Radiation Conference. Conference Two

The second conference was held at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School in 1986. It was sponsored by Friends of the Earth and chaired by Professor Sir Richard Southwood FRS Chair of the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB).

Conference organiser Dr Robin Russell-Jones with Sir Richard Southwood (above right).

Below: Dr Robin Russell-Jones with three famous radiobiologists: Dr Alice Stewart, Professor Karl Morgan and Professor Ed Radford, Chair of the BEIR 111 Committee (BEIR = Biological Effects of Ionising Radiation Committee established by the US National Academy of Science).

The conference focused on the ICRP recommendations for exposure to ionising radiation and the observation of clusters of childhood leukemia around Sellafield and Dounreay, the two reprocessing facilities in the UK. The latest cancer statistics amongst the A-bomb survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki indicated that the ICRP cancer risk estimates were too low and subsequently the NRPB recommended that they should be tightened, a recommendation that was adopted by the UK government (and subsequently by the ICRP).

The issue of childhood leukemias around reprocessing facilities was never satisfactorily resolved. There were three competing theories: that the leukemias resulted from parental exposure to ionising radiation within the nuclear facility; that it resulted from exposure of the foetus/child to alpha-emitters released into the environment (particularly from discharges of Plutonium and Americium into the sea); and the Kinlen hypothesis which postulated that groups of workers migrating into a new location resulted in exposure to a hitherto unknown leukemogenic virus. Evidence for and against these various hypotheses were debated and discussed but no definite conclusions could be drawn. Perhaps the most powerful data against theory number 2 (exposure of the foetus/child to alpha emitters) came from the data presented by Sarah Darby and Richard Doll who found no increase in childhood leukemia following the above ground nuclear weapons tests in the 1950’s and 60’s. On the other hand, noone to date has been able to identify a leukemogenic virus amongst the workers or their offspring.

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