Sellafield cleared of causing clusters

28 May 1999

The latest study on childhood cancer clusters around nuclear plants in the UK appears to dispel concerns of a causal link between the cancers and radiation exposure of fathers. The Nuclear Industry Family Study (NIFS), published in the British Medical Journal, states that children born to parents who work in the nuclear industry are no more likely to develop cancer than those born in the general population. One of the report’s authors, Professor Peter Smith of the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that no substantial evidence to support the Gardner report, published in 1990, which appeared to show that the children of men who had been exposed to high doses of radiation in the six months before conception had a greater chance of contracting leukaemia, has been found. Smith also argued that the evidence indicated that the association suggested by Gardner was, “likely to be an artefact [an apparently significant result which is not a genuine effect].” At a meeting with workforce representatives on 20 May, the authors said they hoped their findings would reassure nuclear industry employees. NIFS was started in the late 1980s and was based on a questionnaire distributed to current workers in BNFL (not including former Magnox Electric personnel), UKAEA and the Atomic Weapons Establishment, and also to past workers of BNFL and UKAEA who could be traced. NIFS considered the health of over 40 000 children whose parents were in the study group and matched these to the radiation exposure records of the parents. 111 cancers were reported to the authors which, they state, was what was to be expected in a population of that size. The study found three cases of leukaemia in the children of workers who had received a paternal preconception exposure of greater than 100 millisieverts. Two of these cases were identified by Gardner and no new significant conclusion could be drawn from the one new case identified.



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