Health experts slam Hinkley claims

By Simon Angear, Bridgwater Mercury, 2nd March 2008

NEW claims by anti-nuclear campaigners that towns downwind of Hinkley Point Power Station show a three-fold rise in infant mortality rates have this week been attacked by health experts.

Brean, Berrow, Burnham, Highbridge, Huntspill, Combwich and Pawlett were identified in a new study as having infant death rates three times higher than the norm between 1996 and 2001.

The figures were made public by Dr Chris Busby of Green Audit, who was commissioned to carry out the study by protest group Stop Hinkley.

His findings said the rate of deaths in under one-year-olds in the area was ten per thousand, compared to a national average of 3.5 - a comparison which anti-nuclear lobbyists say adds weight to claims that radioactive particles from Hinkley are harming nearby residents.

Former Cancer Registry head Dr Derek Pheby said in response: "This is a serious finding, and most unlikely to have arisen by chance.

"Clearly this is a serious matter, which warrants further investigation."

And Stop Hinkley spokesman Jim Duffy added: "The tide is turning, with more scientific support for the compelling evidence that radiation is harmful to local communities and particularly to vulnerable infants.

"Hinkley B should shut down and the Hinkley C project abandoned."

However, Dr Busby's findings and the subsequent claims made by anti-nuclear groups have been refuted by the head of an organisation which monitors health issues throughout the South-West.

Dr Julia Verne is the director of the South West Public Health Observatory, and says Dr Busby's findings are "misleading, and might easily cause unnecessary anxiety to local people".

The Observatory has carried out more detailed studies over longer periods, and found "only very low" infant death rates in any Somerset ward.

Dr Verne said: "We have undertaken our own statistical analysis of infant deaths - looking around Hinkley Point, the mud flats and the tidal River Parrett - and we have found no significant increase.

"When looking at local infant deaths, they have only ever been in very low numbers, but even small changes in the geographic area where numbers are reviewed can have significant effects upon the interpretation of the statistics and this in turn can easily lead to misleading or even false conclusions.

"I am therefore concerned that local people may become unnecessarily anxious when reading or hearing campaigners' claims of increased rates of cancers and now infant deaths around Hinkley Point."

Emails sent to the Bridgwater Mercury website on the subject:

Posted by: Paul Courtney, Chard

South West Public Health Observatory, which monitors the health of the population in the South West, has found no evidence of increased infant mortality in the Burnham on Sea area. Looking at deaths over a 12-year period (from 1995-2006), they found only very low numbers of between 0 and 3 deaths in any one ward in Somerset in any one year. The infant death rates were found to be no higher than would be expected as a result of statistical fluctuations occurring randomly from year to year.

Their statistical analysis can found on the SW Public Health Observatory web site at:

Paul, Chard, Somerset .

Posted by: Michael Ryan, Shrewsbury

I've consistently found elevated rates of infant mortality downwind of incinerators and other industrial sources of PM2.5s, having examined ONS data for years 2003-6:

The Environment Agency kindly sent me a list of 34 incinerators in England & Wales that they allowed radioactive waste to be burnt at during 2002, including several nuclear power stations.

Dr Julia Verne should easily be able to examine the same dataset as Dr Chris Busby and confirm that the figures are correct or false. She has not chosen to do that, so we can assume that Dr Busby has correctly been able to count infant deaths and add up the numbers of live births in electoral wards.

Why do these public health doctors want to keep the lid on this sort of information?

They might think differently if they'd buried an infant who suddenly died or a child with leukaemia as my wife and I have had to. Congratulations to Dr Busby & Green Audit & BBC Inside Out,

Kind regards, Michael Ryan, Shrewsbury

Posted by: Hazel, Burnham

A friend was always letting her child play around on Burnham beach. The child later developed and died of leukaemia. My friend always suspected a link, and this was about 15 years ago, before all this new publicity. Where there's smoke there's fire, and industrial pollution with serious health issue.

Posted by: Tim, Bridgwater

The fine mentioned above was actually £13,000 and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution said in court the amount of radioactive waste discharged was not significant and at the bottom end of the scale. It was well reported and documented at the time.

