N-base child cancer cluster

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The Independent Online
The Cancer Research campaign has called for an urgent investigation into figures obtained by the Independent on Sunday that show the number of children dying from leukaemia in the district of Newbury to be four times the national average.

It is the first time that solid cancer mortality statistics have been produced for the Berkshire town and its surrounding countryside.

They will raise fresh fears about radiation emissions from a reported nuclear accident at Greenham Common airbase in 1958. There has been a series of academic studies linking exposure to low-level radiation and child cancer, including the 1990 Gardner Report into cases found near the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria.

Dr Lesley Walker, head of scientific information for the campaign said: "These findings are very significant and clearly further investigation into the reason for the high mortality rates is required."

The statistics were researched from Office of National Statistics data by Dr Chris Busby, director of Green Audit, an environment investigation group which is concerned about possible radiation emissions from nuclear establishments in the Newbury area.

Dr Busby's figures show an increase in the rate of child cancer deaths in the district. While numbers for 1991-95 are four times the average for England and Wales, 1986-95 produces a rate that is just twice the national average. From 1981-90, it is in line with the national picture.

The Newbury figures compare with those collated for two other communities near nuclear establishments: Sellafield - where from 1945 to 1993 there were 37 per cent more cases of child leukaemia than would have been expected, and Dounreay, where from 1979 to 1983 there were twice as many "observed cases" as expected.

The scientific community continues to debate whether exposure to low- level radiation can cause cancer. A five-year nationwide study on child blood cancer by Cancer Research is trying to establish once and for all what causes the disease.

Greenham Common and nuclear research centres Aldermaston and Burghfield are all within Newbury borough, and Dr Busby fears that there is a link between their work and the high rate of cancer deaths she has uncovered.

The investigation was sparked by CND's publication last summer of government research papers from 1961 into radiation around Greenham Common, three years after a blaze wrecked a plane at the airbase. The anti-nuclear group claims that at the time it was carrying nuclear weapons five times the power of the Hiroshima bomb.

The scientists found such high levels of uranium in leaves in the Newbury area that they concluded: "The only way such a large quantity could become powdered is through the agency of a fire, or an explosion."

Dr Busby's figures have raised concerns among the parents of children in Newbury who have developed blood cancer.

Kevin Mansford, whose seven-year-old son Shane is currently in remission from the disease, said: "We have two other children. If there is a risk about here, we need to know all the factors."