Estimation of Radiation Doses to U.S. Military Test Participants from Nuclear Testing: A Comparison of Historical Film-Badge Measurements, Dose Reconstruction and Retrospective Biodosimetry

Steven L. Simon, Susan M. Bailey, Harold L. Beck, John D. Boice, André Bouville, Aaron B. Brill, Michael N. Cornforth, Peter D. Inskip, Miles J. McKenna, Michael T. Mumma, Silvia I. Salazar, Abigail Ukwuani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Retrospective radiation dose estimations, whether based on physical or biological measurements, or on theoretical dose reconstruction, are limited in their precision and reliability, particularly for exposures that occurred many decades ago. Here, we studied living U.S. military test participants, believed to have received high-dose radiation exposures during nuclear testing-related activities approximately six decades ago, with two primary goals in mind. The first was to compare three different approaches of assessing past radiation exposures: 1. Historical personnel monitoring data alone; 2. Dose reconstruction based on varying levels of completeness of individual information, which can include film badge data; and 3. Retrospective biodosimetry using chromosome aberrations in peripheral blood lymphocytes. The second goal was to use the collected data to make the best possible estimates of bone marrow dose received by a group with the highest military recorded radiation doses of any currently living military test participants. Six nuclear test participants studied had been on Rongerik Atoll during the 1954 CASTLE Bravo nuclear test. Another six were present at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) and/or Pacific Proving Ground (PPG) and were believed to have received relatively high-dose exposures at those locations. All were interviewed, and all provided a blood sample for cytogenetic analysis. Military dose records for each test participant, as recorded in the Defense Threat Reduction Agency's Nuclear Test Review and Information System, were used as the basis for historical film badge records and provided exposure scenario information to estimate dose via dose reconstruction. Dose to bone marrow was also estimated utilizing directional genomic hybridization (dGH) for high-resolution detection of radiation-induced chromosomal translocations and inversions, the latter being demonstrated for the first time for the purpose of retrospective biodosimetry. As the true dose for each test participant is not known these many decades after exposure, this study gauged the congruence of different methods by assessing the degree of correlation and degree of systematic differences. Overall, the best agreement between methods, defined by statistically significant correlations and small systematic differences, was between doses estimated by a dose reconstruction methodology that exploited all the available individual detail and the biodosimetry methodology derived from a weighted average dose determined from chromosomal translocation and inversion rates. Employing such a strategy, we found that the Rongerik veterans who participated in this study appear to have received, on average, bone marrow equivalent doses on the order of 300-400 mSv, while the NTS/ PPG participants appear to have received approximately 250-300 mSv. The results show that even for nuclear events that occurred six decades in the past, biological signatures of exposure are still present, and when taken together, chromosomal translocations and inversions can serve as reliable retrospective biodosimeters, particularly on a group-average basis, when doses received are greater than statistically-determined detection limits for the biological assays used.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)297-310
Number of pages14
JournalRadiation research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Radiation
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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