German official study: more leukaemia near nuclear plants

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DPA 8 December 2007

(Published in The Nation) Berlin - Children living near nuclear power stations are fare more likely to suffer leukaemia - cancers of the blood or bone marrow - than those living far away, a study funded by the German government has found, officials disclosed Saturday.

Government radiation specialists said they could not explain the finding, since there was no direct radiation from the 16 German plants, which are all scheduled for closure by 2022.

The study was paid for by the German Federal Radiation Protection Agency BfS, the government's main adviser on nuclear health.

It was conducted by the German Register of Child Cancer, an office in Mainz which is funded by the 16 German states and the Federal Health Ministry.

The study found that 37 children had come down with leukaemia in the period between 1980 and 2003 while having home addresses within 5 kilometres of nuclear power plants. The statistical average for Germany would have predicted just 17 cases in that group.

Statistically, the 20 extra cases could be associated with living close to the plants, but the BfS said more research was needed to discover if the presence of reactors was actually the cause of the cancers.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the government radiation safety committee would analyse the findings.

BfS said current science held that radiation from reactors themselves or their emissions was too weak outside the perimetre to cause cancer, and other conceivable risk factors also could "not explain this distance-related heightening of risk."

Germany generates more than 20,000 megawatts of electricity through nuclear power annually, around a quarter of its needs.

Despite broad public opposition to the plants, some German officials have suggested giving nuclear power a reprieve in order to reduce climate-damaging emissions from fossil fuels.