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POISONIN G I N TH E NAM E OF PROGRESS

who discovered the genetic effects of radiation, said that, like murder, "genetic damage will out." The legacy of fallout doses in the period 1955 to 1963 is the increased rates of cancer we are now experiencing.

When this cancer epidemic began, 20 years after the fallout, governments denied its existence. The US enlisted the services of Sir Richard Doll (see box on page 422), To explain it away as an aberration in statistics. When it was too significant to ignore, the response was to blame the victim: it was caused by smoking or by excessive sunbathing. It was caused by pre-

At Sellafield there is a persistent ongoing leukaemia cluster The incidence of this terrible disease in the area is ten times the national average existing genetic problems (ignoring the source of these same problems). It was caused by eating habits: too much fat, too lit­ tle fibre. It was caused by population mixing. Some scientists are still denying its existence altogether.5

In Wales, where fallout was three times higher than in Eng­ land, the onset of the cancer epidemic began earlier, in accor­ dance with radiobiological laws. The time-lag was longer in England, where the dose was less, but the plague has now arrived there too. Instead of red crosses on doors, there are can­ cer charity shops, pink ribbons and buttonholes with flower motifs. The increases in cancer in Wales show very clearly that it was the fallout that caused the effect.

The 'Downwinders' By 1970 everyone on the planet had plutonium and strontium in their bodies, and their genes had been scrambled like those of Luning's mice. But just as the test ban of 1963 stopped the weapons fallout, a new source of planetary contamination

Medical X-Ray machine: there is no such thing as a 'safe dose' of radiation

began: the nuclear fuel cycle. The accidents at Windscale in Cumbria (now Sellafield) and at Kyshtym in the Soviet Union had added to the fallout and given a taste of things to come. Full-scale government-licensed releases into the biosphere from nuclear power stations and reprocessing plants took over in the 1970s from bombs as the source of radiation exposure to the world population. Their health effects soon became clear. By the early 1980s, Sellafield had become synonymous with childhood leukaemia, and by 1995 all the other main nuclear pollution sources in Europe - Dounreay, La Hague, Aldermaston and Harwell - had their studies showing cancer and/or

A Sea of Troubles: How Plutonium Came Back to Plague Us by Chris Busby

Since 1952, the Irish Sea has been the repository of very large amounts of radioactive waste from Sellafield. The philosophy behind this mass disposal was summed up in the Proceedings of the 1958 Conference of the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, held in Geneva. According to the late Dr. H. J. Dunster of the Atomic Energy Authority:

The sea has always been regarded by coastal and seafaring peoples as the ideal place for dumping their waste and this is, of course, a very reasonable and proper attitude. Almost everything that is put into the sea is either diluted to insignifi­ cant concentrations or broken down by physical and biological action or stored harmlessly on the sea bed. Most of the objects that do ultimately find their way ashore are harmless and are a consider­ able source of pleasure to children.'

Thus the industry believed that the sea

would magically remove the waste and relieve it of its problems. But - surprise, surprise - the experts were wrong. The radio-isotopes dispersed into the sea became attached to fine silt and swirled around the Irish Sea like dirt in a bathtub, washing up in places where slack tides allow fine silt to precipitate - estuaries, harbours and mudbanks. That is where scientists from MAFF and Harwell discover them when they make their routine mea­ surements. Far from remaining in the silt on the seabed, as scientists had predicted, the plutonium is actually coming back to the shore. But it doesn't end there: wave action on fine sediment causes the pluto­ nium particles then to become suspended in the air. The smaller particles below about 0.2 microns (one micron is one mil­ lionth of a metre) in diameter are capable of travelling very large distances. Plutoni­ um from Sellafield has been found in sheep droppings across the entire country from St Bees in Cumbria to Whitby in

Yorkshirel and was recently found in chil­ dren's teeth over the entire UK.2

Beginning in 1998, Green Audit began a 2 year study of cancer incidence in Wales by distance from the Irish Sea. We

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The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 7, November 1999 POISONIN G I N TH E NAM E OF PROGRESS

leukaemia increases.

At Sellafield there is a persistent ongoing leukaemia cluster. The incidence of this terrible disease in the area is ten times the national average. The figure for Dounreay is eight times, for La Hague in France, 15 times.67The supposedly independent gov­ ernment Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) reported that radiation cannot be the cause because the doses are too low.8

Despite the reassurances of learned committees, the 'Sell­ afield Blight' has now extended from Seascale (where the leukaemia cluster was reported by Yorkshire Television) to the estuaries and sandy shores of Wales (where our findings of increased risk of cancer near the North Wales coast were also reported by TV in February of this year). This coastal effect was found in north-west England by researchers from Lancast­ er University in 1987, and for estuaries on the west coast of England by Leukaemia Research Fund researchers in 1990. The concerns of the people of Ireland over Sellafield and the Irish Sea have now become translated into a court case against BNFL.

