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Hear Chris Busby interview on low level radiation risks,,2761-1198060,00.html (requires registration)

Government gags experts over nuclear plant risks

Mark Gould and Jonathan Leake
Sunday Times August 1st 2004

A bitter row has broken out inside a Government safety committee after two
of its experts were barred from voicing fears that radiation from nuclear
installations poses greater threat than previously thought.

Government lawyers have blocked a minority finding written by the two from
being included in the committee's final report , which follows a three year
investigation into the effects of low-level radiation.

Dr Chris Busby and Richard Bramhall, members of the Committee Examining
Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters, believe that the risk of cancer from
low level radiation dangers [sic] is greater than realised.

They claim that previous methods of calculating the effects of emissions on
people living near nuclear installations have underestimated the risk by a
factor of up to 300.

If correct, the study could explain the clusters of cancer and leukaemia
cases found close to nuclear installations in north Wales and Essex and near
Sellafield in Cumbria. But the claims have divided members of the committee,
with some supporting the gagging while others have accused civil servants of

A senior radiation scientist has already resigned in protest and the last
meeting of the committee became a shouting match that members feared was
going to degenerate into a fist fight.

The committee's official report - which has majority support - will be
published this autumn and says the risk is greater than previously thought,
but only by a factor of 10.

Lawyers at DEFRA, the environment ministry, have sent letters to all 12
members of the committee warning them that they could be sued for defamation
if they include Bramhall and Busby's minority report.

Michael Meacher
, who set up the committee while he was environment minister
in 2001, is furious that not all the experts' views will be represented. "I
have written to Elliott Morley, the current environment minister, asking for
an explanation," he said.

The committee was created to examine concern that the government's method of
estimating the risk of cancer to people living near nuclear installations
was inadequate. Such calculations were based on the radiation doses
received by casualties from the Hiroshima bomb used against Japan in 1945.

There have long been doubts about such data, partly because they are so old
and partly because Hiroshima victims were exposed to a short and very
intensive dose of external radiation.

By contrast, people living near nuclear sites tend to experience a different
form of radiation - suffering small doses over a long period of time from
eating or breathing contaminated particles.

Such radiation is thought to do proportionately more harm because it is
inhaled or ingested and so can attack the body's most delicate organs.

Recognising the complexity of the science, Meacher set up the committee with
representatives of the nuclear industry, green groups and independent
scientists and asked them to include a range of views in their findings,
including any minority reports.

Busby and Bramhall say that since Meacher was sacked the committee has been
taken over by people with pro-nuclear views who have done their best to
suppress opposing

"The basis of these calculations is completely wrong and as a consequence
people living near Sellafield and other installations have been suffering
elevated rates of cancers and all sorts of other diseases," Busby said. "The other members
of the committee and DEFRA may not agree with our report but they should
still be publishing it."

Some other committee members disagree. They point out that both men are
ardent anti-nuclear campaigners and claim that their report was riddled with

"The extreme views held by these two meant that the committee became
completely polarised with members shouting at each other in anger and
exasperation," one said."

In the end we could not be associated with a minority report that was
factually wrong, so it was referred to the lawyers."

Fears that the committee is being gagged are echoed by Marion Hill, a senior
scientist with 30 years' expertise in radiation safety. Hill, who
emphasises that she is not a member of the green lobby, resigned from the
committee in February. In her letter of resignation she accused the
committee chairman, Professor Dudley Goodhead, and Ian Fairlie, another
member of the secretariat, of biasing the report process so that Busby and
Bramhall's views were marginalised.

She said yesterday: "It's a complete failure when you have a scientific
committee that is not allowed to write anything about disagreements over

Richard Bramhall
Low Level Radiation Campaign


August 8 , 2004 - page created by Charlie Jenks