La Hague "not causing excess cancers"

Scientist contradicts earlier findings as Greenpeace maintains pressure on Cogema

The ding-dong battle over La Hague nuclear reprocessing plant in northern France took another turn on Tuesday, as a scientist cleared the controversial facility of causing extra cancers in the region. Alfred Spira, an epidemiologist, was asked to advise on the issue by the environment and health ministers Dominique Voynet and Bernard Kouchner. Earlier work by a scientific commission was disrupted in August when its chairman resigned over what he described as "totalitarian" tendencies of environmental groups. The commission, in turn, was set up to investigate the results of a study published in January which found four cases of childhood leukaemia within 35km of the nuclear plant when only 1.4 should have been expected. Professor Spira's new report has not been released, but he outlined the main results yesterday in an interview in the French newspaper Libération. The first study found four cases of leukaemia between 1978 and 1992, he said, which was "on the edge of statistical significance". But having now included the period 1993-1996 and found no extra cases, the excess was no longer statistically significant. Further investigations were planned, Professor Spira said.

* Meanwhile, Greenpeace renewed its attack on La Hague's wastewater discharge yesterday, complaining to an investigating magistrate that the plant's operator was releasing "large radioactive particles" into the sea. The group's allegations have been contested by the French government (ENDS Daily 6 October), but Greenpeace said yesterday that its claim had been confirmed by new analysis carried out by a Dutch university. "This...confirms that we're really talking about highly radioactive particles which pose a threat to nearby populations," said Ben Pearson of Greenpeace.

Follow Up:
Libération, tel: +33 1 42 76 17 12. Greenpeace International, tel: +31 20 523 6222.

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