Over the coming months, in remembering this epic and historic case in the London High Court when West Cumbrian families sued Sellafield over cancers in children of radiation workers, CORE will be publishing the 1992/93 daily court transcripts.
The initial two test cases were brought by Leigh Day & Co. The first by Elizabeth Reay whose 10-month-old baby, Dorothy, died of leukaemia in 1962. George Reay, the baby’s father, died of cancer in the mid- 1980s and had received one of the highest radiation doses of any of the Sellafield workers. The second by Vivien Hope, 28, who had been diagnosed in 1988 with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, another blood cancer. Her father, David, was a fitter at the plant for more than 20 years. Up to 40 further cases were depending on the outcome.
Legally, the case would test for the first time the concept of genetic damage: whether radiation from Sellafield damaged the sperm of workers, resulting in leukaemia and related illnesses in their children (Gardner theory).
In his Opening Statement, QC Benet Hytner told the Court that BNFL had admitted in pre-trial agreements to underestimating occupational radiation doses in company records, including those of men who had worked on the exposed top of the Sellafield plutonium piles which could have led to radiation damage to their testicles. He accused BNFL of “having a cavalier attitude to the truth” and that Sellafield had pumped into the air 100 times more plutonium than the public had previously been told. By its own admittance BNFL had declared, in 1984, total releases of plutonium of 67 Giga Bequerels (GBq). Two years later this was revised upwards to 174 GBq, but the 1992 report by Professor Steve Jones for BNFL admitted that the total release of plutonium prior to 1984 had been the “staggering figure of 3400 GBq.”
Therefore, not only official and health enquiries into the operations of Sellafield were given the wrong plutonium figures, but Mr. Hytner alleged that the incorrect older data had also been used by BNFL in support of its new application for consent to the controversial start-up of the new THORP reprocessing plant.
The Sellafield trial was expected to break legal records on a number of fronts by being the most expensive and complex civil action the courts had seen, taking six to nine months and running up total costs of £10 million. Mr. Justice French, the High Court Judge would have to consider more than half a million pages of documents, as well as the oral evidence from 25 scientists called from each side.
British Nuclear Fuels denied liability
As new transcript files are posted on our website, they can be found under Health/Leukaemia Transcripts. The Opening Statements above have now been archived but can be obtained on request to firstname.lastname@example.org