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Friday, 13 October, 2000, 01:26 GMT 02:26 UK
Nuclear birth fears eased
Dounreay
The study is reassuring for the UK's nuclear workers
The biggest UK study yet into nuclear workers has found no link between their jobs and birth defects in their children.

Earlier studies had suggested that workers' children were more likely to develop childhood cancers such as leukaemia, and that stillbirths and problems such as spina bifida were also more common.

It was feared that the doses of radiation received through work might either harm the development of the unborn child, or somehow damage the man's sperm, leading to problems after conception.

sperm
Radiation may have an effect on sperm
However, since 1992, researchers from the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygeine have looked at more than 11,700 men and 1,900 women who worked in the industry.

They found no link between male exposure and either foetal death or congenital malformation.

The risk of stillbirth or early miscarriage was higher among women whose radiation dose had been monitored before conception - but the number of women involved in the study was low, making this a less reliable finding statistically.

The lead author of the paper, Dr Pat Doyle, told BBC News Online: "From this study, there is no evidence that exposure to radiation at work before conception has any influence on the outcome of pregnancy.

'Powerful study'

"It's quite a powerful study, which could be interpreted as reassuring for workers."

An earlier study by the same team found no link between parents working in the nuclear industry and childhood cancers such as leukaemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

However, research by Dr Louise Parker of the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, published last year, suggested that workers at the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria had higher than average chances of fathering a stillborn child, or one born with defects.

And experiments on mice at the Paterson Institute in Manchester suggested that offspring conceived from irradiated sperm were more prone to cancer.

However, Janine Allis-Smith, a campaigner with Cumbria Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (Core), said that more work would have to be done before the general public, as opposed to workers in the industry, would feel reassured.

She said: "I certainly think that if the nuclear industry wants to tell its workers not to worry, that's fine."

She said people in such industries had the "healthy worker effect", in which constant health awareness made them healthier than the average citizen.

This, she said, could well be outweighing the negative effects of radioactive exposure.

"I have seen enough of the results of radiation exposure in animals to worry me," she said.

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See also:

22 Jul 98 | Health
Radiation cancer link
22 Oct 99 | Health
Radiation link with stillbirths
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