French nuclear plant in spotlight after leukaemia study

A major French nuclear waste reprocessing plant was embroiled in controversy Wednesday after a study said children living nearby may face a higher risk of contracting leukaemia.

The research looked at incidence of cancer in the district of Beaumont-Hague on the Normandy coast among a population living within 35 kilometers of the La Hague processing plant.

The data applied to people aged under 25 and derived from the period from 1978 to 1998.

The total number of cancer cases within the 35-km range was 38, which is comparable to the rest of France, the researchers, led by Alfred Spira of the French medical research institute INSERM, said.

But the rate was much higher among people living within 10 km of the plant.

There were five cases among the under-25s, compared with a national average of 2.3, while among children aged five to nine there were three cases compared with an average of 0.47.

"This study indicates an increasing incidence of leukaemia in the area situated at less than 10 km from the plant," the scientists wrote in the July issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, published by the British Medical Association (BMA).

"Monitoring and further investigations should be targeted at acute lymphoblastic leukaemia occurring during the childhood incidence peak (before 10 years) in children living near the La Hague site and maybe other nuclear reprocessing plants."

Two other sites, Flamanville nuclear power station and the Cherbourg military arsenal, where submarine-based nuclear weapons are believed to be stored, are located nearby but were not in the district studied.