17 November 2010
NFLA’s response to the Redfern inquiry into Sellafield body parts scandal
The publication yesterday of the Redfern report, which uncovered the illegal human tissue and body parts analysis of 76 deceased Sellafield and other nuclear plant workers without familial consent, is a disturbing ethical scandal. The inquiry also highlighted additional research on a further 6,072 individuals, mainly children under six, for a survey of the effects of nuclear weapons testing.
The report by Professor Michael Redfern (1) uncovered that in the period 1961 – 1992 the BNFL Chief Medical Officer Dr Geoffrey Schofield routinely ‘harvested’ body parts of deceased nuclear industry workers that had worked at Sellafield and other nuclear plants. These were taken for further analysis – all without the approval of their families – before being disposed of at the Low Level Waste Repository in Cumbria.
Apart from this major abuse of the coronial system, the Inquiry has also shown the great lengths the nuclear industry has undertaken in checking what impact radiation has on the health of its workers. Clearly, and secretly, the nuclear industry has, through these revelations, shown it had real private concerns over what regular radiation exposure may be doing to the human body, which it usually discounted in public. Perhaps a lot of this medical research has been of value, but it is shocking how the wishes of the families was so much ignored. The NFLA is pleased such practices do not now occur.
Equally disturbing is that BNFL was not the only organisation undertaking such research. The Inquiry found the Atomic Weapons Establishment, the National Radiological Protection Board (now a part of the Health Protection Agency) and the Medical Research Council, who took bone tissue analysis from 6072 bodies to consider the effects of strontium in the body from nuclear weapons testing. Most of these individuals were under the age of six. The NFLA would be interested to know the benefits of such research, and why it was felt the need to keep this information secret for so long.
Organisations like the NFLA have been campaigning for many years over the health risks from radiation exposure from the nuclear industry and radioactive discharges into the Irish Sea. This year we have been particularly pursuing the UK Government and the independent Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) to publish its response to the German Government’s KIKK study, which suggested an increased childhood cancer rate in communities within 5kms of a nuclear reactor. This report was first promised in March, and it still has not been published. These concerns are likely to continue and increase as the UK Government pushes on with a nuclear new build programme.
The scandal also provides another example of how shoddily public authorities have been to those affected by the effects of the nuclear age – whether it is the thousands of British nuclear test veterans exposed to dangerous levels of radiation and still not compensated for their illnesses; or those affected by low level radiation near nuclear sites or from marine radioactive discharges.
NFLA Chair, Bailie George Regan, commented:
“I am deeply saddened at the disturbing outcomes that have been finally made public in the Redfern Inquiry. My deepest sympathies go out to all the families affected, who believe the bodies of their loved ones have been violated by public authorities who should have known better. To find out the extent of this medical research scandal is quite shocking.
The NFLA will continue to raise concerns about the health effects that arise out of radiation exposure from the nuclear industry. We are keen to see more ethical, independent research undertaken in this area of public health, where there are still many scientific and medical uncertainties. I hope this inquiry leads to significant improvements in the post-mortem regime and that the families of all those affected in this scandal can seek comfort in that.”