In 1983 a television documentary programme drew attention to an increased number of childhood leukemia cases in the vicinity of the nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield in Britain. Although the incidence of leukemia was 10 times the national average, the official Committee of Inquiry decided the nuclear facility was not the cause. Their conclusions were based on calculations from animal experiments. By preferring animal data to direct human observations, the effect was to minimise the risks of radiation.(1)
Subsequently, a major investigation concluded that radiation was indeed to blame, for those at highest risk of leukemia were born to fathers who worked at the nuclear plant.(2) Not all studies supported these findings and clarification must await further epidemiological research. Nevertheless, the observations linking leukemia clusters to nuclear plants did persuade the Ministry of Defence and the government's Health and Safety Executive to recommend major cuts in the maximum radiation doses to which workers are legally exposed.(3)
1) E.Millstone in Animal Experimentation: The Consensus Changes, Ed. G.Langley (MacMillan, 1989)
2) M.J.Gardner et al, British Medical Journal, 1990, February 17, 423-429.
3) The Guardian, 1991, March 22 and April 30.
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