Mike Townsley writes:

Today the UK Government will announce an inquiry into revelations that for over 30 years, body parts of nuclear industry workers who died in suspicious circumstances were taken for medical investigation without the consent of the families.

According to British Nuclear Fuels, Ltd (BNFL) the practice is "historic not current. The sampling of autopsy material began in the 60s and ceased in the early 1990s."

Historic? Burke and Hare are historic, Frankenstein is historic (oh and fictional), Mengele could even be considered as historic, but the early 1990s is recent ...

"Files exists at Sellafield for 65 cases. An examination of the data of those has shown that in 56 of those cases the sampling was done associated with the coroners' post mortems or inquests," says the nuclear company.

It brings to mind a 1958 government which was "historically" leaked (way back in 1993 AD) to a local newspaper, the Galloway Gazette, that said discharges from the Sellafield reprocessing plant were deliberately kept high as part of an 'organized and deliberate scientific experiment". Marked top secret, it was an extract from a memorandum from John Dunster, an Atomic Energy Authority scientist and was apparently meant for Rab Butler, the British Home Secretary at the time.

It stated: "In general terms the intention has been to discharge fairly substantial amounts of radioactivity as part of an organized and deliberate experiment and the aims of this experiment would in fact have been defeated if the level of activity had been kept to a minimum."

"This leads to information a great deal more sound than that which can be obtained by small-scale and laboratory experiments."

"This experiment, whose aim was not only to show the safety of the discharges but also to establish the values for the maximum permissible discharges, was supported by the ministries responsible for issuing the authorizations for waste disposal."

"Since that time the discharges have been deliberately maintained at a level below the authorized rate but high enough to obtain detectable activity levels in samples of fish, seaweed and shore sand, and the experiment is still proceeding."

Nuclear power and the norms of democratic process have always been an uncomfortable mix, these recent revelations serve a grisly reminder.