The findings of the 10-year study of the effects of the Australian and Pacific tests effectively dash their hopes of getting compensation from the Ministry of Defence.
After examining the records of nearly 22,000 servicemen who had witnessed the tests in the 1950s and early 1960s, the National Radiological Protection Board and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund concluded that the troops had no increased risk of cancer.
Sir Richard Doll, the distinguished cancer epidemiologist who oversaw the research, said yesterday: 'I do hope that participants in the tests will find the results as reassuring as we do. Many were worried that they had been exposed to substantial risks as a result of their participation. I hope that they will be reassured.'
Participation in the nuclear tests had had 'no detectable effect on expectation of life nor on incidence of cancer', Sir Richard said.
He conceded that the incidence of leukaemia was slightly higher in the veterans of the tests, however he believed that that was a chance finding.
The study compared the health records of the test veterans with a carefully selected 'control' group of young men of similar age and fitness.
Both groups suffered less disease and ill-health than the average for the population as a whole - a well-known statistical bias known as 'the healthy worker effect'.
The results, published in tomorrow's issue of the British Medical Journal, update research released in 1988. The earlier study did find a higher rate of leukaemia and multiple myeloma in the veterans compared with the control group.
But Sir Richard yesterday maintained that that was due not to an excess of these cancers among the veterans but to a deficit in the control group.
The Ministry of Defence has consistently denied any liability and has refused to pay compensation to test veterans.
But the civilian nuclear industry has for years operated a no- fault compensation scheme for its workers - even though there was no statistical evidence of any excess cancers among its staff.
Dr Roger Clarke, director of the National Radiological Protection Board, said yesterday, 'The Atomic Energy Authority and British Nuclear Fuels schemes are soundly based. But it is for others to decide whether to join in. That is a question for the Ministry of Defence.'
John Cox, 58, witnessed nuclear explosions on Malden Island in the central Pacific in 1957 and believes his multiple myeloma, currently in recession after two years of chemotherapy, results from that exposure. He condemned the way in which news about the study had been leaked to the press when the veterans had been assured they would be told the results first.
'I'm disgusted with this. It is a complete turnaround,' he said.