Azara Blog: Nuclear power stations allegedly not linked to childhood cancer

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Date published: 2005/06/10

The BBC says:

There is categorically no evidence that living near nuclear power stations increases the rate of childhood cancers, says a report.

The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment based its conclusions on data on 32,000 childhood cancer cases from 1969-93 in the UK.

Overall, children living within a 25km radius of a site were no more likely to get cancer than those living elsewhere.

The latest research is the largest study so far looking at the cancer risk posed, if any, by power stations.

Professor Bryn Bridges, chairman of COMARE during the preparation of this, its 10th report, said: "We think this is as definitive a study as one can do.

"There is no evidence from this very large study that living within 25km of a nuclear generating station in Great Britain is associated with any increased risk of childhood cancer."

"We can give power stations a clean bill of health," said Professor Bridges.

Critics maintain power stations do pose a cancer risk.

Chris Busby of Green Audit, an environmental consultancy and review organisation, said: "By looking at a 25k radius they are not dealing with the actual real world movement of radioactivity from power stations to people.

"The wind blows in particular directions and the materials are released into the environment in particular ways. Much of it ends up in the sea and the coastline. We have told them this. These radial studies are meaningless.

"Also, they should be looking at adult cancers, particularly female breast cancers, as well.

"Childhood leukaemia is a rare disease and the numbers involved are going to be so small that it is much more difficult to get the levels of statistical significance that you need to see an effect."

But Professor Bridges said it was better to look at childhood cancers because children were more sensitive to the effects of radiation and they were less likely to have moved around a lot geographically, making it easier to check for any link.

Of course the so-called environmentalists hate modern technology, in particular nuclear power, so will never accept any result that doesn't agree with their preconceived notions that such technology is evil and the end of the world. Having said that, the 25 km radius approach does seem slightly odd. 25 km is a heck of a long way from a nuclear power station (unless it blows up). The whole way this kind of study is done is also unfortunate. You can certainly say that no correlation means no causation (and that is apparently the case here, subject to the misgivings about the area). But with these kinds of studies you can often find a correlation, and then the people with axes to grind claim that this proves some causation and it never does (and of course if A and B are correlated then it could be A causing B or B causing A or both caused by a third thing or ...). All technology carries risk, and the idea should not be to get hysterical about the risk but to quantify it and determine if the risk justifies the reward (in this case power). Unfortunately the chattering classes do not want to carry out sensible debate, just sensationalist hand-wringing.

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