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Thursday, 5 July, 2001, 13:22 GMT 14:22 UK
Scientist raises new radiation fear
Plymouth march
People in Plymouth are fighting plans to dump tritium
A scientist has warned that radioactive materials being released in Britain are many times more dangerous than previously believed.

Dr Chris Busby says he has found that low-level radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster caused a sharp rise in infant leukaemia in Wales and Scotland.

His warning comes as the Environment Agency considers whether to allow Devonport Dockyard to dump tritium from submarines into the River Tamar in Plymouth.

Campaigners had been assured that low-level radiation would not be a health hazard - the same advice given after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

Devonport Dockyard
Devonport Dockyard processes tritium from submarines
Leukaemia rates in Plymouth were recently shown to be 25% above the national average among males and 29% above average in females.

Some tritium - a weak radioactive form of hydrogen - is already released into the Tamar from the city's historic naval dockyard.

Dr Busby says the risk of people contracting cancer from low-level radioactivity could be far greater than calculated by the Environment Agency's advisers.

He told BBC News Online: "We have sent the Environment Agency a solicitor's letter saying they can no longer accept risk levels are safe.

"So if they go into court saying they didn't know, this letter will show they were warned."

Their model fails to predict all sort of risks. Their understanding of radiation risk is faulty.

Dr Chris Busby
Last month Dr Busby, from Aberystwyth, presented a paper at a World Health Organisation conference on Chernobyl in Kiev.

He said the Chernobyl findings cast serious doubt on the internationally-adopted model used to calculate health risk.

His paper says the increased danger comes from radiation absorbed into the body through food and drink.

That makes that health risk many times greater than from external exposure.

Radiation levels in the UK after Chernobyl were considered too low to have a measurable effect on health.

Chernobyl nuclear plant
Infant leukamia increased in the UK after Chernobyl
Dr Busby's paper says: "Government advice was that food was safe to eat and water and milk safe to drink."

He said: "The models being used to calculate risk to health from low-level radiation are out by a factor of between 100 and 1,000.

"When they apply this risk model they find hardly anybody will become ill - the figure is point-zero something.

"But their model fails to predict all sort of risks.

Nuclear reactors

"The whole basis of their understanding of radiation risk is faulty.

Dr Busby has been advising anti-radiation campaigners who live close to the River Tamar, which divides Devon and Cornwall.

They launched Cansar - Campaign Against Nuclear Storage And Radiation - when the Environment Agency announced a public consultation on Devonport Dockyard.

Chernobyl scientists
Low-level radiation can be absorbed through food and water
DML, the operating company, has applied to increase tritium emissions by 700%.

The tritium is a created in submarine reactors but cannot be dumped legally in international waters.

On Wednesday about 150 people marched across the Tamar Bridge from Saltash to the dockyard and handed a 5,000-name petition to an Environment Agency official.

They want the government to call in the application and hold a public inquiry.

Agency's 'dilemma'

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said Dr Busby's warning would need to be explored "to ensure that what we are looking at is accurate".

She added: "The Environment Agency is not an expert on health.

"If the experts who give us our information are not accepting what Dr Busby says, then that is a dilemma for us."

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See also:

14 May 00 | Scotland
Rosyth 'dump' fear denied
12 Aug 99 | Sci/Tech
UK 'must heed nuclear waste fears'
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