Probe this cancer cluster in kids

by Robert Merrick, Daily Post

Jul 22 2004


FORMER UK environment minister Michael Meacher has demanded an independent probe into claims of a "cancer cluster" in North Wales children linked to nuclear power. The highly-respected Labour MP claimed controversial research, suggesting child leukaemia in the Menai Strait area is 28 times the UK average, had not been properly investigated.

The nuclear industry and the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit have dismissed the findings. But Mr Meacher said two existing watchdogs did not have the muscle to do the job because they were not fully independent and should therefore be scrapped. Instead, he demanded a powerful committee with sufficient funds to launch independent inquiries and full-time civil service back-up.

The former minister's campaign is a big boost to research, published in February, which blamed the cancer cluster on the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria. Radiation expert Chris Busby, of Aberystwyth, said there were three cases of child leukaemia in Caernarfon in 2000-03, when in fact only 0.1 should have been expected. He also found at least five cases of brain and spinal tumours in the town since 1996 in children aged up to 14 - 18 times
the UK average. He concluded the "link between Sell-afield and excess childhood cancer is indisputable" after studying 34 wards around the Menai Strait.

When the research was released, by the environmental group Green Audit, it was dismissed by the nuclear industry as the latest attempt to discredit it. But, in a Commons motion, Mr Meacher insisted Dr Busby's research echoed other studies of cancer clusters dating back to 1983. A 1984 advisory group recommendation for centralised monitoring of health data to give "early warning" had never been adopted, Mr Meacher said.

Furthermore, the Small Area Health Statistics Unit (SAHSU) had "no power of independent investigation and did not find the excess leukaemia and cancer on the Menai Strait".

The same was true of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) which, Mr Meacher said, should also be axed.

Mr Meacher is a lifelong member of Friends of the Earth and a fierce opponent of nuclear power. In government, he fought to block the building of more nuclear power stations. Mr Meacher said COMARE acknowledged there were cancer clusters but refused to accept the
explanation "staring it in the face" - that they were caused by nuclear reprocessing.

British Nuclear Fuels spokesman Mark Longbottom said: "Our stance has always been the same as far as Dr Busby's claims are concerned which we view as being part of a long line of attempts by Green Audit to attack the nuclear industry."

Meanwhile Dr John Steward, director of the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit in Cardiff, said the unit's findings had not found anything supporting Dr Busby's claims. "Nothing unusual has been found and there is nothing for the public to worry about," he said.

Email circular from the Low Level Radiation Campaign
22 July 2004


Richard Bramhall
Low Level Radiation Campaign
The Knoll
Montpellier Park
Powys LD1 5LW U.K.
+44 (0)1597 824771


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