National Academy of Sciences asked to take on nukes-cancer study

Greg Harman

[email protected]

Leaks of radioactive fluids at yet another nuke plant (this time Vermont, the only state with standing reservations to dump its glowing trash in West Texas), coupled with the Obama Administration's commitment to raising a new generation of nukes with tens of billions of federal loan guarantees, beg the question what health risks â?? if any â?? nuke plants pose in the U.S.

After all, relatively non-leaky plants like the South Texas Project complex outside Bay City, represent risk, since even well-functioning plants are designed to routinely vent radioactive gases and discharge liquid wastes.

For years, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has used a questionable study by the National Institutes of Health, Cancer in Populations Living Near Nuclear Facilities, to suggest the risk to the public was nil. Problems with the study, however, have dogged them ever since.

I explored the range of scientific literature last year as part of my Nukes of Hazard series and was left with questions when it came to STP.

Writing in "Risky Business":

STP's emissions numbers would suggest any link is unlikely if not impossible, but Dancer is right that cancer rates in Matagorda County have been rising â?? fast. Between 1980 and 2000, the rate of cancer deaths increased from 134.8 per 100,000 to 223.9 per 100,000, according to the Center for Health Statistics. Cancer deaths jumped after STP went online in 1988 and 1989. In 1987, there were 58 cancer-related deaths in Matagorda County. In 1990, that number rose to 79. The Texas Cancer Registry recently investigated complaints of high cancer occurances in Palacios, 10 miles to the west of STP, stating in an April report that an unexpectedly high number of lung-cancer cases were found among women in the 5,100-population community. Based on the demographics of the studied population, researchers expected to find 18 cases of female lung cancer between 1997 and 2006. They found 34.


While the preponderance of published scientific literature on the subject doesn't back Dancer's assertion that nuclear power generation is causing cancer, the issue is far from resolved. For example, a recent study sponsored by the German government found that children living within 5 kilometers of nuclear-power plants in that country had twice the risk of developing leukemia as those children that lived further away. Even the NRC is revisiting the topic with a new study under development to quantify any potential cancer risk posed by nuclear power plants.

Earlier this month, the NRC approached the National Academy of Sciences about taking on a “state-of-the-art study on cancer risk for populations surrounding nuclear power facilities.” NRC reps are expected to present the specifics of their pitch at an upcoming NAS gathering.

From the NRC press release:

The NRC has accepted an invitation from the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board of the NAS to discuss the request at the board's public meeting on April 26; the meeting agenda will be posted at The NRC and the NAS will finalize administrative details through the spring so that the study can begin this summer.

“We're pleased the Academy is interested in taking on this important study,” said Brian Sheron, Director of the NRC's Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research. “Their broad range of medical and scientific experts can give us the best available analysis of the complex issues involved in discussing cancer risk and commercial nuclear power plants.”

While an NRC rep spoke with me recently about the small amount of radioactivity that have migrated into shallow aquifers (which will inevitably migrate deeper) at the STP site, the facility benefits â?? from a public-health perspective â?? from the amount of empty space surrounding it. In the minus column would be that seasonal hurricane activity; it wouldn't be pretty to see the radioactive cooling pond sucked up by a water spout and deposited onto San Antonio ... or Bay City, or Buckeye, for that matter.

Let's see the white coats calculate those odds.

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