Experts fail to find a link between nuclear power stations and cancer

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

Nuclear power stations have been given a clean bill of health by an official investigation that failed to establish any link between radioactive discharges and levels of childhood cancer.

Nuclear power stations have been given a clean bill of health by an official investigation that failed to establish any link between radioactive discharges and levels of childhood cancer.

However the study has confirmed three known childhood cancer clusters around nuclear installations, although it found no evidence that these resulted from radioactive discharges.

The findings are described as the most definitive research anywhere in the world on alleged links between nuclear plants and cancers in local children.

Scientists analysed more than 32,000 cases of childhood cancer diagnosed between 1969 and 1993 to see if there was a higher-than-expected incidence within 25 kilometres (15.5 miles) of every licensed nuclear installation in Britain.

They looked at 12,415 cases of childhood cancers of the blood, as well as 19,908 cases of solid tumours - both of which have been linked with nuclear installations by other researchers.

In terms of Britain's 13 nuclear power stations, the scientists failed to find any evidence for an increase in the risk of childhood cancer despite using five different statistical techniques.

However, when the Government-appointed Committee on the Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (Comare) looked at the other 15 non-power nuclear installations, which handle radioactive material, they found three clusters which had been noted in previous studies. These occurred around the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria, the Dounreay site in Scotland and the Burghfield and Aldermaston weapons establishments in Berkshire.

The scientists also found an anomaly around the Rosyth dockyard on the Firth of Forth where nuclear-powered submarines are maintained. Although this was not excessive, the scientists found there was a slightly elevated risk of childhood cancer nearer to the dockyard than at the 25km mark. Bryn Bridges, the outgoing chairman of Comare, said the Rosyth findings were difficult to interpret and has ordered more research. "There is no excess there to explain away. It's a question of where the cases are distributed within the 25km circle," Professor Bridges said.

Children are more sensitive to radiation than adults and if low-level effects of radiation cannot be detected in the childhood population then it would be difficult to find them in adults, he said.

Professor Bridges said the radioactive discharges near the three known clusters around non-power nuclear installations were too low to account for the increased incidence of cancer. "For power stations the results are unambiguous and, as might be expected from the very low discharges, there is no indication of any effect on the incidence of leukaemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma," he said.

The next Comare report will study whether childhood cancer is spread in a random manner across Britain or whether there are statistical clusters elsewhere around the country. "There does seem to be a certain amount of clustering but it is a small effect," Professor Bridges said.

Comments