Environment Health

Sellafield whodunnit? Answer: “mystery virus”

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And Now Let’s Have Cake!

The Department of Health has a delicious sense of irony. While people “Stand Up to Cancer” and cakes are being baked across the UK to raise money for a well-known cancer charity, the Department of Health has released its Review of Childhood Cancer Incidence near Sellafield and Dounreay.


For decades the government has acknowledged a well-documented increase of childhood leukaemia in the area surrounding Sellafield. This includes a 10-fold increase in the village of Seascale. In the 1980s many local families living up to 20 miles away who had been impacted by this terrible disease took the operators of the Sellafield site (then British Nuclear Fuels Ltd) to court. The families lost their case with the judge ruling that radiation dose to the public from the plant was too low to have caused leukaemia. Variations of this judgement have been rammed down the throats of Cumbrians ever since.

Later, the UK government took seriously (and gratefully?) the work of Professor Leo Kinlen, an epidemiologist based at the University of Oxford, UK. The Leo Kinlen theory, put forward in 1988, suggests that exposure to a common unidentified infection through population mixing results in childhood leukaemia. Professor Kinlen stated:

“This exposure is greater, when people from urban areas mix with rural communities e.g. when construction workers and nuclear staff move into the Sellafield area.”

Rather contradicting this view and with two fingers up to the public, the industry provides a Compensation Scheme for Radiation Linked Diseases for its workforce from which millions of pounds have been paid out

The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment’s latest report tells us that:

“As discussed in the fourth and seventh reports, there is, at present, no generally accepted explanation for the increased incidence of leukaemia and non-Hodgkin Lymphoma among young people in Seascale. It seems most unlikely to be simply attributable to exposure to radiation from radioactive discharges because the doses are so low, and it has been suggested that the excess risk may be largely or wholly due to the effects of an infectious agent (or agents) introduced by exceptional rural population mixing.”

Recently Radiation Free Lakeland wrote to Dr Paul Dorfman on this WhoDunnit mystery. Dr Dorfman served as Secretary to the UK governmental scientific advisory Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters (CERRIE). He is an acknowledged expert on radiation risk.

We wrote to Dr Dorfman because history is about to repeat itself. The plan in Cumbria is to parachute in over 4000 temporary workers to the site of the proposed “biggest new nuclear development in Europe” which the industry calls “Moorside.” Although next door to Sellafield, this proposal is on greenfields and 300 “exploratory” boreholes are already being drilled on the flood plain of the River Ehen in anticipation of the green light for Moorside from government.


The lovely, quaint Lakeland village in which the site is situated, Beckermet has a small population of 1,619 (2011).  The pro-nuclear Mayor of Copeland, Mike Starkie, has said that temporary workers should be “integrated into the community” rather than living in vast temporary accommodation blocks a few miles away at Egremont and Whitehaven.   Mike Starkie, along with the then Secretary of State Amber Rudd, have refused to answer our questions about population mixing versus radioactive emissions as a cause of excess childhood leukemia.

Childhood leukaemia related to radiation releases

Dr Paul Dorfman, an acknowledged expert on radiation risk did reply to us saying:

“Regards to future risk of childhood ill-health in Cumbria – I, like you, am of the clear opinion that the acknowledged significant increase in childhood leukaemia in Cumbria is associated with radiation releases from nuclear power plant.

“However, there is no question but that the view of the key UK governmental radiation risk scientific advisory body – the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) – is that the Cumbrian childhood leukaemia excess is most likely associated with a ‘population mixing’. In other words, COMARE, and hence the UK government state that the Cumbrian childhood leukaemia excess is due to a novel virus brought in by a large number of construction workers which then goes on to infect a relatively isolated local population who do not have a defence against this virus.

“In this context, the UK government must take responsibility for this view. Thus the UK government must inform the local community to expect a potential increase in risk of childhood leukeamia following the construction of the planned nuclear facility at Moorside.”

The industry are in overdrive on the propaganda front here in Cumbria. The developers of the Moorside site, Toshiba and Engie (NuGen) have been baking cakes for cancer. Not just any old cakes, mind…this is a self-raising AP1000, of which three are planned in the vicinity of Sellafield.

Proximity nightmares

Former US regulator Arnie Gundersen has visited the Moorside site and was shocked to see the proximity of the already uniquely vulnerable and hazardous Sellafield site. He describes the untried, untested AP1000 nuclear reactors as “Chernobyl on Steroids.”

So, if Moorside is not stopped, the best Cumbrians can hope for is for history to repeat itself and for there to be an increase in childhood leukemia as a result of population mixing. The worst we can hope for is increasing the hazard of cumulative accidental and routine radioactive emissions from Sellafield and Moorside. Either way this is an abuse of human rights.

One thing is for sure, it would be far easier to halt nuclear developments than to stop ‘population mixing’ as endorsed by the UK government.

Even the most pro-nuclear council, Copeland, says in its 2016 Local Plan that there should be no population increase near the hazardous Sellafield sprawl.

Why is this essential advice to Cumbria’s safety now being overwritten by Copeland Council, and by the UK government’s Department of Health? Radiation Free Lakeland urge other NGOs, groups and individuals who value health, clean air and clean water to join the resistance to Moorside and the nuclear “renaissance”.

Signing the Stop Moorside petition is a good place to start.



  1. Sellafield and the Suffering Children – Observer Magazine 1989
  2. Cancer Clusters at Sites Not Linked to Radiation
  3. Compensation Scheme for Radiation Linked Diseases
  4. Nuclear Free Local Authorities Briefing
  5. Temporary Homes for nuclear workers

Copeland Borough Council’s Local Plan for 2001-2016 states:


  • 1  Two premises have been notified to the Council as hazardous Installations under arrangements set out in ODPM Circular 04/00 “Planning Controls for Hazardous Substances”. Consultation zones have been established within which it would be undesirable for there to be any significant population increase, and clearly the nearer the site is to the installation the greater the risk. Consultations are carried out with the Health and Safety Executive including, where appropriate, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. The relevant premises are:-
    1. Sellafield: nuclear reactors and fuel reprocessing (2 mile zone)
    2. Huntsman, Whitehaven: chemical works (1 kilometre zone)

The document referred to in Copeland’s Local Plan “Planning Controls for Hazardous Substances” goes on to say that:

“To implement the requirements of Article 12.1 of the SEVESO II Directive, Regulation 20 of the Town and Country Planning (Development Plan) (England) Regulations 1999 requires that in formulating their general policies in Part 1 of a unitary development plan, local planning authorities shall have regard to the objectives of the Directive. These are:

to prevent major accidents and limit the consequences of such accidents for man and the environment;

in the long term, to maintain appropriate distances between establishments and residential areas, areas of public use and areas of particular natural sensitivity or interest; and,

in relation to existing establishments, for additional technical measures so as not to increase risks to people.”




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