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Sizewell: More detailed analysis needed over nuclear plant cancer risks

10:52 19 October 2013

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Calls for more detailed analysis over nuclear plant cancer risks

Calls have gone out for a more detailed analysis following a report from the Government’s health watchdog which states that cancer incidence in the Sizewell area is “significantly” lower than for the county as a whole.

The Sizewell Stakeholder Group (SSG) asked Public Health England (PHE) to provide data in the light of reports from Germany and elsewhere that one category of cancer – childhood leukaemia – was above average in the vicinity of some nuclear installations.

PHE says incidence of cancer within a ten-mile radius of Sizewell is significantly lower than the average for Suffolk.

It also reports that the number of people dying from the disease in the same area is generally in line with figures for the county which, itself, has lower mortality rates than the average for England.

Marianne Fellowes, SSG chairman, said she was pleased that PHE had responded to the group’s questions and would also send a speaker to the next group meeting in December.

“However, I am disappointed that data is not available by postcode and that it seems there is not any real research into the long-term effects of exposure to very low levels of radiation. We will continue to seek answers,” she added.

Pete Wilkinson, a Suffolk environment consultant and former member of a Government advisory group on radioactive waste management, said: “As superficially reassuring as these figures appear to be, sadly, they lack the sort of detail required to confirm or contradict the evidence from Germany and other countries which demonstrates a far higher incidence of leukaemia in the very young within areas close to nuclear plants.”

PHE, which gathers its data from cancer registries and hospital appointments and admissions, said: “Although it is possible for data to be grouped into very small areas, it is not always possible or sensible to present this data.

“A key issue with using data in small areas is that the statistics become very unreliable if based on small numbers of cases.”

Another important issue, according to PHE, is that when very small numbers are presented for small areas, there is a risk that individual cancer patients are identified.

A spokesman for EDF Energy, which owns Sizewell B, said the PHE data was consistent with the conclusions reached by the Government-funded Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment which had found no evidence that populations living within 25 kilometres of a nuclear generating site were vulnerable to an increased incidence of childhood cancer.

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