The Kinlen hypothesis debunked
A recent COMARE report on child cancers near NPPs was published on the day after the Government committed the UK to a new nuclear power station. This was not a coincidence: it is a prime example, among many, of nuclear policy-led science. We should have science-led policies but these rarely, if ever, occur on nuclear matters.
The report downplays radioactive releases from NPPs as an explanation for the nearby raised levels of cancers. Instead it champions the Kinlen hypothesis.
Since 1988, Professor Kinlen has been suggesting that increases in childhood cancers near nuclear facilities are due to an infective, perhaps viral, agent arising from the influx of new workers to rural areas. But most scientists throughout the world discredit this theory because of its myriad problems and inconsistencies.
First, the idea leads to the expectation of a sharp rise in leukaemia incidence, followed by a decline as the situation settles down. However at Dounreay and Sellafield most of the leukemias arose several decades after the population influxes. In addition, increased leukemias and NHLs continued long after the influxes had stopped and indeed were STILL occuring as recently measured in the 2000s, and are probably still arising today, were the Government to release all the relevant and most recent data.
Second, for the hypothesis to be true the leukaemias should occur in the indigenous population and not in the migrants. In fact, at Sellafield, the reverse was mainly the case.
Third, the theory does not explain why leukemias have arisen near nuclear facilities without population influxes, eg Aldermaston and other UK nuclear facilities and hundreds of reactors in other countries.
Fourth, and most tellingly, no infective agent or virus has ever been found at UK facilities despite much research over many decades.
Those who have worked in cancer research know that the infective theory of human cancer causation became a global obsession after the 1930s. For decades, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund was exclusively dedicated to a general infective theory of malignant disease. Also, the British Empire Cancer Campaign allocated much of its resources to a hunt for viruses that caused cancer and, year after year, promised its supporters imminent prevention of leukaemia by immunisation. In the 1960s, the US National Cancer Institute set up a large institute dedicated to the isolation and characterisation of viruses causing human cancer. But by the early 1980s, the building was used as a warehouse. This worldwide, protracted, and costly crusade failed to prove an infective cause for most human malignant disease, with one major exception – Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – known to cause most cervical, anal and vaginal cancers. However HPV is NOT implicated in leukemias and lymphomas.
It does not seem a wise scientific policy to try to reinstate this old and discredited infective theory for leukemias and lymphomas.