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June 13 2006


By Martin Shipton, Western Mail

Cancer rates in villages near the Trawsfynydd power station are
'alarmingly high' leading to new concerns about the side-effects of
nuclear power, a new investigation reveals.

The study claims that women under 50 are particularly at risk, with
their level of cancer during the past three years being 15 times more
than the national average.

The figures are based on a face-to-face survey with villagers in Llan
Ffestiniog, Gellilydan and Cwm Prysor, Gwynedd. Researchers for S4C
current affairs programme Y Byd Ar Bedwar knocked on the doors of more
than 400 houses in the area with a questionnaire asking about cancer
cases in the family. They got a reply from 88% of the households.

A report based on the questionnaires was written by Dr Chris Busby, a
director of the Aberystwyth-based environmental consultancy Green
Audit. He has written a number of other reports on cancer levels
around nuclear installations, but says the results of the Llan
Ffestiniog study were far more shocking than the others.

'I would describe the last three years as showing a meltdown in the
situation in that area,' said Dr Busby. 'It's a really alarmingly high
level of cancer.'

The programme-makers obtained anecdotal details of all cancers which
had been diagnosed in the past 10 years. The results showed there was
a highly significant excess cancer risk in the past three years,
especially among younger people.

The research found that the number of women under 50 diagnosed with
cancer in the past three years was 15 times higher than the national
average for England and Wales.Five of the female respondents under 60
had been diagnosed with breast cancer, which is five times more than
the expected figure for the local population.

One of those is a member of Gwynedd County Council's executive
committee. Plaid Cymru councillor Linda Jones said, 'I'm so glad this
survey was done and I hope now that the results will be investigated
by an independent body to look into what has caused these high levels
of cancer.'

Six months ago she alerted the programme to the high levels of cancer
in Llan Ffestiniog. Many villagers have often wondered whether
radiation from the nuclear power station is responsible for cancer
levels in the area, but up until now nobody has undertaken a
conclusive study to establish whether the rates are actually higher
than normal.

The Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit in Cardiff does
collate cancer figures for the whole of Wales, but has never published
a breakdown for small areas.

Former UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher said the Y Byd ar
Bedwar figures were a 'sensational development', and said the
Government should instigate a full inquiry. 'The true health effects
must be resolved before any commitment to new nuclear power stations
is made', he said.

The Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit refused to respond
to the new figures. In a statement its director Dr John Steward
questioned the methodology used and said the results were likely to be
biased. The statement said, 'It was obtained from door to door and
therefore depends on co-operation which will be higher in those with
cases in the family. It is based on self-reports which are not
confirmed by medical records.'

But Dr Busby is adamant that his conclusions should be taken
seriously. He said that fallout from Chernobyl in 1986 could have had
a bearing on the results. But he believes the most obvious suspect is
Trawsfynydd nuclear power station.

'There is a very high and statistically significant level of cancer
near a nuclear plant which is releasing material which causes cancer,'
he said. 'Now if that's being alarmist then this is quite right
because there shouldn't be such a plant. If that plant wasn't there,
and if Chernobyl hadn't happened, most of these women would be okay,
and some of the ones that have died would be alive.'

Trawsfynydd power station stopped operating in 1991, and is now being
decommissioned. A spokesman for the British Nuclear Group Reactor
Sites, which is now responsible for the site, said, 'Discharges from
Trawsfynydd have always been strictly controlled and monitored with
limits set by relevant regulators to ensure protection of public
health. Trawsfynydd has always operated within those limits.'

But for cancer sufferer Linda Jones the Government needs to look once
more at the possible effects on public health before proceeding with
plans to expand nuclear energy.

'If they want to build nuclear power stations, fine, and I'm sure
they'll spend millions of pounds doing so. Why don't they spend some
money first to look at what causes this?'