Sellafield Study “Hides Cancer Increases”
It seems the study commissioned by our pro-nuclear government is not all
it cracks up to be.
The study funded by the Department of Health and published by the British
Journal of Cancer found no difference in cancer incidence from 1991 -2006
between those living near Sellafield (and Dounreay) and the larger
population. The report magnanimously acknowledges that there was
increased incidence of leukaemia before 1991 but infers that Sellafield
has since cleaned up its act (despite its continuing crash programme of
reprocessing) to such an extent that the Sellafield area is now entirely
safe for young families.
The reassuring report has been dealt a blow by criticism from leading scientists.
Dr Ian Fairlie is a leading independent scientist and consultant on
radioactivity in the environment. He has collaborated with leading German
scientist Dr Korblein to analyse the new
report. Dr Fairlie comments that the report commissioned by the
Department of Health and reassuring those living near Sellafield and
Dounreay, should never have been published. He goes on to say it is
“misleading” as “over all cancers and all years, the observed cancer
increases in fact were highly statistically significant”
More Information on Dr Ian Fairlie’s website
The full text is here:
Comments on another BJC article
Posted on July 25, 2014
In 2013, the British Journal of Cancer published an article (Bithell et
al, 2013) (for references see below) purporting to show there were no
leukemia increases in young children near UK nuclear power plants (NPPs).
I published a post criticising this article stating that it should not
have been published. The BJC has now printed a similar article (Bunch et
al, 2014) which, if anything, is even worse than the 2013 one. The new
article also should never have been published.
The new report concludes, first, that children, teenagers and young adults
currently living close to Sellafield and Dounreay are not at an increased
risk of developing cancer. Second, it concludes there is no evidence of
any increased cancer risk later in life among those resident in these
areas at birth.
However a close reading of the actual data in the reportís table 3 in fact
reveals statistically significant cancer increases measured across all
years and ages. The data layout in their table 3 carefully hides these
increases so the data are more clearly laid out below (for Seascale ward),
together with p values kindly added by Dr Alfred Kˆrblein.
The very low p values in Seascale ward show that the cancer increases
there are statistically significant, ie are not due to chance. It is
notable that these increases and their accompanying p values are NOT
discussed in the new report.
Total leukaemias (0-24 y)
Obs Exp SIR P value* RR P value**
study region 6 0.91 6.59 0.0004
control region 68 76.33 0.89 0.8442 7.40 0.0002
All malignancies (0-24 y)
Obs Exp SIR P value* RR P value**
study region 12 3.66 3.28 0.0004
control region 321 322.27 1.00 0.5356 3.29 0.0005
Obs= observed, Exp= expected, SIR= standardised incidence ratio, RR=
*one-sided P value (Poisson test), **one-sided P value (Binomial test)
both calculated by Dr Alfred Kˆrblein
So, at Seascale, the leukemia risk is 7.4-times greater than the control
area (RR=7.4, P=0.0002), and for all malignancies, the risk is 3.3 times
greater than the control area (RR= 3.3, P=0.0005).
The new article should therefore have reported that statistically
significant cancer increases occurred across all ages and cancers in
Seascale, about 4 km from Sellafield. Instead, the printed conclusions
refrain from this and make misleading inferences in selected analyses
which appear to show the opposite. This is poor science.
Let’s unpack that first conclusion that children, teenagers and young
adults currently living near Sellafield are not at an increased risk of
developing cancer. This is presumably based on the most recent data
(1991-2006) which show 1 observed case (0-14 yr olds) and 1 observed case
(15-24 yr olds). In fact, these are increases over the expected numbers,
but you can’t say anything definite one way or the other as the numbers
are far too small for meaningful conclusions. Also these data are now
eight years old: can we really say that young people currently living near
Sellafield are not running risks?
Let’s unpack the second conclusion that ìthere is no evidence of any
increased cancer risk later in life among those resident in these areas at
birthî. This is presumably based on the data for those aged 15-24, but in
fact, these again show actual increases (Observed 4, Expected 1.43 for all
cases). Again you canít be definite from such small numbers as the
increases are still not statistically significant, but to say there was no
increased risk when in fact the numbers show the opposite is perverse and
Given the lack of statistical power in their chosen analyses and given the
fact that increases were actually found, the report should not have
concluded that people were not at risk. Instead it should have reported
the cancer increases but added that the results of its chosen analyses
were not statistically significant as they were underpowered. However, it
should also have added that, over all cancers and all years, the observed
cancer increases in fact were highly statistically significant.
There is a second major flaw in this study. Leukemia incidences vary a
great deal depending on age at detection. Grouping babies and infants
with other ages may mask increases among them, as any increase could be
diluted by the numbers at older ages. This problem is well known and itís
for this reason that almost all studies in this area have focussed on
under 5 year olds. This study should have done the same: it didn’t.
Another problem is that the leukemia data from 1963 to 1990 at Seascale
only shows 5 cases. But the famous study by Gardner et al (1990) revealed
10 such cases. Where have the other 5 cases gone? Were they all detected
Fourth, the study refrains from discussing the huge amount of evidence
world-wide on childhood leukemias near NPPs as discussed by myself
(Fairlie, 2013) and many others. It hardly mentions the important German
KiKK study (Kaatsch et al, 2008) and ignores the meta-analysis of four
European studies by Korblein and Fairlie (2012) which conclusively showed
increased leukemia risks among under fives, living within five km of
almost all NPPs in France, Germany, Switzerland and the UK.
In sum, like the similar study of leukemias the BJC published in 2013,
this study should also not have been published as it is misleading and
contains no scientifically useful information.
(PS This post concentrates on Sellafield but similar considerations and
criticisms apply to the Dounreay data.)
I wish to thank Dr Korblein for his invaluable help in writing this post.
Bithell JF, M F G Murphy, C A Stiller, E Toumpakari, T Vincent and R
Wakeford. (2013) Leukaemia in young children in the vicinity of British
nuclear power plants: a caseñcontrol study. Br J Cancer. advance online
publication, September 12, 2013; doi:10.1038/bjc.2013.560.
Bunch KJ, T J Vincent1, R J Black, M S Pearce, R J Q McNally, P A
McKinney, L Parker, A W Craft and M F G Murphy (2014) Updated
investigations of cancer excesses in individuals born or resident in the
vicinity of Sellafield and Dounreay. British Journal of Cancer (2014),
1ñ10 | doi: 10.1038/bjc.2014.357
Fairlie I (2013) A hypothesis to explain childhood cancers near nuclear
power plants. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity 133 (2014) 10e17
Gardner MJ, Snee MP; Hall AJ; Powell CA; Downes S; Terrell JD (1990)
Results of case-control study of leukaemia and lymphoma among young people
near Sellafield nuclear plant in West Cumbria. BMJ. 1990;300:423ñ429.
Kaatsch P, Spix C, Schulze-Rath R, Schmiedel S, Blettner M. (2008)
Leukaemia in young children living in the vicinity of German nuclear power
plants. Int J Cancer; 122: 721-726.
Korblein A and Fairlie I (2012) French Geocap study confirms increased
leukemia risks in young children near nuclear power plants. Int J Cancer