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City N-cancer risk up to 10 times worse than feared.

The cancer risk from nuclear installations - including an industrial plant on the outskirts of Wales' capital city - could be 10 times as great as previously thought, according to a group of government scientists.

A report from CERRIE - the Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters - says the risk of cancer from exposure inside the human body could be much higher than the international safety limits allow.

Although the report also suggests the risk could be lower, campaigners last night renewed their call for Amersham plc, whose Cardiff operation, pictured, makes diag- nostic medical equipment, to stop using the radioactive chemical tritium. They pointed out that the levels of radiation associated with the plant are second only in dose to those at the nuclear power station in Sellafield, Cumbria.

Amersham, which recently changed its trading name to GE Healthcare, stressed that its emissions of tritium are well within legal limits.

The CERRIE report, a draft of which has been leaked to New Scientist magazine and the BBC, is due to be published in October. It says the risk of cancer from radiation could be 10 times higher or lower than previously thought.

The report could provoke a rethink of the rules on exposure to radiation in nuclear plants, said Rob Edwards, the New Scientist writer to whom the report was leaked.

He told the BBC, 'If it is confirmed that plutonium is 10 times more dangerous than previously thought, that must increase the likelihood that radiation is to blame for the cluster of childhood leukaemias at Sellafield,' he said.

Tritium, like plutonium, is also an emitter of low-level radiation.

Norma Procter, of Community Concern in Cardiff, a group that earlier this year presented a second petition about the Amersham plant to the European Parliament, said, 'We hope very much that this report will prompt the authorities in Wales and the UK to take a firmer line with Amersham.

'It has been known for several years from reports produced on Radioactivity in Food and the Environment by the Food Standards Agency and the Environment Agency that radiation dose levels at Amersham are second only to Sellafield.

'They always say that the level of emissions are safe and within legal limits, but we have had serious concerns for a long time about the safety levels operated in the UK. This new report adds to our concerns and in line with the precautionary principle we believe Amersham should stop using tritium immediately.'

Earlier this year, the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament agreed to investigate a petition presented by Community Concern which claimed, 'There is clear and accepted evidence of bioaccumulation of tritium in the Severn Estuary, an area covered by a Habitats Directive.

'There is bio-accumulation of tritium in both the fish and other organisms. The levels are higher than around any other nuclear establishment in the British Isles. It is agreed that these high levels are the result of discharges from Amersham's Cardiff site.

'Birds feeding in the Severn Estuary, a protected area, are found to have high levels of tritium and other radionuclides.

'In spite of reassurances by the company, UK government and the agencies, the people of Cardiff and the surrounding areas continue to feel great concern for the health of their children, the aged and the vulnerable who have to live within the daily discharges of radioactivity from the Amersham plant, knowing that radiation is addictive and cumulative over time.'

Mike Adlam, Amersham's Director of Site Operations in Cardiff, said, 'Since 1996 we have achieved an average of almost 60% reductions in discharges. To date we have invested pounds 10.5m in a waste recovery and recycling plant which will achieve radical reductions in discharges from the site.

'The Environment Agency Wales has recently completed a lengthy public review of our limits and issued authorisations in April this year. Regulatory reports routinely demonstrate that the impact of our discharges is only a small percentage of the legal limit. We will continue to operate well within international and UK safety limits.'

At the time of Community Concern's petition to the European Parliament, Mr Adlam said, 'This petition to the European Parliament is the second of its kind. At a meeting in October 2000, the Petitions Committee endorsed a report which clearly stated that neither the UK Government nor the company's Cardiff operation breached any European legislation.

'The Environment Agency Wales has recently completed an extensive review, which satisfied the National Assembly for Wales.

'In this review, all of the claims were thoroughly investigated and no further actions were judged necessary.

'In addition to this, several specialist health studies have also been carried out and no evidence of any impact on health has been found.

'The operations of the site are well within internationally accepted safe limits and the issues raised in the petition have already been thoroughly investigated by the relevant UK authorities.' What tritium is: Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen. Any possible health effects from it are the result of the beta radiation it emits.

Because tritium's radiation cannot penetrate the skin, the only real exposure a person receives is the radiation received while tritium is inside the body.

Exposure time, and thus the possibility of health effects, depends on the form of tritium present, elemental tritium gas or tritium oxide.

Tritium oxide can enter the body in various ways. It can be inhaled as water vapour, absorbed by the skin or consumed. Tritium in the food chain follows the same pattern. Beta radiation is a type of ionising radiation. Ionising refers to radiation that, when it passes through matter, has the potential to strip away electrons. When it passes through a human body, it can produce permanent changes in cells. There are three principal potential health effects: cancer, genetic effects and effects on foetuses.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 27, 2004
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