icwales.co.uk, June 13 2006
'ALARMING' CANCER RATES NEAR N-POWER STATION
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?'