Trawsfynydd and cancer: nuclear power kills

| 9th June 2015
Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power Station. Photo: Stuart Herbert via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).

Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power Station. Photo: Stuart Herbert via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).

Figure 1: Map showing Trawsfynydd nuclear power station and lake and, to the north, the village of Gellilidan. Llan Ffestiniog is 3.6km and Gelli Lydan is 1.3km from the plant. Cwm Prysor is to the South of the lake but contributed few cases. Image: Google Maps, .

A study of cancer incidence downwind of the Trawsfynydd nuclear plant in Wales shows a doubling of risk, writes Chris Busby, mainly from breast cancer. People eating fish caught in Trawsfynydd Lake are also at elevated risk. It's yet more proof that the nuclear industry's favourite risk model is wrong, understating the actual dangers of internal radiation - ingested or inhaled - by a factor of 1,000 to 10,000.
Breast cancer was the driving force in the cancer in women. For all ages the breast cancer risk (SIR) was 2.6, below age 60 this became 4.9 and below age 50 it was an astonishing 15.4. All of these figures were highly statistically significant.

In a recent editorial article I argued that studies of adult cancer near nuclear power stations are more informative about cancer risk than studies of childhood leukemia.

I also pointed out that it was necessary to see where the radioactive discharges ended up and look at those populations rather than carry out studies based on distance only.

I showed how at Bradwell nuclear station in Essex, it was the populations near the contaminated estuary mud that showed an excess risk of breast cancer mortality.

This week sees the publication of a new study I carried out of cancer near the Trawsfynydd nuclear power station in Wales in 2006. Trawsfynydd is perhaps an ideal site to examine the effects of discharges. It could almost be an experimental site built purely to examine the effects on humans of internal radioactive exposures.

The only inland nuclear power station to be built in the UK, it is sited by a lake (Llyn Trawsfynydd) in Snowdonia, and surrounded by mountains. The lake is a source of cooling water and a sink for the liquid discharges. It is highly contaminated.

Downwind, to the north and north east there is a small town, Llan Ffestiniog, which looks towards the twin reactor stacks and has received the brunt of the airborne releases since the station was commissioned in 1966.

Gone fishing ....

Following advice from the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), and funding from the Welsh Tourist Board, the lake is stocked with trout and used for fishing. A map of the site showing Llan Ffestiniog to the north east is given in Figure 1.

Trawsfynydd was my introduction to nuclear power and to Direct Action. It was where I arrived on the green scene. In 1993, when I was living in Mallwyd, about 30km to the south, I arranged a non-violent Direct Action to highlight the dangers of restarting the plant.

Tie rods which constrained the graphite core of the MAGNOX reactor had broken. There were cracks in the assemblies. Nuclear Electric were pressurising the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to allow the reactors to restart and run at a higher temperature to anneal the cracks. It was a nightmare.

I wrote my first book on the issue of radiation and cancer then, printed it on my own small offset litho press which I had rescued from a printer in Caernarfon.

About twenty of us from Meirionnydd Green Party and local anti-nuclear groups hit the main electric gate early in the morning chained it shut and chaining ourselves to it. We called in the media (they came). We drew attention to a leaked document which reported that the reactor had been built from the wrong (and cheaper) steel.

Breast cancer was the driving force in the cancer in women. For all ages the breast cancer risk (SIR) was 2.6, below age 60 this became 4.9 and below age 50 it was an astonishing 15.4. All of these figures were highly statistically significant.

It was successful. The reactors never started and the NII refused to allow them to. The station was closed the next year. So three cheers for direct action and the brave men and women who came. Make no mistake: it was scary. The Nuclear Police were armed and the story was that they would shoot. You can read about it all in Wings of Death.

Investigating local reports of high cancer incidence

In 2006 I was contacted by Eifion Glyn, a producer for the Welsh language TV company S4C. He told me that women from Llan Ffestiniog were concerned that there seemed to be high levels of cancer in the town: they wondered if this were true and if there might be a connection with the power station which is about 3km upwind.

Since it was inconceivable that the Wales Cancer Intelligence Unit (whose Director John Steward had spent years attacking me and my work) would give us any data, I suggested we carry out a questionnaire study of the type I had developed in Carlingford, Ireland and later in Burnham on Sea downwind of Hinkley Point. The town is largely Welsh speaking and so the interviewers had to be fluent Welsh. He agreed to do the survey and film it for a TV documentary in the series Y Byd Ar Bedwar.

I put together the questionnaire which was then translated into Welsh. Each house was visited in Llan Ffestiniog, and also the village of Gellilydan together with outlying farms to the north of the Trawsfynydd site.

