Whitehaven News



Thursday, May 24, 2001

Sellafield workers should not worry about a claimed risk of cancer in the families of workers exposed to radiation while doing clean up work after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

BNFL has given the new reassurance despite research carried out following the world's biggest nuclear accident in 1986. It is said to show support for the so-called Gardner theory which suggested that children born to Sellafield radiation workers could contract cancer.

The theory caused a scare among workers planning to start families but later medical studies appeared to provide reassurance that there was no greatly increased cancer risk.

But according to the Cumbrian anti-nuclear group, CORE, the newly Chernobyl report has raised fresh fears by supporting the theory of the late Martin Gardner.

CORE say that a Royal Society report following tests on the families of workers drafted in to clean up the Chernobyl reactor site reveals a seven-fold increase in DNA mutation rates which can cause increased risk of cancer of genetic instability in future generations.

"Researchers of the Chernobyl study which revealed the ability of lower doses of radiation to produce mutations suggested that low level occupational or medical exposure to radiation could double the mutation rate in offspring.

"This emphatic support for Gardner's work should be of the greatest concern to Sellafield workers and we hope that with their welfare in mind BNFL will take it seriously for once. The company has a long record of ignoring the findings of studies which have shown some connections between worker exposure and elevated cancer risks and illnesses," declared CORE.

BNFL responded: "An overwhelming amount of international scientific evidence has consistently failed to show any support at all for the Gardner hypothesis that radiation exposure of fathers before the conception of their children increases the risk of leukaemia in these children. This study does not change our view that this remains the case. We have one of the most studies -- and most healthy -- workforces in the world. A welter of scientific evidence supports the view that the original findings of Dr Martin Gardner could not be replicated and consecutive studies since 1990 have all failed to find any support for the Gardner theory.

"The latest paper which analyses cells in the laboratory rather than looking at the evidence for any actual health effects on real people is difficult to interpret and further work needs to be done before the results can be understood. We have taken views from international experts in this particular field to arrive at this opinion."

CORE point out: Tests on families in which one child was conceived before the explosion of the Ukranian reactor and one conceived after the accident and accident and on families from areas with no radiation exposure showed an increase in mutation rates after exposure to ionising radiation which was 'highly significant' and which needed serious attention.