Pollution from nuclear energy and weapons programs up to 1989 will account for 65 million deaths, according to a European scientific committee headed by an adviser to the British Government.
Research published yesterday by the European Committee of Radiation Risk claims that previous figures massively underestimate the nuclear industry's impact on human life.
The ECRR is an international body of 30 independent scientists, led by Dr Chris Busby, a member of the Government's radiation risk committee and adviser to the Ministry of Defense on the use of depleted uranium.
The findings prompted immediate calls for the Government to rethink its support for the nuclear industry or share responsibility for millions of deaths worldwide.
The report came as the European Commission yesterday published two new draft directives setting up the first EU-wide standards on nuclear power plant safety, decommissioning and the management of radioactive waste.
The study by ECRR, which was formed in Brussels in 1998, is based on a risk assessment model developed over the last five years, and uses evidence from recent discoveries in radiation biology and from human epidemiology. It found that radioactive releases up to 1989 have caused, or will eventually cause, the death of 65 million people worldwide.
It concludes that the cancer epidemic is a result of pollution from nuclear energy and of exposures to global atmospheric weapons fallout, which peaked in the period 1959-63. The research cites evidence such as the levels of breast cancer in women who were adolescent between 1957 and 1963, when nuclear weapons testing was at its peak.
Dr Lucas said: "The fact that existing analysis could not account for the abnormally high local levels of illnesses like childhood leukemia was more a reflection on the research methodology than the acclaimed safety of the nuclear project."
Caroline Lucas, Green MEP for South-east England, said the figures gave the nuclear debate a renewed urgency. "The Government must call an immediate review of its support for the nuclear industry or bear moral, and potentially legal, responsibility for this tragic and avoidable loss of human life."
The ECRR findings challenge the conventional methods of calculating risk of the International Commission on Radiological Protection, which has been criticized as being too close to the nuclear industry.
Scientists have fiercely debated claims that radiation causes cancer clusters near plants such as BNFL's site at Sellafield but Ireland and Scandinavian countries have long complained about the risk.
In Brussels, the European Commission adopted two proposals for directives aimed at improving nuclear standards ahead of enlargement, when countries with ailing power plants, such as the Czech Republic, enter the EU.
Britain has previously objected to the proposals and some Government officials are concerned that EU-wide powers may interfere with Britain's nuclear industry.
One of the directives states that nuclear safety "cannot be guaranteed without making available adequate financial resources" and sets up rules on the management and use of decommissioning funds.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd