Worker blames plant for cancer

by Jeff Weaver July 2005

A FORMER Berkeley power station worker is in despair after losing a three-year battle for compensation for the cancer he claims he contracted while working at the atom plant.

Clifford Barnfield, 82, from Thornbury, claims that "lost" records of nuclear incidents at the now-decommissioned Magnox plant have stymied his hopes of proving he is a victim of radiation exposure.

After lengthy investigations, a nuclear industry panel has ruled that the "probability" that his prostate cancer was caused by radiation falls well short of the level at which compensation can be paid.

Mr Barnfield, a plant operator at the power station for 22 years before being made redundant in 1983, said: "I know what went on at Berkeley in the early days and I'm prepared to be a whistle blower, not just to prove my own case but for everyone's sake.

"You would not believe the things that I saw going on there and the jobs we had to without proper protection. I used to work in the cooling ponds area and near the heat exchangers which was very dangerous and I didn't even have a respirator.

"The safety rules in terms of gas emissions often weren't observed. I know because I was one of the people who broke them under management instructions.

"I know in my heart that this is where my cancer started but I can't prove it. My claim has not been properly investigated because since privatisation the old records appear to have disappeared."

Mr Barnfield, a widower with a son and two daughters, has received help with his battle from Northavon MP Steve Webb who raised his case with former Energy Minister Brian Wilson.

"He wrote back to Mr Webb saying there was nothing he could do because compensation issues were now the responsibility of the private operators, British Nuclear Fuels.

"My health is bad and worsening and I don't know who to turn to next. I could get a solicitor and take it to law but I can't afford to do that. I could lose the roof over my head."

British Nuclear Group spokesman Tim Jones said the company had sympathy for Mr Barnfield but could not comment on his specific case other than to confirm it had been dealt with in the same way as others. "The health of the workforce in the nuclear industry has always been of prime importance and exposure to radiation is carefully controlled and regulated," he said.

"The industry has maintained detailed records of workers' exposure to radiation before and after the changes to the structure of the industry and, with the consent of unions, makes these available for medical research." Mr Jones said the compensation scheme was set up by the industry and unions to provide an alternative to court action for ex-employees exposed to radiation during their work and subsequently diagnosed with cancer. Its criteria was more generous that would be the case in a formal court case and over 22 years it had considered around 1,100 cases and paid out almost £5million to 102 successful applicants.
MR BARNFIELD'S claims coincide with a new study showing that nuclear workers exposed to low level radiation do run an extra risk - albeit a small one - of developing cancer.

The study of 400,000 workers in 15 countries including the UK - carried out by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organisation - found that 1-2 percent of the cancer deaths among those who took part may have been caused by radiation exposure.

Anti-nuclear campaigner Jim Duffy, spokesman for the Shut Oldbury lobby group, said: "Just as we suspected, staff exposed to radiation suffer more cancer. It bears out local research we commissioned in 2001 which showed prostate cancer mortality within five miles of Oldbury, where we might expect a concentration of workers, was 37 percent higher than the national average. Other studies have shown links to prostate cancer in nuclear workers but the industry always denied it."

"The regulators say they are protecting their staff but it's like saying black is white. There is still much uncertainty around low levels of radiation and people's health. A Government committee last year agreed that the concept of radioactive dose, as measured by workers' dose badges, is effectively meaningless.

"Workers inhaling fractions of supposedly safe doses are at higher risk if particles lodge in lung or other tissue."

Nuclear industry chiefs say the report supports the risk criteria currently used as the basis for radiation exposure limits.

Spokesman Tim Jones said: "We do not believe there is anything in this report which should give our workforce cause for concern. On the contrary, the findings reinforce the accuracy of the risk estimates which are used to set the dose limits which we aim to work well below. We already operate a system which effectively restricts occupational exposure of our workforce to half of the annual statutory limit."

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