Skip to main content
hpa logo
Topics A-Z:
Search the site:
Home Publications Radiation NRPB Archive NRPB W-Series Reports ›  NRPB - W27 Mortality and Cancer Incidence 1952-1998 in UK Participants in the UK Atmospheric Nuclear Weapons Tests and Experimental Programme

NRPB - W27 Mortality and Cancer Incidence 1952-1998 in UK Participants in the UK Atmospheric Nuclear Weapons Tests and Experimental Programme

NRPB logo


C R Muirhead, D Bingham, R G E Haylock, J A O'Hagan, A A Goodill, G L C Berridge, M A English, N Hunter and G M Kendall

Publication date: February 2003

ISBN: 0-85951-499-4



A non-technical summary of this report is available.

An updated analysis has been conducted of mortality and cancer incidence among men from the United Kingdom who took part in the UK atmospheric nuclear weapon tests and experimental programmes in Australia and the Pacific between 1952 and 1967. Rates of multiple myeloma, leukaemia, other cancers, and non-cancer causes of death were studied, as in previous analyses of these men. Based on a total of 21,357 test participants and 22,333 controls identified from the same Ministry of Defence (MOD) archives, information was obtained on deaths and cancer registrations up to the end of 1998. Compared with national mortality rates, rates of deaths from all causes increased to a similar extent in both test participants and controls with longer follow-up, with Standardised Mortality Ratios (SMRs) of 89 and 88 respectively over the full follow-up period and a relative risk of 1.01 (90% confidence interval (CI) 0.98-1.05). For all cancers, the corresponding SMRs were 93 for test participants and 92 for controls, with a relative risk of 1.01 (90% CI 0.96-1.08) for all cancers.

Mortality from multiple myeloma was consistent with national rates both for test participants and controls, and the relative risk of myeloma incidence among test participants relative to controls was 1.14 (90% CI 0.74-1.74) over the full follow up period and 0.79 (90% CI 0.45-1.38) during the extended period of follow up (1991-98). Over the full follow-up period, leukaemia mortality among test participants was consistent with national rates, whilst rates among controls were significantly lower (SMR 68), and there was a suggestion of a raised risk among test participants relative to controls (relative risk 1.45 (0.96-2.17), one-sided p=0.07, two-sided p=0.14); the corresponding relative risk for leukaemia incidence was 1.33 (0.97-1.84), one-sided p=0.07, two-sided p=0.14.

After excluding chronic lymphatic leukaemia (CLL), which is not thought to be radiation-inducible, the relative risk of leukaemia mortality increased to 1.83 (1.15-2.93, one-sided p=0.015, two-sided p=0.027), whilst that for incidence was little changed. Among other types of cancer, only for liver cancer incidence was there evidence of differences in rates between participants and controls in both the earlier period of follow-up and in the additional period. Mortality rates among test participants from causes other than cancer were generally similar to those among the controls.

It is concluded that that overall levels of mortality and cancer incidence in UK nuclear weapons test participants have continued to be similar to those in a matched control group, and for overall mortality to be lower than expected from national rates. There was no evidence of an increased risk of multiple myeloma among test participants in recent years. The suggestion in the first analysis of this study of a raised risk of myeloma has not been confirmed in longer periods of follow-up and is likely to have been a chance finding. Analyses of subgroups with greater potential for exposure provided little evidence of increased risks, although the numbers of men involved were smaller and the statistical power was therefore less.

In common with earlier analyses, there is some evidence of a raised risk of leukaemia among test participants relative to controls, particularly when focussing on leukaemia other than CLL. This could be a chance finding, in view of low leukaemia rates among the controls and the generally small radiation doses recorded for test participants. However, the possibility that test participation caused a small absolute risk of leukaemia other than CLL among men cannot be ruled out; the evidence for any increased risk appears to have been greatest in the early years after the tests, but a small risk may have persisted in more recent years.

Download full publication

nrpb w27 (PDF, 587 KB)


Price: £22.50

To order:

Order the publication 

Last reviewed: 1 August 2013