Campaign meets UK Environment Minister
report from Radioactive Times Volume 3, Number 1, March 1999 (content not updated)
On 24 November the Low Level Radiation Campaign met UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher and warned him of the dangers of the new Euratom Directive. Richard Livsey MP, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, introduced LLRC to the Minister. He pointed out that the essence of the problem with the Directive was that the scientific model underlying it was seriously in doubt. LLRC said that genetic damage from nuclear pollution threatened to be a massive embarrassment similar to BSE.
Listening carefully Mr Meacher said that the Government was listening carefully and had made no decisions about implementing the Directive. He said that he realised that as this was complex issue he would need to meet LLRC again. In the meantime asked for detailed evidence of health detriment from low level radiation.
LLRC prepared a substantial list and were asked back to face National Radiological Protection Board and Department of Health officials in Mr Meacher's office on 8 February. LLRC was represented by Dr Chris Busby, Molly Scott-Cato, and Richard Bramhall. NRPB was represented by Dr Roger Cox, head of Bio-Medical Effects Department, and Dr Colin Muirhead, head of Epidemiology. Dr Hilary Walker, from the Radiological Protection Department of DoH, and Chris Wilson, of DETR were also present.The Minister asked Dr Busby to outline his concerns. Busby described the weakness of the scientific case underlying radiation protection standards.
As an example of the epidemiological information which supports the contention that the science is inadequate, he summarised the latest findings of cancer relative to the Irish Sea. Mr Meacher asked NRPB to respond. Dr Cox said that NRPB’s estimation of radiation risk was based on an international consensus. Dr Muirhead gave a somewhat simplistic introduction to epidemiology, heavily emphasising its limitations as a means of estimating radiation risk. Dr Cox then went on to criticise Dr Busby’s Second Event theory, but after some discussion Richard Bramhall pointed out politely that he was introducing the theory gratuitously ‘as a red herring’ into a discussion in which, it did not belong.
At this point Dr Cox revealed that he was aware of the latest version of the Second Event theory ‘from a website on the internet’. He undertook to discuss it with colleagues at NRPB and to see if he could assist with getting it published in the peer-reviewed literature. LLRC accepted this offer as ‘very constructive’. NRPB took a cautious approach to Busby’s reports of infant leukaemia increases after Chernobyl. Dr Muirhead referred to studies which showed there was no increase, but he was unfortunate in relying on work which LLRC had already discredited, as was shown in papers circulated before the meeting.
Tiny amounts, Minister
Mr Meacher seemed disinclined to accept NRPB’s attitude and at times seemed quite irritated. At one point, Roger Cox held his finger and thumb close together: The amounts we are talking about are tiny, Minister, tiny!’
I think that’s Dr Busby’s point, responded Meacher.
He went on to say that it was hard to see why NRPB was not investigating such phenomena on its own initiative. Busby reported that the Welsh Office had asked COMARE to investigate his findings of an association between increased risk of childhood leukaemia and residence near the Irish Sea coast of Wales but said that the increased risk near the sea was not confined to childhood leukaemia but was present in all age-groups and nearly all cancers. Mr Meacher said that he would write to COMARE to ensure this was looked at.
LLRC’s view is that this lengthy meeting was very productive and useful. The Minister seemed to follow the arguments very closely and was clearly concerned to follow up the issue. NRPB’s unimpressive performance has brought forward the day when low level radiation risks will be accurately assessed.
Mr Meacher seemed to be in a similar position to Jim Hacking in the series Yes Minister, with his officials being apparently co-operative and subservient, but perhaps with an agenda of their own regarding the process of transposing the European Directive into law in the UK. At his request LLRC has resubmitted their June 1998 response to the HSE's draft revision of the Ionising Radiation Regulations, and LLRC expects him to be encouraged by the amount of legal scope he has for insisting that caution is put before pollution.
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