Cancer rate is `abnormal' near nuclear bases

Calls for inquiry as local radiation is shown to be low
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The Independent Online
"Abnormally high" childhood leukaemia cases near two nuclear establishments in Berkshire and new evidence showing lower than average radiation levels for the area have prompted Newbury council to call for a full government investigation.

Figures to be published in the British Medical Journal later this year are expected to confirm earlier research that in the west Berkshire area there are three childhood leukaemia cases per 60,000 children where one would normally expect two.

Dr Carol Barton, consultant haematologist at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, first reported on high levels of childhood leukaemia 10 years ago.

She said that her research had looked at all the different factors, such as social class, but the only one which had any bearing was proximity to the nuclear establishments at Aldermaston and its sister site, Burghfield. Children under five were found to be particularly affected.

Dr Barton said: "The only positive finding was that incidence was high in those children who lived near a nuclear establishment." She called for more research to be conducted in order to establish conclusively that the leukaemia cases were being caused by the nuclear establishments.

However, in the absence of hard evidence to prove a direct link between radiation from the sites and leukaemia cases, their cause remains a mystery.

At a public meeting last night, Newbury council presented findings from their own independent survey, the most comprehensive into radiation levels in west Berkshire.

The council's report said levels of naturally occurring radiation were lower than the UK average, even at the former Greenham Common cruise missile base, but that higher than normal levels of unnatural radiation (from uranium and plutonium) had been measured along the perimeter fence at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston.

Scientists said last night they believed the high levels of unnatural radiation did not represent a risk to the public but warranted further investigation.

The Newbury council survey, carried out at a cost of pounds 250,000 by Southampton University, was sparked off after it was alleged that the Government had suppressed details of a nuclear accident at Greenham Common more than 35 years ago.

The council's community information officer, Peter Gilmour, said the survey raised worrying questions and that the council would now call on the MoD to fund a major investigation into radiation in west Berkshire.

"We are pressing for funding from central Government to do a much fuller study. This hasn't done anything to enhance any link between the nuclear establishments and the leukaemia cases. There are a lot of people wanting a lot of answers still," he said.