'No cancer clusters around N-plant'

PEOPLE living in the area around an East Anglian nuclear plant have no increased risk of developing cancer, according to an official report published today .

By David Green

PEOPLE living in the area around an East Anglian nuclear plant have no increased risk of developing cancer, according to an official report published today .

The report, from the Government's Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE), concludes that cancer deaths around the Bradwell plant in north Essex are in line with both regional and national expectations.

However, the findings of the report were last night challenged by the researcher whose own study caused widespread concern in the area.

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The Bradwell plant finished generating electricity last year after a 40-year lifetime and is now awaiting the removal of its highly radioactive fuel rods and other "decommissioning" work.

Claims about increased cancer risks to people living in the area have been made over a number of years.

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However, a report in 2001 by an organisation called Green Audit, formed to take an independent look at official data, caused widespread public concern.

It claimed there was statistical evidence to show there was increased incidence of cancer cluster in the Bradwell area, particularly of breast and prostate cancer in the coastal villages – contrary to data held by the North East Essex Health Authority.

The Department of Health ordered an official study from COMARE which claimed yesterday that Green Audit had made errors which had resulted in an over-estimation of cancer risks in the area.

Professor Bryn Bridges, chairman of COMARE, told the EADT that the study area had extended to Little Baddow, Danbury and Sandon in the west to Birch, Messing and Copford in the north and to Burnham in the south. Cancer mortality statistics in 26 postcode "wards" had been studied.

"In some wards there was a slight excess of cases and in others a deficit compared with regional and national averages. The overall conclusion is that there is no significant excess," he said.

However, Professor Bridges revealed that a further research study was being considered by COMARE – the investigation of Green Audit claims that higher than average levels of radioactivity could be "locked" in the mudflats of the Bradwell area, exposing some people to increased risk of developing cancer.

"The Green Audit report made this allegation but provided no evidence to back it up. It was pure speculation," he said.

Professor Bridges said it was very easy to raise public concerns with claims about cancer clusters near nuclear plants but very difficult to allay them.

But he hoped the COMARE report would serve to reassure local people that there was no extra cancer risk.

"The Green Audit report got its basic data wrong and leaves much to be desired," he added.

British Nuclear Fuels, which owns the Bradwell plant, welcomed the COMARE report and accused Green Audit of "scaremongering".

"The claims have been shown to be inaccurate and groundless," said Robin Thornton, spokesman.

But Dr Chris Bushby, who carried out the study for Green Audit, said he stood by his report's conclusion and the accuracy of its data.

"COMARE has consistently supported the nuclear industry position and the sooner its members are retired the better," he added.

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