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Electric power line nonsense from Tessa Munt MP

August 30, 2011

Nicely demolished by Colin Blakemore on Radio 4 this morning.

You expect environmental drivel from Lib Dem MPs so it is no surprise to see the chair of their backbench green group, Tessa Munt, resurrecting the old chestnut about electromagnetic fields causing cancer.  

As a result of the global warming scare her constituency of Wells is filling up with windfarms.   If we include the full costs of assembly, service roads, concrete plinths and running repairs, most are totally uneconomic and  probably have litle net effect on greenhouse gases anyway.  But they exist, Tessa likes them, and they need connecting to the national grid. 

Unfortunately she has just realised that this will mean overhead power lines, unpopular with her constituents.  So she’s resurrected some barmy epidemiology, the idea that living near such things might cause cancer.

Serious epidemiologists have all concluded that the association is limited to childhood leukaemia, is tiny, and since there is no plausible mechanism or supporting experimental animal evidence, is likely to be a spurious effect of some common third factor. i.e. the power lines are associated with leukaemia but do not cause it.    Even in the unlikely event that they did, hardly anyone lives close enough to be put at measurable risk. 

Of course such careful opinions are unlikely to convince woolly-hatted greens, or for that matter woolly-headed Lib Dem MPs.   But even they might have been given pause for thought by Professor Colin Blakemore on this morning’s Today programme on BBC Radio 4.  He reminded listeners that they are exposed to stronger electromagnetic fields when they use an electric toothbrush, or sleep near a clock radio, before delivering his killer argument.  Burying the cables, as Tessa wants us to do, would allow people to approach much nearer than they can an overhead one.  Since magnetic fields decrease rapidly with distance from the source, the effect would be to increase net exposures! 

Personally, I’d get on with building nuclear power stations, which really produce a decent amount of power without emitting greenhouse gases, and which require many less cables to connect to the national grid.

If Tessa disagrees, she better get used to overhead power lines.  

Jim Thornton

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