Sellafield cancer risk still above the average

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The Independent Online
YOUNG people living in the village of Seascale, near the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria, continue to run a greater risk of contracting leukaemia and other blood cancers, although scientists are still unable to explain why this is so.

A new report confirms the excess of leukaemias and non- Hodgkin's lymphomas in the village first identified by the Black report in 1984. It provides new evidence that these findings, for the years 1963 to 1983, were unlikely to be due to chance or the occurrence of a leukaemia 'cluster'.

In addition, the report shows that in the years following the Black report up to 1990, the incidence of the diseases in the 0-24 age group remained higher than both the national rates and those for the surrounding areas. This was 'highly unlikely' to be due to chance, the report says.

The report, by the Child Cancer Research Group at Oxford University, the Leukaemia Research Fund Centre for Clinical Epidemiology at Leeds University and the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle, will fuel controversy over the opening of the new pounds 1.85bn Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (Thorp) at Sellafield.

Operations at the plant, which will reprocess fuel from Japan and Germany as well as from the UK, will increase the volumes of radioactive waste discharged into the environment.

This Monday was the last day for public comments on the proposed discharges to go to HM Inspectorate of Pollution, which is charged with authorising them. However, in an unexpected development yesterday, BNFL admitted that it had got its sums wrong over past discharges. In the light of what one official described as 'an own goal by BNFL' the consultation period is being extended by two weeks.

When the Black report was published, some critics said that the excess of childhood cancers could be due to chance. Writing in tomorrow's issue of the British Medical Journal, the scientists say that 'the accumulation of further data . . . suggests this is not the correct explanation'. They say the findings did not support or detract from the conclusions of the Gardner report in 1990 which found that cancers occurred in children whose fathers had high levels of radiation exposure before the child was conceived.

In another report, published yesterday by Cumbria County Council, the nuclear industry is attacked for being in too much of a hurry to dispose of radioactive waste deep under the ground near Sellafield.

According to a detailed and highly critical report prepared by Environmental Resources Ltd, UK Nirex, the industry's waste disposal company, has not left enough time in its schedule for proper public consultation and detailed expert examination of its proposals. Nirex plans to have its repository operating by 2007, at a cost of nearly pounds 2bn.

Existing data makes it clear, the report says, that the Sellafield site does not meet the criterion laid down in 1976 by the Institute of Geological Sciences for the disposal of radioactive waste. The hydrogeology of the site is complex and difficult, not 'simple and determinable' as the institute recommended.

Using figures and formulae drawn up by Nirex itself, the ERL report concludes that ground water, possibly carrying radioactivity from the waste, could reach the surface within 300 years, not the tens of thousands of years which the nuclear industry has claimed in the past.

In addition, there may be a geological fault running from the level of the repository 750m (820 yds) under ground connecting it to the surface, which could carry water even faster.

In a statement, UK Nirex said it 'regards it as unfortunate that the results of simplistic calculations have been given prominence. There is no scientifically valid basis for concluding that Sellafield is a poor site.'