by Nic Rigby
BBC News Online, Norwich
A major study into the rates of cancer near a former nuclear power station has been called off, BBC News Online can exclusively reveal.
Bradwell Power Station in Essex is at the centre of controversy
The investigation into a possible cancer cluster at Bradwell, Essex, had the support of all sides in the radiation debate.
Environmental scientists say it has been scrapped because of "strong evidence of a cluster".
But that has been disputed by another scientist who blames lack of time.
The investigation, revealed by BBC News Online in December 2003, was to have been carried out by CERRIE - the Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters.
Dr Ian Fairlie, a member of the secretariat of CERRIE, said at the time that the study was expected to be completed by spring.
"We will look at leukaemia rates and see if they are higher than expected in this area," he said.
CERRIE members, scientist Dr Chris Busby of the environmental consultancy Green Audit, and Richard Bramhall, claimed the pro-nuclear members of the committee feared the study would show that cancer levels increased in the area near Bradwell nuclear power station.
'Extra cancer deaths'
Dr Busby told BBC News Online: "The study would have confirmed the effect was there. They did not want this. They pulled the plug. We are left with our original finding which shows the existence of the effect."
The original Green Audit study compared the female population of Maldon and another Essex town Burnham-on-Crouch, which is on the River Crouch and away from Bradwell.
Dr Busby said: "Our study and their data shows an extra four breast cancer deaths per year in areas around Bradwell and Blackwater estuary area including Maldon.
"I feel quite angry about it. We have done an awful lot of work for CERRIE on this. We have done it because we believe it is important to find the answer to this.
"It is not just about Bradwell it has implications for all nuclear power stations which discharge into water, including Sizewell nuclear power station. If this was backed the litigation (from people who have developed cancer) would be enormous.
"It would be a research study agreed by a government committee. CERRIE came to the conclusion that this would be embarrassing to the nuclear industry, so they pulled the carpet from under it."
Dr Richard Wakeford, principal research scientist at British Nuclear Fuels and CERRIE member, disputed Green Audit's study showing a cancer cluster.
He said the CERRIE study was delayed by confidentiality issues surrounding people living in the Maldon area who are alive, but have at some point developed cancer.
Dr Wakeford said the Office of National Statistics feared with people living in "small areas, there is a possibility that individual patients could be identified".
"Essentially we just ran out of time to do this study," he said.
CERRIE includes representatives from the Low Level Radiation Campaign, Green Audit, the National Radiological Protection Board, Greenpeace, British Nuclear Fuels.
Bradwell, one of the oldest nuclear power stations in the UK, shut down in March 2003 when it stopped generating electricity.