Memorandum submitted by Dr Ian Farlie (NPS 82)
I am an independent consultant on radiation matters. Between 2000 and 2004, I served as scientific Secretary to the Government's CERRIE Committee on internal radiation hazards. I wish to submit evidence to the Committee on one aspect: the recent evidence that living near nuclear reactors carries grave health risks for infants and children - more than doubling their risk of leukemia. I have written extensively on this matter in scientific journals: a list of my published articles in recent years in contained in the box below.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, several studies revealed increased incidences of childhood leukemia near UK nuclear facilities. However official estimated doses from released nuclides were too low, by 2 to 3 orders of magnitude, to explain the increased leukemias.
Recent epidemiological studies have reopened the childhood leukemia debate. Baker and Hoel (2007) carried out a meta-analysis of 136 nuclear sites in the UK, Canada, France, US, Germany, Japan and Spain and found cancer death rates for children were elevated by 5 to 24 per cent depending on proximity to nuclear facilities. Hoffmann et al (2007) found 14 leukemia cases between 1990 and 2005 in children living within 5 km of the Krümmel nuclear plant in Germany, significantly exceeding the 0.45 predicted cases.
Most important, however, is the KiKK study (Kinderkrebs in der Umgebung von Kernkraftwerken = Childhood Cancer in the Vicinity of Nuclear Power Plants) Spix et al (2007) and Kaatsch et al (2008). The main findings were a 160% increase in solid cancer risk and a 220% increase in leukemia risk among young children living within 5 km of all German nuclear reactors. These are big increases in risk.
The KiKK report is significant because it is a large and well-conducted study; because it is scientifically rigorous; because its evidence is particularly strong; and because the German Government, which commissioned the study, has confirmed its findings. Over 60 other studies world-wide (Körblein and Fairlie, 2009) have investigated child leukemias near nuclear facilities. The large majority of these studies have found increased incidences of leukemia: this lends considerable support to the KiKK findings.
The KiKK observations are presently the subject of intense research and discussion throughout the world, including at least three studies in the UK. Last November, the Department of Health requested the Government's Committee on the Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) to examine the German study and report back.
[Also last November, in a case of unfortunate timing, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) published a Consultation paper justifying the radiation exposures from its proposed new nuclear stations. The problem is that COMARE's report will not be finished until after the Consultation's February 22 deadline, and DECC has refused public requests to extend its deadline until the COMARE report is finished. This is unfortunate and, in my view, it is an unreasonable position for DECC to take. It is clearly important that we get to grips with the KiKK evidence before decisions are made on building more nuclear power stations.]
In 2009, the Health Protection Agency submitted a memorandum (Mobbs et al, 2009) on health risks from radiation to the Government's Consultations. This seeks to diminish the KiKK study and devotes only half a page to the lengthy KiKK report. The HPA's criticisms are cursory, poorly argued and misleading. For example, the HPA memorandum seeks to argue that the KiKK study merely found an association between NPP (nuclear power plant) proximity and risk, ie and not between dose and risk - implying that radiation exposures were not a causative factor. This is unpersuasive: childhood leukemia is well known to be closely associated with radiation exposures. The HPA memorandum also states that a UK study and a French study "have not replicated" the KiKK findings. This is misleading as the two studies actually did find small leukemia increases in children near NPPs. Their data were not statistically significant but this was due to the smallness of the studies and not the absence of effect. The HPA's view remains that official estimated doses from NPP releases are much too small to result in the observed levels of leukemia. But the CERRIE (2004) report showed that there could be very large uncertainties in official dose estimates from inhaled and ingested radionuclides.
It is too early to provide an explanation for these increased cancers, although radiation exposures are clearly implicated. I have put forward the hypothesis (Fairlie, 2009) that these infant leukemias are a teratogenic effect resulting from in utero exposures to radiation from intakes of radionuclides during pregnancy. It suggests that (a) doses from environmental emissions from nuclear reactors to embryos/foetuses near reactors may be much larger than currently estimated, and (b) that haematopoietic tissues may be considerably more radiosensitive in embryos/foetuses than in babies. Whatever the explanation(s), the recent epidemiological evidence provides strong evidence that living near nuclear reactors carries grave health risks for babies and children - more than doubling their risk of leukemia.
Baker P and Hoel D (2007) Meta-analysis of standardized incidence and mortality rates of childhood leukaemias in proximity to nuclear facilities. Eur J Cancer Care. 2007;16:355-363.
CERRIE (2004) Report of the Committee Examining the Radiation Risks of Internal Emitters. www.cerrie.org
Fairlie I (2009) Childhood Cancers near German Nuclear Power Stations: Hypothesis to Explain the Cancer Increases. Medicine, Conflict and Survival Vol 25, No 3. 2009, pp 206-220.
Hoffmann W et al (2007) Childhood Leukemia in the Vicinity of the Geesthacht Nuclear Establishments near Hamburg, Germany. Environmental Health Perspectives. Vol 115, No 6, June 2007.
Kaatsch P et al (2008) Leukaemia in young children living in the vicinity of German nuclear power plants. Int J Cancer. 2008; 122(4) pp 721-6.
Fairlie I and Körblein A (2009) Review of epidemiology studies of childhood leukaemia near nuclear facilities: Commentary on Laurier et al. Radiation Protection Dosimetry (2009) Vol 137, Number 3-4 doi:10.1093/rpd/ncp246.
Mobbs et al (2009) An introduction to the estimation of risks arising from the exposure to low doses of ionising radiation. HPA-RPD-055. Health Protection Agency. Oxford.
Spix C et al (2008) Case-control study on childhood cancer in the vicinity of nuclear power plants in Germany 1980 - 2003. Eur J Cancer. 2008 Jan; 44(2) pp 275-84.