Plutonium from Sellafield has been measured in the lymphnodes of cadavers from Cumbria and from all over the UK.9 It has been found in sheep droppings from the west coast to the east coast. Parents should be shocked to learn that plutonium has been found in children's teeth, continuously decreasing in concentration with distance from Sellafield across the whole of the UK.10

In the USA, Sternglass turned his attention to those unfortu­ nate citizens living downwind of nuclear sites. He has recently applied his infant mortality analysis to every State in the US, and been able to explain much of the trend in rates for infant mortality and, with Jay Gould, for female breast cancer on the basis of nuclear contamination from fallout or from local nuclear site releases.

In Europe, there are many other dirty nuclear sites - for example, Barsebaeck near Malmo in Sweden, just across the straits from Copenhagen. Near Barsebaeck there are significant local excesses of leukaemia and other cancers (between 2- and 5-fold)." There is an abnormal level of child leukaemia mor­ tality in the area surrounding Harwell and Aldermaston. The Aldermaston cluster had already been reported in the mid 1980s, and Molly Scott Cato and I recently found a doubling in risk of the child leukaemia mortality. We published our find­ ings in the British Medical Journal.12

Although the area around Aldermaston is generally known to be highly contaminated, recent information suggests the conta­ mination is even worse than we thought. Thus, the Annual Reports of the Atomic Weapons Establishment, Aldermaston, include figures for dust on filters deployed around the sites and further afield. Dust from filters near the site is radioactive, but dust from distant filters is also radioactive. In some filters, the activity was as high as 50,000 becquerels per kilogram, over 100 times higher than low-level radioactive waste, which must, by law, be sent to Sellafield for safe storage. The people of Read­ ing, Basingstoke, Newbury and probably everywhere in the UK are inhaling this stuff daily. But where does it come from?

A proportion is natural. But most comes from weapons fall­ out, from Chernobyl and from releases from Aldermaston and Harwell into the Thames valley. And there is another unex­ pected source. According to Professor Roy Harrison, Chairman of the government's Airborne Particles Expert Group (APEG), up to 30 per cent of airborne particles in the UK derive from the sea (see box below).

Regulating the Truth Today, as the cancer rate rises inexorably, governments throughout the world pour money into bogus cancer research, but do nothing about reducing its growing incidence. Needless

: : ......... .

found that in the period 1974-89, cancer incidence for most age groups and cancer types was significantly, and in some cases alarmingly, high in people who were living in seaside towns in north Wales

along a coastal strip from the estuary of the river Dee to the southern entrance to the Menai Strait. The effect was highest in children aged 0-4.3

In Ireland, 'Stop Thorp Alliance Dundalk' (STAD), a group of people from Dundalk on the Irish Sea coast, had been exploring the possibility of legally stopping the Sellafield operation. By late 1997 the STAD litigants and their solicitors had been given leave in the Irish High Court to sue BNFL, and the Irish government had agreed to fund research for the case. Ireland had no national cancer registry over the peak period of Sellafield discharges, 1970-1990. The question of whether the releases had been affecting the health of those living near the shores of the Irish sea could thus be answered by examining the Welsh figures.

When the BBC heard of the childhood leukaemia results they made a documentary, Sea of Troubles. At this point the Welsh Office denied the accuracy of the Wales Cancer Registry's childhood leukaemia data, but could give no proper explanation because the data had "been

wiped from their computer." Cover-up? If so, they were too late: the cat was out of the bag. Leukaemia, in fact, was not the main issue; the data showed up adult and childhood cancers apart from leukaemia with a strong association with living near the Irish Sea, whether in Wales, England, Scotland or Ireland. Scientists like Dunster made an error which has affected the lives of many thousands of innocent people, and cast a sinister shadow over the seaside for all of us.

References: 1. Eakins, J. D., Lally, A. E.f Cambray, R. S.,

Kilworth, D., Morrison, R. T., and Pratley, F. (1984), 'Plutonium in sheep faeces as an indicator of deposition on vegetation', Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, 87105. 2. Priest, N. D., O'Donnell, R.G., Mitchell, P. I.,

Strange, L, Fox, A., Henshaw, D. L, and Long, S. C. (1997), 'Variations in the concentration of plutonium, strontium-90 and total alpha emitters in human teeth collected within the British Isles', Science of the Total Environment, 201, 235-243. 3. Bramhall, R. (ed.), The Health Effects of Low

Level Radiation: Proceedings of a Symposium held at the House of Commons, 24 April 1996 (Aberystwyth: Green Audit).

The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 7, November 1999

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