PUBLIC HEALTH, RADIATION
An epidemiological study which found an increased incidence of childhood leukaemia near the Sellafield, UK nuclear reprocessing plant.
The Sellafield study identified 4 children of fathers exposed to > 100 mSv* who developed leukaemia, inculpating a genetic event–the so-called “Gardner effect” below the legal exposure level of 50 milliSieverts/year (1 rad = 10 milliSieverts) which passed to the fetus via sperm. While it was meticulously performed, the statistical power of the Study is weak. In mice, the offspring produced with irradiated spermatogonia had no increase in leukaemia; furthermore, in France, where 75% of electricity comes from nuclear power plants, there is no increase in leukaemia; in those occupationally exposed to low levels of radioactivity–e.g., Oak Ridge National Lab, US, the radiation-cancer dose response is 10-fold higher than previous estimates and the incidence of leukaemia only 2-fold greater; living near such facilities does not appear to increase mortality. The bottom line is that the data is complex, the levels of secondary exposure unknown, and effects of low-level exposure to radiation uncertain.