There is some useful information - including comment on some of the same author's previous reports - on the website of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment which advises the Government (www.comare.or)


Posted by: Richard Lawson, North Somerset

Here is a list of other places where neoplastic diseases have been found in association with low level radiation:

1. Leiston - 14 leukaemia cases near Sizewell A - workers - 8 times the expected level.
2. Lydney - 6 cases near Oldbury & Berkeley
3. Dorset - cases near Winfrith
4. Southport near Springfields
5. Menai Straits
6. Burnham - excess breast cancer cases
7. Hunterston in West Scotland , leukaemia 1975-81 double the expected rate
8. Chapel Cross
9. Chernobyl
10. Sellafield - four times more childhood leukaemias than expected.
11. Dounreay : leukaemia 1979-84 among under-25s within a 7 mile radius of the plant 10 x the national average
12. Aldermaston
13. Winfrith
14. Holy Loch
15. Rocky Flats
16. Nuclear workers prostate cancer (BMJ)
17. "Downwinders" : Nevada , Hanford , (downwind of nuclear testing facility)
18. Marshall Islands - after nuclear bomb tests.
19. Cap La Hague
20. Mainz study - double risk Leukaemia for children 5km from Nuclear Power Stations.

Each of these will have been criticised by sceptics like Dr Verne - but taken en masse, a pattern begins to emerge.


Posted by: Alan Debenham, Taunton

I am a member of Stop Hinkley but also a mathematician and scientist who has always had a non-fixed discerning opinion of nuclear power station's detrimental effects on local environment and people's health.

Bearing in mind the severely limited and small number bases upon which Chris Busby's research findings are derived, heavy caution in interpretation of the bald statistical evidence must be used. This Chris has done and still, as everyone can see, the results definitely are a strong warning of health troubles which demand further study and correlation back-up before any definite conclusions (with at least a 90% significance level) can be really confidently drawn.

The reactions of local and regional Health Authorities should have been supportive of Chris Busby in this way not the usual absolute disclaimer without one jot of counteracting statistics.

Posted by: Joe Norman, Clevedon

Chris Busby points out that there are several health issues around Hinckley Point, and that the child mortality study adds to the list. I am convinced that there is a case to answer which ought to be investigated thoroughly and openly.

This investigation will not be done while the monitoring and health authorities are in denial, as they seem to be. Britain is about to start building a new wave of nuclear power stations on the same sites. What is the cost going to be in the health of local residents? How can we lower this cost?


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Posted by: Chris Busby, Aberystwyth

What everyone seems to have missed is that this study was done because we found double breast cancer mortality excess in Burnham North, (downwind and near the sediment) in 2000, then double the incidence of breast cancer and also leukaemia in the same downwind ward in the local PCAH questionnaire survey in 2003.

Cancer is caused by genetic damage and this in turn is caused by radiation. That is why we looked for the infant mortality rates in Burnham North and also in the estuary wards. Infant mortality is also caused by genetic damage and by radiation. We found a significant excess in both Burnham North and in the estuary wards, but we also found that there was a peak in 1996, after the leak from the plant in October 1994 for which the operators were fined £20,000 by the Nuclear Inspectorate.

Julia Verne attacked our breast cancer and leukaemia findings when we published those, but then discovered they were correct. She then argued that they were a chance finding, or else related to the mobile mammography unit having visited Burnham (hardly an explanation for mortality excess). Now Verne et al are careful to concentrate only the infant mortality finding, but this has to be seen as part of a bigger picture and an extension of earlier studies. How many wards in the area have double the breast cancer, double the leukaemia and also 3 times the infant mortality? The only one is downwind of a nuclear site that releases substances that cause both.

Gotcha, would be a term that might apply

Chris Busby


Posted by: J Brown, Burnham-on-Sea

In Burnham we have seen huge increases in men, women and children dying from cancers caused by breathing in radioactive pollution blown by the wind and brought on the tide from Hinkley Point nuclear reactors. If you haven't got time to read all the scientific proof, just look around you at the children's hospices full of leukarmia patients, the cancer units full of women with breast cancer and men with prostate cancer. This started in 1966, the year after nuclear power started at Hinkley. The cancer increases and premature deaths continue to this day.


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