Sizewell "cancer risk" fears

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A COMMUNITY watchdog group is calling for more information about a German study which suggests that there are clusters of childhood leukaemia cases near nuclear power station sites.

The Sizewell Stakeholder Group - set up to improve liaison between the nuclear site, the local community and regulators - wants to know if there is any UK implication.

The new study, commissioned by the German Federal office for Radiological Protection, looked at childhood cancers in the vicinity of the country's nuclear power plants.

It identified a “statistically significant” raised risk of leukaemia in children up to five years of age within five kilometres of such sites.

However, the researchers say current knowledge suggests that the additional radiation exposure of the public through the operation of nuclear reactors is too small to cause the raised incidence of leukaemia among children.

They say under present scientific understanding, the exposure would have to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher to produce such an effect.

The UK Committee on the Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) has pointed out that the study does not identify any other risk factors in the areas scrutinised.

The committee has previously found that there is no increased risk of childhood cancers, including leukaemia, near nuclear sites in this country. Childhood cancers of many types have been found in random clusters around the UK, far from any nuclear plant.

However, members of the SSG want more information and experts from both sides of the debate are to be invited to address a future meeting.

One member, Pete Wilkinson, an independent environment consultant, said more information was needed, especially in view of plans to build a Sizewell C plant. “This is of concern to use locally - we can't just sit here and let the Government foist a new plant on us and increase the risk to our kids without knowing the full facts,” he said.

Mr Wilkinson said the whole subject of the health impact of low level radiation had been vexed from the start and there was a lack of data.

“We have a responsibility to make sure that the powers that be get to the bottom of it. We need an honest, open and transparent investigation,” he added.

Another member, Bill Howard, representing Leiston Town Council, said the inspector's report on plans for Sizewell B had called for data to be collected on the relationship between nuclear sites and childhood leukaemia but, as far as he knew, this had not been done.

Colin Tucker, who represents Sizewell staff on the SSG, said the authors of the German report could not find a “causal factor” for what was a statistical anomaly.

“I've got kids and I and other members of staff are interested in this. But there have been studies like this in the UK and they have found no link with nuclear power,” he said.

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