4. Genetic Defects Observed

Chapter 3: The Central, South Pacific and Australia
Part 5: Victims of Christmas Island

The suffering of those still living with the effects of being exposed to radiation during the tests is one of the most pressing issues. This includes not only the men themselves but also their children, many of whom have been born with deformities.

We visited Robert Billings and his family at their home on the outskirts of the Yorkshire town of Ripon. Billings witnessed five nuclear tests at Christmas Island in 1958, and since then has suffered from ill health. He is blind in his left eye, and the right side of his body is completely paralyzed. He is prone to fits, and he also has a speech impediment.

His daughter Claire, who is currently at high school, was born with a deformed left leg: it is seven inches shorter than her right leg, without a heel, and with only three toes. She is able to walk short distances with the help of an artificial leg, but the prosthesis weighs ten pounds, making it impossible for her to travel long distances. Mrs. Billings, who has her hands full taking care of her disabled husband and daughter, believes both their conditions are radiation-linked.

"When Claire was born," she told us, "the doctor asked me whether I had been exposed to any radiation, or if I'd been taking thalidomide during my pregnancy. The connection with Robert's time in the army never occurred to me—until I heard about the BNTVA. Then I realized why my daughter is disabled."

According to the BNTVA's own survey, so far there have been seven hundred incidences of deformities in children fathered by ex-servicemen who participated in nuclear tests. This figure includes two hundred stillbirths. Claire Billings was actually one of the luckier ones; many other children suffer from brain damage, leukemia, or dysfunctions of the nervous system. There are also children with severe physical and intellectual disabilities, and those whose sex was indeterminable at birth.

"As one of those directly affected," Claire told us, "I want as many people as possible to know about the suffering caused by radiation." When she was a child she was often teased by her classmates, which made her resent her parents. But now she is older and knows more about her father's experience and the effects of radiation, Claire has decided to study to become a counselor for the disabled. Once again we were reminded of the diverse effects exposure to radiation can have on one's life.