Letter: Leukaemia's causes

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Sir: Although worldwide the genetic and biological effects of very low doses of radiation are becoming more understood, even though the mechanism by which they cause cancer still eludes us, the Kinlen hypothesis - that a virus causes childhood leukaemia - now appears to be the established cause of the childhood cancers around Sellafield, according to Sir Richard Doll ("Found: the cause of leukaemia", 14 August).

My son developed leukaemia in 1984 and, living close to Sellafield, I wrote to Sir Richard when the virus theory was first suggested in 1989 and before he agreed to be a BNFL witness at the High Court against the Sellafield leukaemia victims.

He wrote: "I am personally far from convinced that a virus plays any part in the production of childhood leukaemia ..., but the idea is scientifically attractive, not only because many leukaemias in animals are caused by viruses but also because it could explain some of the epidemiological findings.

"Only one factor is firmly established as a cause of childhood leukaemia: namely ionising radiation."

Although the Sellafield site had an influx of more than 4,000 workers from all parts of the British Isles as early as 1940 to build and operate TNT production plants to meet war-time requirements, there were no leukaemias in the area until well into the 1950s and after the Atomic Energy Authority started nuclear operations.

The high incidence of childhood leukaemia is continuing around Sellafield.

The nuclear industry itself appears to take the virus theory with a pinch of salt. Sellafield workers get compensated for all cancers, including leukaemias, on the probability of only 20 per cent that their cancer was caused by radiation from Sellafield.


Cumbrians opposed to a radioactive environment

Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria