By Nic Rigby
BBC News Online, Norwich
A former environment minister has attacked the decision to call off a major study into the rates of cancer near a former nuclear power station.
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.
It was due to report in summer 2004, but BBC News Online revealed in June that it had been abandoned.
Michael Meacher MP said the public had a right to know of any possible risks.
The investigation was to have been carried out by CERRIE - the Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters - which was set up by Mr Meacher, who was Minister for the Environment between 1997 and 2001.
Environmental scientists said it had been scrapped because of "strong evidence of a cancer cluster" but that was disputed by another scientist who blamed lack of time.
On Thursday, Mr Meacher told BBC News Online it was vital the study was undertaken.
"It is not satisfactory for a government organisation - designed to uncover the evidence - to not systematically follow up the evidence," he said.
'Lack of time'
He suggested that "lack of time" was not an adequate excuse.
"I think that is ridiculous. We are talking about the health of the nation," he said.
"It seems to me disgraceful if any reasonable evidence to examine on the causes of cancer in this area is not followed up."
He suggested that studies should also look at the cancer rates near other former and present nuclear power stations, such as at Sizewell in Suffolk.
On Thursday, a spokesman for CERRIE said he could not comment at this stage.
In June, BBC News Online reported that two CERRIE members - scientist Dr Chris Busby of the environmental consultancy Green Audit and Richard Bramhall - believed the committee's pro-nuclear members feared the study would show increased cancer levels 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 [Green Audit's] original finding which shows the existence of the effect."
Dr Richard Wakeford, principal research scientist at British Nuclear Fuels and a CERRIE member, disputed Green Audit's study showing a cancer cluster.
"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 and British Nuclear Fuels.
Bradwell, one of the oldest nuclear power stations in the UK, shut down in March 2003 when it stopped generating electricity.