New Internationalist

Cancer rates near nuclear stations – blight or ‘blip’?

Issue 382

On 9 June 2005 the British Government’s Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) published its tenth report on the possible health effects of radiation exposure in Britain. The report was warmly welcomed by the industry as it contradicted previous reports of cancer clusters evident around nuclear sites having some relationship to higher exposure to radiation. ‘We find it curious that at the very time our Government is making noises about building new power stations in Britain, its Committee should come up with a clean bill of health for existing power stations,’ said Janine Allis-Smith from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE). The COMARE report does concede that the Sellafield reprocessing facilities in West Cumbria have more cases of childhood cancer than any other nuclear installation, but it fell short of attributing this anomaly to increased radiation exposure, pointing instead to the dubious theory that disease rates were a statistical ‘blip’ caused by a virus. ‘It’s offensive to have these diseases referred to as a “blip”. It is a fact that radiation is one of the proven causes of childhood leukemia but the connection is always officially denied. It’s left to campaigners and TV crews to uncover what’s really going on.’

It’s offensive to have these diseases referred to as a ‘blip’

Shortly after the Government’s COMARE report, a major study conducted by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) into the dangers of low-energy, low-dose ionizing radiation concluded that there appears to be no safe radiation exposure level. The 700-page NAS report cumbersomely entitled The Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation Report VII (BEIR VII) ‘Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation’ found that the risk of getting cancer from radiation released into the environment by US nuclear reactors is approximately 35 per cent higher than current US Government risk estimates. The report also found that even very low doses of radiation can cause cancer and that there is no safe level or threshold of exposure. It also found a causal relationship between radiation exposure and non-cancer health effects such as heart disease and stroke. Finally, the NAS study also warned that it is possible that children born to parents who have been exposed to radiation could also be affected by those exposures.

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This article was originally published in issue 382

New Internationalist Magazine issue 382
Issue 382

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