In 1957/58 the British Government conducted a series of nuclear tests in the mid-Pacific codenamed Operation Grapple, which involved several naval vessels from Britain and New Zealand. Two New Zealand frigates with 551 personnel onboard were stationed at various distances between 20 and 150 nautical miles from ground zero. In the present study we applied the cytomolecular technique mFISH (multicolour fluorescent in situ hybridisation) to investigate a potential link between chromosome abnormalities and possible past radiation exposure in New Zealand nuclear test veterans who participated in Operation Grapple. Compared to age matched controls, the veterans showed significantly higher (P < 0.0001) frequencies of chromosomal abnormalities (275 translocations and 12 dicentrics in 9,360 cells vs. 96 translocations and 1 dicentric in 9,548 cells in the controls), in addition to a significant excess of CCRs (complex chromosomal rearrangements) in the veterans. A Kolmogorov-Smirnoff test showed that the distributions of translocations for the two groups were significantly different.

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