Report generates fears over Sellafield's safety

Report generates fears over Sellafield's safety

POLICY AND PEOPLE South African doctors battle over enforced rural placements N ewly qualified South African doctors have locked horns with the hea...

55KB Sizes 1 Downloads 113 Views


South African doctors battle over enforced rural placements


ewly qualified South African doctors have locked horns with the health department on the eve of implementation of legislated compulsory community service. The interns have warned that the law, aimed at obliging them to work in rural areas and at preventing them from leaving the country on graduating, could not be enacted unless the government guaranteed posts and assured conditions of service. They are frustrated by the lack of information about conditions of service and maintain that the government is not ready to implement the system. The Medical, Dental, and Supplementary Health Services Bill came into effect on July 1, when the first batch of 22 junior doctors report for 1 year of paid community service.

The future is uncertain for 1200 doctors who had to apply by the end of June for community posts to be filled in January. There are about 550 such posts available countrywide. Faced with stringent budget cuts, health departments in the nine provinces have had to freeze funding for posts and have been unable to give the doctors information about jobs for next year. The doctors say they are resolved in principle to working a year in the community but do not believe they should be forced to work in places they do not want to go to. Posts in the rural areas should be incentive driven, they say, with more money being given to doctors who choose to go there. They have also expressed fears over a perceived lack of medical supervision, infra-

Report generates fears over Sellafield’s safety


causing further radioactive pollution of the waters or, as an atmospheric plume, could contaminate any place it landed downwind. Most of the radioactive off-site contamination at Chernobyl was caused by caesium137. The Chernobyl reactor core contained 70 kg of the isotope, whereas the Sellafield storage tanks contain 2100 kg. According to Thompson, there were underestimates, or no estimates, of the potential effects of seismic shock, explosions, war, terrorism, or sabotage. The report is highly critical of the industry watchdog, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, but the agency claims it is bound by the 1974 Health and Safety Act, which prohibits inspectors from releasing any information whatsoever about sites they examine without the consent of the owners. More than 100 of the local councils that commissioned the IRSS report are now considering taking legal action in an attempt to force publication of papers regarding safety aspects at Sellafield. Meanwhile, BNFL has dismissed the report as “scaremongering”. Environmental Images

study commissioned by a consortium of local authorities in England, Wales, and Ireland claims that an operator accident, terrorist attack, or a small earthquake at the controversial Sellafield reprocessing plant in England could result in a disaster that would be 10 to 100 times worse that of Chernobyl. The report by the American Massachusettsbased Institute for Resource and Security Studies (IRSS) said that the storage of high-level nuclear waste at the plant, which is run by British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), is “one Another Chernobyl? of the world”s most dangerous concentrations” and that reprocessing should be stopped. Delivering the report in London, UK on June 23, Gordon Thompson, director of IRSS, said that the UK nuclear industry and its watchdog failed to understand the risks involved in radioactive waste storage. The safety fears centre on 1000 m3 of acidic radioactive waste stored in 21 water-cooled tanks at the site, which is awaiting eventual vitrification—a process that could be up to 20 years away. Leakage of liquid material contaminated with caesium-137 from the tanks could drain into the Irish Sea,


Karen Birchard

structure, and personal safety in rural areas. The National Health Department has also received criticism from the South African Foreign Qualified Doctors Association after it announced plans to target the jobs of foreign doctors in the quest to find more posts for community service. The association says most of the 2500 foreign doctors are providing an invaluable service in rural areas. The National Health Department states it cannot renege on its commitment to community service as a way to redress the inequitable distribution of health. It would therefore have to have enough posts available by next year. Adele Baleta

Canadian genomics project gets kick start anada’s Medical Research Council (MRC) will pay Can$25 million over the next 5 years to start a proposed $250 million genomics project. The focus would be on research into the use of biotechnology in health care, agriculture, forestry, and environmental industries. To be known as “Genome Canada”, the initiative would create a national consortium to oversee a multidisciplinary research and commercialisation programme, including an outlay of $140 million to establish centres of excellence in: genome mapping and large-scale sequencing; functional genomics; genotyping technologies; proteomics; bioinformatics; and medical, legal, and social issues. But first, the remaining funds must be raised. Lap-Chee Tsui, chairman of the MRC Genome Task Force which developed the initiative, says that this summer the hat will be passed among other government departments, pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms, and other potential partners. In the wake of concerns expressed by Canada’s discontinuation of its Canadian Genome Analysis and Technology programme in 1996, “we would like to get all those people who have been hearing about the [demise of the] genome project, and who wanted to do something about it, to participate”, Tsui says.


Wayne Kondro

THE LANCET • Vol 352 • July 4, 1998