Sellafield cancer link branded 'fragile': BNFL disputes study on child leukaemia cases

A STUDY purporting to link a rash of childhood cancers and radiation from the Sellafield reprocessing plant was both fragile and implausible, and contradicted by other research, British Nuclear Fuels insisted in the High Court yesterday.

Kenneth Rokison QC, was summing up for BNFL, at the close of the multi-million pound test case in which the company is being sued by the families of two children who suffered cancers that they claim resulted from genetic damage caused by their fathers being exposed to radiation - 40 cases are awaiting the outcome.

It is the first time a British court has been asked to decide personal injury claims based on alleged genetic damage passed on from a father's sperm or a mother's eggs and, if successful, could have major implications for the nuclear industry.

Legal costs of the highly complex case, which has been running for the past eight months, was years in preparation and involved 31 witnesses, including world experts on radiation, genetics and epidemiology, are expected to run to at least pounds 7m.

Vivien Hope, 27, whose father, David, worked at Sellafield, is claiming pounds 125,000 after developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma from which she has made a partial recovery, and Elizabeth Reay, whose husband, George, also worked at the plant, is suing BNFL for pounds 150,000 for the death of her 10-month-old daughter Dorothy in 1962.

Both families say the cancers resulted from sperm damage caused by their fathers exposure to radiation. Central to their case is a 1990 study by the late Professor Martin Gardner, an epidemiologist, who found 'statistically significant' numbers of childhood leukaemias among the children of Sellafield workers.

But Mr Rokison said yesterday that neither the report nor its authors should be 'placed on a pedestal' - particularly since they had been very cautious in their conclusions and hypothesies. The thrust of the report, which found that the children of Sellafield fathers were twice as likely to develop leukaemia, related to a 'cluster' of only five cases in the nearby village of Seascale.

It was unsupported by any other studies and formed a 'very fragile basis' on which to found allegations of a causal link, he said.

Final submissions are likely to continue until next Tuesday when Mr Justice French is expected to reserve judgment for at least a month.

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