Vatican Radio is facing power cuts over cancer claims

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The Italian government threatened yesterday to cut off the power supply to Vatican Radio within two weeks amid accusations that its massive radio antennae are causing leukaemia in children and tumours in adults north of Rome.

The Italian government threatened yesterday to cut off the power supply to Vatican Radio within two weeks amid accusations that its massive radio antennae are causing leukaemia in children and tumours in adults north of Rome.

Three directors of the Vatican's international radio network are facing trial on charges of creating electromagnetic pollution.

The Italian Environment Minister, Willer Bordon, threatened to have the power supply cut off unless Vatican Radio obeyed national norms on the emission of electromagnetic waves. Tests carried out in 1999 show that it had far exceeded the limits set under national law.

The directors of Vatican Radio were due to appear in an Italian court last Monday but the case was postponed to October. The Vatican has refused to recognise the jurisdiction of Italian courts over its transmitters because they have extraterritorial status.

It argued that Italy was responsible for health risks because it allowed people to build near the site.

When Vatican Radio started broadcasting in 1951, there were just three antennae. Now there are 58, emitting 100,000-600,000 watts. Italian railways has to put special coating on its trains to prevent interference with the controls. Local residents report hearing the hymns of Vatican Radio humming through their fridge or phone.

The case is the result of a long and painful battle by residents, many of whom have lost relatives and friends. In one apartment block nine people, three from the same family, have died of tumours.

A recent report by the regional Public Health Agency examined cases of ill children from 1987 to 1999 and concluded that those within two kilometres of the antennae cluster were six times more likely to contract leukaemia than children living further away.

The Vatican continues to argue against a link between electromagnetic waves and leukaemia or cancer.

Augusto Rossi, whose four-year-old daughter has leukaemia, said: "We don't want to hear bickering over who is legally responsible ... We want the Vatican to face up to the fact that they are putting peoples lives in danger and act on it."

The programme director, Father Federico Lombardi, said the strength of signals had been reduced and they would be checking with listeners to see if the reception was adequate.

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