Deadly asbestos has led Somerset’s first nuclear power plant to be named the biggest source of industrial deaths in the county.
In the last 14 years 26 Somerset people who worked at or on Hinkley Point A have died from asbestos-related mesothelioma cancer.
The figures were revealed by West Somerset coroner Michael Rose yesterday. He believes 40-50 Somerset people may have died from the deadly legacy in the last 25 years.
Since the Health & Safety Executive does not collate figures for deaths caused by asbestos at specific sites and since many who worked to build Hinkley have moved to other parts of the country, the total number of deaths is unknown, but solicitor Virginia Chalmers, who represents sufferers and their families, believes the total number of victims could reach 100.
The figures were revealed at the reconvened inquest into the death of former Hinkley A worker George Ramsey, of Bridgwater. Mr Ramsey died, on April 12 this year, aged 84, seven months after his illness was diagnosed.
Mr Rose was so concerned about the possible incidence of mesothelioma among former Hinkley A workers that he adjourned Mr Ramsey’s inquest in August to gather more information.
Recording a verdict of death from mesothelioma on Mr Ramsey, Mr Rose said he will ask the Health and Safety Executive whether it believes that identifying and recording the source of mesothelioma deaths is worthwhile, if it does he will refer the issue to the newly appointed Chief Coroner. “I think as a matter of record we should know,” he said.
Construction work on the giant plant began in 1957 and lasted for seven years. Even though asbestos fibres were known to be a hazard from at least the 1930s Workers were be offered little or no protection from asbestos in the 1950s and 1960s. when working with it. Safety legislation for asbestos did not come into force until 1969.
Cutting it was especially hazardous, releasing minute fibres which were taken into the lungs. Mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining, may not make its appearance for 40 or 50 years.
Mr Ramsey worked at a coal-fired power station in Yorkshire for two and a half years, where he is also likely to have come in contact with asbestos.
He then worked on Hinkley A which was built and operated by the Government-owned Central Electricity Generating Board. He did not work directly with asbestos but was repeatedly and routinely exposed to asbestos at Hinkley A, which was built and operated by the Government-owned Central Electricity Generating Board, as pipes were stripped and relagged. The inquest heard that he was not given any type of respirator, though men who lagged pipes were given paper masks. There were no measures to remove asbestos dust from the atmosphere.
Hinkley A is now one of ten former nuclear sites being decommissioned by Magnox Ltd on behalf of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. It is stripping and removing the old asbestos under strict safety rules.
Lee Talbot, Hinkley A site director, told the inquest that safety standards on the site and training for the workforce are now of the highest level. He said 986 tonnes of asbestos has been removed with another 90 cubic metres still to go. As the successor to the CEGB, Magnox accepts liability for people who contract asbestos related diseases. It has settled 14 claims and has four ongoing cases.
Mrs Chalmers said: “I was pleased to see what Magnox had to say today and I think Magnox have acted in a reasonable way with the claims that have been presented to them, but Magnox is a big and sophisticated company and I suspect that there may be other smaller companies who may not act in the same way.”