The householders were asked how many people lived in each house, their sex and ages. They were asked to list all cancers that had occurred in the household in the last ten years, the kind of cancer (leukemia, prostate, breast etc.), the date of diagnosis and the outcome. They were asked if the person was a smoker and whether they fished in the lake, ate fish from the lake or worked at the power station.

The final questionnaires were collected and put into a spreadsheet by my co-worker in this, Mireille de Messieres and we analysed the results. We used the base population to generate Expected Numbers of cancers by multiplying the 5-year age group totals by the England and Wales national incidence rates. Then we compared these expected numbers with those reported in the questionnaires. This gave the Standardised Incidence Ratio or SIR.

The statistics showed a doubling of cancer risk

There were 402 questionnaires returned giving a population of 978 persons. The results showed clearly that these people had been affected by the discharges. In the three years prior to the study, where the data was most complete, there was a doubling of cancer risk (SIR = 1.95) with 19.5 cases expected and 38 observed.

Breast cancer was the driving force in the cancer in women as had been feared by those who originally approached the TV company. For all ages the breast cancer risk (SIR) was 2.6, below age 60 this became 4.9 and below age 50 it was an astonishing 15.4. All of these figures were highly statistically significant. Why was it higher in the younger women? Perhaps because they had spent a larger fraction of the life growing up with the contamination.

We also were able to look at the effect of eating fish from the contaminated lake. Of the 5 women under the age of 60 who had cancer (SIR = 4.9; p = 0.004) three ate fish from the lake, one did not and one who had died may have. Based on the background rate of eating fish from the lake this was a relative risk of 2.1 (p=0.04) from eating the fish.

Turning to the men, there was a doubling of risk overall (22 observed with 10.5 expected; p = 0.002) with 2.5-fold excess risk of prostate cancer (5 observed and 2.5 expected (p = 0.05)). The SIR for all leukemia was 7.8 (3 observed 0.384 expected p = 0.007). Unexpectedly large risk existed for mesothelioma and for pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer I also found to be high in the nuclear test veterans who I am representing in the Pensions Appeal Tribunals in London. These were people also exposed to low levels of internal contamination from largely the same substances released from Trawsfynydd. There were three deaths from pancreatic cancer in 16 veteran appellants, a combined event with a probability of less than 1 in 500,000.

The idiocy at the heart of the ICRP's radiation risk model

What is the source of this effect? How does it work? How can releases be legally permitted that kill people in this way? And not only be permitted, but in the case of the lake fishermen, encouraged! What's going on?

First, the assessment of risk from internal radionuclides is wildly incorrect; it is the obsolete and dangerous radiation risk model of the international Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) which is the basis for all legalised limits to radioactivity. In Europe, the EURATOM Basic Safety Standards Directive employs the ICRP model as its basis. The same in the USA, probably everywhere.

This model, which uses averaged dose or energy transfer (Milli Sieverts) as its measurement yardstick cannot explain these effects and does not predict them by factors or between 1,000 and 10,000. This is because for internal exposures, averaging is not valid because exposure to particles causes very high doses near the particles and no dose elsewhere.

Some radionuclides (Strontium, Uranium, Plutonium) actually bind preferentially to DNA. The structure of DNA was not even discovered when the ICRP model was created.

The first evidence that ICRP was wildly wrong was the Sellafield child leukemias discovered in the 1980s. Since then, child leukemia increases at the tiny doses calculated by ICRP methods have been found near all the nuclear sites. But few have looked at adult cancers.

The statistician Jay Gould examined breast cancer near nuclear sites in the USA and found a correlation with downwinders at the County level. But we need to look at the local level. And small area cancer data is never released.

What the powers that be do best - suppressing nuclear truths

Around the time of the Committee Examining Radiation Risk from Internal Emitters (2001-2004) I was asking Michael Meacher, then Minister, to get these data from the Department of Health. He was refused. He pointed out that he was the Minister if the Environment. Too bad, they said, we aren't giving you data as you may be able to identify someone; it is a confidentiality issue when there are fewer than 5 people with cancer in a ward.

I suggested he asked for the ward level incidence data aggregated to a 10-year period. He did this: Blair sacked him.

The cancer registries and the people in charge are frightened, or else they are controlled. In some cases (and I refer to the Welsh Cancer Intelligence Unit) they are a damage limitation exercise. The shocking story of the sacking of the entire Wales Cancer Registry following its leaking of the small area data to my group in 1995 is relayed in my book Wolves of Water.

