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Ronnie Sookhdeo

Major Life Threat

(August 1984)

From Militant, No. 712, 10 August 1984, p. 9.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A government report, headed by Sir Douglas Black, into the incidence of childhood cancers in West Cumbria admitted that: “there may be channels of radiation which reach people that we do not know about.”

But the Black report refuses to link the nuclear plant at Sellafield with the disease and merely recommends that this “hypotheses should be investigated”. This is despite the fact that the report accepts the findings of the Yorkshire TV documentary, Windscale, the nuclear laundry, which revealed a dramatic increase in various cancers, especially leukaemia, amongst children in the area.

How big a risk?

The authorities, already under enormous pressure following adverse publicity concerning the leakage of radioactive wastes have issued reassurances on the levels of radiation escaping from the plant and asserting that there was no risk to people living in the area.

But what is the truth? First what is nuclear radiation and what are its effects?

Radiation – in the form of ionising particles and rays such as X-rays – are emitted when a nuclear reaction occurs as in the production of nuclear energy. They are virtually impossible to contain.

A chief characteristic of some radiation is their ability to cause mutation of cellular structure of the human body. When this occurs cancers and leukaemia results. Small children and embryos carried by pregnant women are particularly vulnerable.

Recent research has revealed that whereas high levels of radiation often kill cells, low levels are more dangerous as they injure the cell, leaving them free to reproduce and carry on the damage.

American results

Studies of death certificates of workers at the Hansford nuclear plant in Washington have revealed a disturbingly high incidence of cancer of the pancreas and leukaemia even though workers were exposed to levels well within the agreed “safety” limits. This pattern has now been observed amongst British workers. But the most alarming results have come from a chance discovery.

The overall cancer death rate among civilian nuclear workers at the Navy’s Portsmouth shipyard in Kettery, Maine was found to be more than twice the national average, and well above that of the yard’s non-nuclear workers. The figures were calculated by a doctor who filed a law suit under the Freedom of Information Act to get access to the records.

The Navy had good reason for maintaining an iron hold over these records. The results were startling. They showed that the rate of leukaemia was an incredible 450% higher than the general population’s. The incidence of lymph gland cancer was 125% higher.

As the workers were exposed to the lowest possible dosage of radiation these studies have conclusively demonstrated that there is no safe level of radiation exposure. Since cancer is a long agonising process the full extent of radiation damage and that due to radioactive substances leaking into the environment are unlikely to be known for a long time.

Unreliable report

The Black Report and its so-called assurances must be questioned in the light of available evidence. Moreover Black’s assertion that the risks associated with nuclear power in comparison with that of coal extraction must also be challenged. It is entirely erroneous to compare the dangers of coal mining with that of nuclear power.

The potential dangers in nuclear fission are much greater. Coal extraction is a danger to the workers in the industry and can be limited by technology. Yet the inherent dangers in nuclear fission can result in a catastrophe as shown by the Harrisburg accident.

It is vitally important that the labour and trade union movement conduct its own through-going enquiry. It must mobilise immediately to ensure that health and safety become a key issue in all establishments. As part of the campaign it must insist on the full revelation of all the company’s records and studies relating to the poisoning and [? of – ID] workers and the community. They must demand stringent medical checks of all workers and of the general population and the results made available.

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Last updated: 9 August 2016