Cover-up claim over report on nuclear power dangers

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Michael Meacher, the former Environment minister, accused the Government yesterday of covering up the risk to human health from nuclear power.

Michael Meacher, the former Environment minister, accused the Government yesterday of covering up the risk to human health from nuclear power.

Mr Meacher said government lawyers had tried to suppress a report by experts on a committee he set up three years ago to assess the cancer risk from radiation. The Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters was to advise ministers on the effects of low-level radiation.

He said two members of the committee had warned that the cancer risk of radiation could be 300 times higher than previously believed - findings he said the Government had tried to stop being published.

With a preface by Mr Meacher, the two committee members published their own unofficial minority report yesterday.

Their findings suggest that around nuclear power stations such as Sellafield there are clusters of childhood leukaemia and that the risk of cancer from low-level radiation is far greater than estimated by the Government. They say that the model used to estimate cancer risks, which was based on radiation doses absorbed by victims of the Hiroshima bomb in 1945, is outdated and underestimates the harm to the human body.

"Nuclear pollution is the cause of the rise of childhood leukaemia," said Dr Chris Busby, scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, who was a member of the committee until it refused to publish his opinions.

"There was also a sharp increase in leukaemia in children who were in the womb at the time of Chernobyl. We are talking about children in Scotland, Wales, Greece, Bulgaria and Germany so this is no coincidence. The risk of childhood leukaemia from internal radiation could be hundreds or even thousands of times greater than present risk factors predict."

The minority report, co-written by Richard Bramhall, of the Low Level Radiation campaign, also won the support of the committee's secretary, Dr Paul Dorfman, who has investigated leukaemia clusters around nuclear plants. Dr Dorfman said yesterday that the committee's decision to in effect block two of the expert views had severe implications for public trust.

Mr Meacher, who was sacked last year by Tony Blair, said that the main committee report would "not accommodate a full and fair representation of all views". He said: "This is an attempt to suppress information that is politically and economically undesirable and what we are talking about is not just very powerful vested interests but the health of thousands and possibly millions of our people."

The main report, which will be published next month after three years of deliberation, is expected to conclude that the cancer risk from exposure to radiation could be 10 times higher than previously thought.

One member of the committee said Mr Meacher should have waited to read the conclusions of the main report before endorsing a minority view.

Pete Roche, a nuclear consultant to Greenpeace, said: "Mr Meacher has only listened to the views of two members of the committee ... When he reads our final report he will find that it contains valuable new insights about the risks of radiation from internal radionuclides and does give a fair representation of all views."