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Cancer: Nuclear Power Stations

Volume 485: debated on Wednesday 17 December 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will commission research on the potential for causal correlation between incidence of cancer and proximity to nuclear power stations. (244154)

The independent advisory Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE), which was established in 1985 in response to the final recommendation of the Black report (Black, 1984) has undertaken and published a number of studies on the incidence of cancer in populations in the neighbourhood of nuclear power stations in the United Kingdom. Details of all COMARE's publications are available on its website

In 2005 COMARE published its tenth report, which reviewed earlier evidence and presented new data relating to childhood cancers around nuclear installations in Great Britain. By doing this, it investigated whether the claims of an excess of childhood cancer around some specific nuclear installations are a regular feature of the majority of the largest nuclear sites in Great Britain.

The peer-reviewed report concluded that there was no evidence of excess numbers of cases in any local 25 km area around nuclear power stations, which would include either primary exposure to radioactive discharges or secondary exposure from re-suspended material. This report puts various allegations of other cancer clusters around nuclear installations into context.

The 11th COMARE report shows that childhood leukaemia and many other types of childhood cancers do not occur evenly within the population of Great Britain. There are a variety of incidence rates in different geographical and social circumstances and these differ more that would be expected than from simple random or chance variations. This uneven distribution (or clustering) occurs at all levels of population distribution throughout the country, down to very local levels such as those of electoral wards. It is not known why childhood cancers tend to cluster like this. Much attention has been given to interactions between exposure to infections and immune responses. Other possible explanations have also been considered, including exposure to environmental agents. The analyses in this report have been carried out on the largest dataset of childhood cancer cases ever compiled anywhere in the world. The very large dataset gives considerable confidence in the results.

To carry out the studies described in its report required a very large database and was compiled over a considerable time scale. The database was constructed from the National Registry of Childhood Tumours by staff of the Childhood Cancer Research Group in Oxford. The current dataset consists of 12,415 cases of childhood leukaemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and 19,908 cases of children with solid tumours registered under the age of 15 in England, Wales and Scotland from 1969 to 1993 inclusive.