How Much Risk? A Guide to Understanding Environmental Health Hazards

By Inge F. Goldstein; Martin Goldstein | Go to book overview

4
CHILDHOOD LEUKEMIA NEAR NUCLEAR PLANTS

WINDSCALE: THE NUCLEAR LAUNDRY

In 1983 a television crew was making a documentary film about the health of the employees of a nuclear fuels reprocessing plant in England on the coast of the Irish Sea (fig. 4-1). This plant had previously been the site of a facility for the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons until it was converted to fuels processing after a fire in the reactor in 1957, during which there had been some release of radioactive material to the environment. The crew, filming in a town called Seascale 3 kilometers from the plant, where a number of the employees lived, was shocked to learn from the townspeople that there had been a surprising number of cases of leukemia among their children. Childhood leukemia is a rare disease, but in this small town there had been five cases in the preceding few years, ten times the number of cases that would have been expected from the average rate elsewhere in Great Britain. The focus of the film was changed from the health of the staff of the nuclear facility to the childhood leukemia in Seascale. Shown on television later that year, it aroused national attention and concern, making its points forcefully with shots of rapidly clicking Geiger counters in the neighborhood of the plant, claims that the coastline there is “the most radioactive environment on earth,” interviews with the anguished parents of sick or deceased children, reports of

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