A new outfit took over run by Dr John Steward. He promptly took 18% of the children with leukemia from the previous database, and the original data disappeared from the Welsh Office computer.

Steward made it his business to attack everything I did, even finally to the extent of fiddling the base population of children in North Wales. I shopped him up to the Royal Society of Physicians for this trick but they did nothing except allow me to write about his chicanery in their Journal.

I wrote about his trick in Wolves of Water but he didn't sue me. Instead he wrote a paper on my work which was curiously (or not) published in the nuke's favourite journal, the Journal of Radiological Protection (JRP). This rag, published by the Institute of Physics, began in 1974 at the same time that radiation protection was taken from the doctors at the Medical Research Council and Harwell and handed to the physicists at Didcot, next door.

In the first issue we saw Roger Clarke, later Chair of ICRP and various other nuke agencies write a paper reversing the wind direction at the time of the Windscale fire. The editor at the time of the Steward article attacking my work was Richard Wakeford, then chief of research of British Nuclear Fuels (and now an independent consultant on the ICRP).

All this is in Wolves of Water also: and no one has sued me. But of course, they have attacked me - nowadays the method is more subtle. The weapons include George Monbiot who launches his attack in the Guardian and his blog from the bogus Steward / Wakeford JRP paper.

At the 2004 CERRIE workshop in Oxford I talked about this secrecy of the cancer registries. Timo Hakulinen, Director of the Finland cancer registry said (then) things were different in Finland. Unlike the UK registries, Finland would give me small area data if asked.

But in 2012 Ditta Rietuma and I visited Hakulinen in Helsinki and asked for the data. We wanted to study the Baltic Sea populations. He looked terrified. I can't give you any data, he said. The conclusion is that no one is allowed to discover that the radiation model is wrong, the first block put up is that no one can get hold of the data to show this.

The great Trawsfynydd cover-up

Trawsfynydd is a graphite moderated and dirty nuclear power station (like Hinkley A and B). It was carbon dioxide gas cooled and its releases to air were significant. In the last year of operation, 1991, it released 0.28GBq of radioactive particles to the air. These were available for inhalation by the good people of Llan Ffestiniog.

It released 1,489,000GBq (that is 1,489,000,000,000,000Bq) of radioactive noble gases. That is 4079,000,000,000 Bq per day, which floated across the valley to Llan Ffestiniog and rolled across Gellilydan. A Becquerel is one disintegration per second. The lake bed sediment was analysed in 1988 by the Central Electricity Generating Board: the results were leaked to Greenpeace. They showed ten times the levels that were published by the Welsh Office (another cover-up).

The lake inventory included 25,000,000,000Bq of Strontium-90 and a total inventory in the sediment of 730GBq of mixed radionuclides including 530Gq of Caesium-137. The mud is where the larvae develop, the fish eat the larvae and the adult flies, the fishermen catch the fish, the women server them up and eat them. They get cancer.

I will be trying to get the fishing stopped and fishing tickets printed with a health warning. If you live in North Wales and want to help in this, get in touch via Green Audit.

I demonstrated against the fishing in 1998. I was joined by my daughter Rosa, son Joseph and Molly (Scott Cato's) two sons Ralph and Josh - also Blinky the fish (see picture). The fishing supremo (Prysor Angling Association) tried to run us over with his Land Rover. He said we were not Welsh.

Finally, what is all this nuclear energy really for? Why do we need it? I leave you with a quote from Hansard of 24th June 1958: 71:

Mr Mason asked the Paymaster General why Her Majesty's Government had decided to modify atomic power stations to produce high grade Plutonium for war weapons.

The Paymaster General (Mr Reginald Maudling): At the request of the government, the Central Electricity Generating Board has agreed to a small modification in the design of Hinkley Point and the next two stations (Trawsfynydd and Dungeness) in its programme to enable Plutonium suitable for military purposes to be extracted.



Action: Visit and download the Human Rights Petition. I will add the new studies and put it up on also. Sign it, adapt it, send it to the European Parliament Petitions Committee by recorded post. Send it to the Department of Health and to Health Protection England (the latest manifestation of these people). Send it with a cover letter to your MP. Refer to this study and to the Bradwell study.

The papers:

All are authored by Christopher Busby and published in Jacobs Journal of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine.

Also on The Ecologist: 'Breast cancer and nuclear power - statistics reveal the link 'they' wanted to hide' and other articles by Chris Busby.

Dr Chris Busby is the Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk and the author of Uranium and Health - The Health Effects of Exposure to Uranium and Uranium Weapons Fallout (Documents of the ECRR 2010 No 2, Brussels, 2010). For details and current CV see For accounts of his work see, and


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