That is the challenge that has confronted DTRA and the Department of Veterans Affairs1 for nearly two decades. The process of dose reconstruction and its validity for the purpose of awarding claims has been questioned by the veterans and by others since its beginning. This report evaluates the process of dose reconstruction for atomic veterans and considers some of the questions that have been raised.

To begin, it is important to have some knowledge of the history of the atomic-veterans compensation program and the laws and objectives that guide it. It is also important to have an understanding of the limits and capabilities of historical dose reconstruction in general. This background information is provided in the sections that follow.

I.B.3 Development of the Nuclear Test Personnel Review Program

Possible radiation exposures of military personnel during observer and maneuver programs at the NTS and during participation in support of testing in the Pacific and at the NTS have been of concern since 1977, when it was first reported that there might be an increase in leukemia among military personnel who participated in Shot SMOKY of Operation PLUMBBOB at the NTS that could be attributed to ionizing-radiation exposure (Caldwell et al., 1980). At that time, exposure to radiation was known to increase the risk of some types of cancer. Additional results reported by Caldwell et al. (1983) expanded observations on the same cohort to incidence of other types of cancer, in addition to mortality from cancers and other causes, and covered a period of 22 years, through 1979.2 However, in this analysis of Shot SMOKY, it was assumed that 3,200 military personnel were exposed during the exercise when in fact only 572 participants were close enough to ground zero to receive exposure.3 The other troops were either at News Nob, an observation point about 12 miles south of Shot SMOKY, or at Camp Desert Rock, about 40 miles south of Shot SMOKY. Because of the incorrect number of participants in the cohort exposed to radiation in Shot SMOKY, the estimate of the number of cases of leukemia might be in error. However, that error is understandable, considering the scarcity of data


The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) became a cabinet-level agency in 1989. It was formerly the Veterans Administration. Throughout this report, we refer to this organization as the Department of Veterans Affairs although it is recognized that for the early period of the atomic-veterans compensation program, Veterans Administration was the name of the agency.


Although the dose reconstruction program for atomic veterans was initiated as a result of concerns that radiation exposure could have caused the unexpected increase in leukemia among participants at Shot SMOKY, the number of cases and the study population were both small, and the analysis by Caldwell et al. (1983) attributed the increase primarily to chance. The question of whether leukemia among SMOKY participants was caused by exposure to radiation or another agent during the atomic-testing program remains unanswered to this day.


Personnel communication from Jay Brady.

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