The village of Seascale, 2 miles south of Sellafield and with a population of around 2000, remains as a dormitory town for Sellafield. A deceptively pleasant stretch of sandy beach runs northwards towards the Sellafield plant with its sea discharge pipeline just 2km off the coast. Whereas many decades ago the beach was often crowded with bathers, the sands are today practically deserted, even on the hottest summer day. Local residents like to blame sewage contamination, but many guide-books have made reference to the radioactive pollution from Sellafield.
The incidence of childhood leukaemia and cancer around Sellafield has been one of the most debated and researched issues in British medical history over the last 15 years. Although a statistically significant increased incidence of leukaemia and multiple myeloma (bone cancer) had been found in the late 70’s, the most controversial discovery came in the 1983 Yorkshire television documentary ‘Windscale-the Nuclear Laundry’ which found a ten times the national average childhood leukaemia incidence in Seascale. In other coastal parishes south of the plant cancer rates in young people was also found to be higher.
In 1993 the Government’s Health and Safety Executive confirmed that in Seascale the incidence of Leukaemia and Non Hodgkins Lymphoma was 14 times the national average and twice in other areas of West Cumbria. It also found a significantly increased risk between the leukaemias and a father’s pre-conceptional radiation dose (Gardner Hypothesis).
A year later the HSE published a review of its 1993 report and as a direct result of intervention by BNFL two findings were taken out, thus weakening support for the Gardner theory.
General Health Issues
In spite of the prosperity Sellafield is supposed to have brought to the area, West Cumbria has the worst health records for heart disease and cancers in the whole of the northern region of the UK. Health officials are also concerned about the high incidence of thyroid disorders and skin cancers. The area has been declared a health action zone.
On 8th October 1993 at the London High Court, two leukaemia victims lost their four-year battle for damages against BNFL. The Judges’ dismissal of the case did not say that there was no connection between radioactive emissions from Sellafield and leukaemia in children, but pointed instead to the lack of supporting evidence for the parental irradiation theory
Since then, the nuclear industry has considered itself ‘cleared’ and has stated that radioactivity from the Sellafield plant has nothing to do with the leukaemias in the area. Instead, they actively promote the viral theory – a virus brought in by workers from outside the area, or population mixing, as the cause of the childhood cancers. No virus has ever been identified and the only studies supporting the viral theory are those by the originator of the theory, Dr. Leo Kinlen.
Radiation is still one of the only known causes of childhood leukaemia. In Sellafield’s in-house magazine BNFL News, workers were told: “With regard to clusters of leukaemia near nuclear installations, it has been clear for long enough that there is no connection. So people in the nuclear industry no longer view these subjects with much anxiety. But, for a number of reasons, not all of them sensible, it has taken everyone else a bit longer to get on board.”
Pigeons which roost at the Sellafield site have been found to carry levels of radiation which even a BNFL spokeswoman described as significant.
CORE obtained 6 culled birds for Greenpeace who had them analysed at the French ACRO laboratory. High levels of contamination were found on the birds’ feathers. Levels of radioactivity of 403,000 Bq/kg of Caesium137 and 21,300 Bq/kg of Americium 241 were found on the feathers, and 50,000 Bq/kg of Caesium 137 in the breast meat and 176,000 Bq/kg of Strontium 90 in the skull bone. Highlighting the serious health risk to the public, Greenpeace pointed to the requirement for the birds to be classified as Low Level Waste. Analysis of a sample of garden soil from the sanctuary also showed it to be of Low Level Waste classification.
The revelation followed the initial cull by the RSPCA of a flock of around 2000 feral pigeons at a sanctuary in the village of Seascale. In an unprecedented step, the Ministry of Agriculture issued a warning to the local media that “any pigeons found within a ten mile radius of Sellafield should not be handled, slaughtered or consumed” and that “provisional results of analysis by BNFL indicate that eating the breast meat of about six birds would give a radiation dose of 1mSv.” – the dose limit for a member of the public for a whole year.
With the entire flock culled by BNFL, the bodies were entombed in lead canisters and buried at BNFL’s nearby Drigg licensed waste dump. The garden and tarmac drive from the sanctuary where the pigeons had been fed, were dug up and also removed for disposal at Drigg as Low Level Waste together with garden furniture, bird houses, flowers, shrubs and garden-gnomes.
The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate letter ordered BNFL to initiate a limited cull of a wide range of wildlife around the Sellafield site for testing. This included herring gulls, starlings, rooks, crows and sparrows together with cats, rabbits, mice and other small animals and even mosquitoes.