During the past month I have republished seven of my newspaper articles written while I was working as an investigative journalist in Scotland and North East England. The first looked at the likely governmental conspiracy over the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in 2001 another at the secrecy of the Bilderberg organisation, a third was a piece about the top secret Aurora aircraft, the fourth looked at big cats at large in the UK and the fifth was an investigation into the mysterious death of Scottish Nationalist leader Willie McRae. Another looked at the extent of 40-year cover-up on exposure of British servicemen to A-bomb tests and the last was a piece about secret dumps of deadly Sarin gas in the sea waters off Scotland.
Today I reload a piece I wrote in 1995 about some very strange links between BNFL at Sellafield and genetic research into babies.
SCOTTISH babies could become involved in new genetic research by an experimental institute run by directors of British Nuclear Fuels.
The Labour Party has condemned the so-called independent DNA bank at a scientific site close to the Sellafield nuclear plant, which is funded by BNFL and backed by an English university linked to applications to conduct experiments on dead children without their parents’ consent.
An institute spokesman said fears of vested interest were groundless and any DNA experiments would be carried out independently of BNFL.
The disclosures come soon after a public outcry over revelations that more than 2000 dead Scots babies and 126 pregnant mothers were involved in secret nuclear experiments in the early 1960s.
The experiments were conducted by the UK Atomic Energy Authority in a bid to find out if fallout from atomic bomb tests had affected the youngsters.
MPs fear that that scenario could be recreated by studies at the Westlakes Research Institute, five miles from Sellafield.
The institute was formed with BNFL funding on the back of widespread concerns that the incidence of childhood leukemia in the village of Seascale, a mile-and-a-half from Sellafield, was 10 times the national average.
Despite proclamations of independence, records at Companies House reveal that 11 BNFL personnel form the board of Westlakes Research Trading Ltd, while five BNFL employees run the research institute.
It is widely believed that BNFL’s own genetics group will also become part of the DNA research establishment, which it will help fund with #1m over six years.
The institute proposes to collect, store, and analyse samples of genetic material and blood from 8000 babies born in Cumbria over the next five years at Westlakes and the Department of Child Health at Newcastle University.
It plans to use DNA samples to investigate evidence of genetic diseases, genetic damage related to radiation exposure, and possible radiation-linked diseases such as childhood leukemia.
A recent BNFL newsletter stated: ”While it could also help research into the effects of radiation, BNFL believes the study will prove there is no difference between the genetic make-up of children born to Sellafield fathers and those from the rest of the region.”
The environmental group Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (Core) is fighting the nuclear company’s interest in the research and expresses concern about the so-called impartial involvement of Newcastle University child health department.
According to confidential letters handed to The Herald, Dr Alan Craft, a Newcastle consultant paediatrician who works closely with the department, applied for permission in 1984 to dissect and experiment on placentas and organs from dead children for a nuclear industry-backed study of ”radionuclides in tissues from children” without consulting or reporting back to the deceased’s parents.
The proposals received ethical criticism from West Cumbria Health Authority which also warned of public concern over ”the BNFL connection”. But Dr Craft’s scheme helped provide impetus for the Westlakes initiative.
Core has welcomed genetic research to establish the causes of leukemia in children but questions the impartiality of BNFL and Newcastle University.
”We feel that this particular project, to be sited at a BNFL laboratory with research carried out by BNFL scientists and funded by BNFL money, sets a dangerous precedent for the future,” said a spokesman.
”Some parents involved in the Sellafield High Court leukemia cases, who believe radioactive contamination caused leukemia in their children, said that research carried out jointly by Westlakes and Newcastle University on behalf of BNFL had been used in evidence against them in the High Court.
”It is not surprising that the ‘independent’ label attributed to Westlakes is called into question.”
Dr David King, editor of GenEthics News, an independent newsletter on ethical issues, said it was ”not desirable” that a DNA bank should be run by a private organisation not directly accountable to the public or to those who have made donations.
He also expressed concern about the system of coding and confidentiality of the DNA samples. He cited possible abuses that could result in an individual with chromosonal abnormalities being denied employment at nuclear installations or experience genetic discrimination with insurance companies.
Although the Westlakes institute plans to experiment on DNA from Cumbrian-born babies, it is also proposed to take samples from Carlisle hospitals, which care for Scottish mothers, and to extend the project to an international scale.
MP John McAllion, Labour’s Scottish health spokesman, said he was extremely concerned about BNFL’s involvement in the DNA studies.
”It appears obvious that with their control over the study they will be able to release scientific reports into aspects of radiation under the guise of ‘independence’,” he said.
Mr Alex Smith, South of Scotland Euro-MP, said he found the involvement of BNFL in the DNA experiments ”disgraceful” and called for an inquiry into any pecuniary interest and complete transparency in all genetic research.
”It worries me greatly about what use the results from these experiments may be put to,” he said.
However, a spokesman for Westlakes told The Herald that only the medical and child health departments at Newcastle University would have access to the DNA sample details and these would be kept at ”arms length” from BNFL.
He said the institute had received ethical approval — including that of West Cumbria Health Authority ethics committee — to begin its research and had started anonymous trials to test ”statistical and technical correctness”. The full programme, which will last for at least 20 years, should be in operation by the end of this year.
”We are aware of public concerns and therefore aim to demonstrate independence from BNFL who have a general interest, but are only involved as funders,” he added.