and difficulties in obtaining complete and accurate records; (4) DNA radiation data provided to the National Academy of Sciences were understated and contained inaccuracies due to exposure data being incorrectly transcribed; (5) despite discussions between DNA and the Academy, data inaccuracies continue, and the data can be used for approximations only; and (6) DNA is contracting with the Academy for follow-up study.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD officials notified 700 institutions that the 1985 National Academy of Sciences mortality study is being updated to correct past inaccuracies and to incorporate 10 more years of life experience data and dose assessment research. A fact sheet was sent with the letter indicating that a contract was awarded on September 8, 1992, to overcome the limitations associated with the 1985 mortality study.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should require the Director, DNA, to notify veteran groups, researchers, and the general public that the conclusions reached in the 1985 National Academy of Sciences mortality study may not be valid because of inaccuracies found in the participant data used in performing the study and that the study is being redone.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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