Oyster Creek Generating Station may be included in a pilot study of cancer risks in populations in close proximity to nuclear facilities.
The National Research Council will conduct the two-phase study, which was requested and will be funded by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), on the 104 nuclear reactors and 13 fuel cycle facilities licensed throughout the country.
Phase one will identify scientific approaches for the study while phase two, if the NRC chooses to proceed, would actually carry it out.
The study is a follow-up to one that was done in 1990 by the National Cancer Institute that had limitations and is now outdated, said John Burris, chair of the committee that wrote the report and president of Burroughs Wellcome Fund. That finding stated, “If nuclear facilities posed a risk to neighboring populations, the risk was too small to be detected by a survey such as this one.”
"Finding scientific evidence of whether people who live near nuclear facilities have a greater risk of developing cancer than those who live farther away is a challenge," Burris said. "There are issues of whether scientists can get the information needed to carry out the study.”
Some cancer registries only contain recent data and data could be insufficient to estimate the amount of radioactive material released from nuclear facilities, he said.
“This makes it much more difficult to determine risks from decades ago when radiation releases from nuclear facilities were larger," Burris said.
The research council proposed two approaches to the study—one would investigate rates of cancer occurrence and cancer deaths in small geographic areas within 30 miles of nuclear facilities; the other would be to conduct a record-based case-control study to assess the association of cancers in children under 15 years old in relation to their mothers’ residential proximity to the facility during pregnancy.
Both approaches would have a sub-analysis focusing on leukemia, a form of cancer associated with radiation exposure in children.
A report released by the research council identifies potential challenges in the study, including uneven availability of data. After phase one is presented, the NRC will decide to move forward or forego the study.
If the NRC chooses to move forward, the research council would conduct a pilot study with six nuclear power plants, including Oyster Creek, and one fuel cycle facility.
“One of the recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in the report issued last week includes a pilot study that would obtain effluent release and meteorology data for six nuclear power plants and one nuclear fuel production facility,” Neil Sheehan explained. “The data would then be studied along with cancer incidence and mortality information for the surrounding 50 kilometers.”
The NRC is still reviewing the research council’s report, he said. After a public comment period regarding the initial report is completed, the NRC will decide on the next step. The study’s inception would be a multi-year initiative.
Sheehan could not say what actions could be taken if a link is found between cancer and nuclear power plants.
“It is too early to say what changes, if any, could result from the study’s ultimate findings,” he said. “At this stage, the work is concentrated on designing how the research should be accomplished.”
Numerous studies have been done analyzing the connection between cancer and the proximity of nuclear power plants, Oyster Creek spokesperson Suzanne D’Ambrosio said.
“Studies have been done showing no plausible link,” she said. “Take that into consideration along with the fact that everything that goes out into the atmosphere and environment by air, water and ground is completely monitored and regulated, not just by Oyster Creek but throughout the whole industry.
“As always we stand by the safety of Oyster Creek,” she said.
Janet Tauro, a member of Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety (GRAMMES), commended the NRC for requesting the research.
“My hopes are absolutely that the study will move forward because it’s long overdue to have a really well conducted official study,” she said.
The announcement of a possible cancer study is a “360” for GRAMMES, she said.
“We’re back to where we started,” Tauro said. “The reason we formed and banded together was because we were very concerned about an independent study conducted by the Radiation Public Health Project.”
Joseph Mangano conducted the Baby Teeth Study, which found elevated levels of Strontium-90 in baby teeth collected by residents living within the 50-mile radius of nuclear plants, she said. Members of GRAMMES actually participated in the study.
Although the findings were disregarded by the nuclear industry, it indicated that further study was needed, she said.
“It indicated that we’re being exposed to low level radiation from plants and we need to determine whether or not it leads to elevated cancer rates,” she said.
Officials of the German and French governments have funded studies that found a correlation between pediatric leukemia in areas around power plants, she said.
“The National Academies of Science has stated no level of continuous radiation exposure is safe and that it will lead to health consequences,” Tauro said.
Frequent calls by parents who are concerned about the number of children afflicted by cancer in communities surrounding Oyster Creek are made to the New Jersey Environmental Federation, said Tauro, also the Board Chair of NJEF.
“Citizens have called for this study for years and years,” Tauro said. “We have to get to the bottom of this equation. It’s a fundamental question that needs to be answered.”
On April 1, the National Academy of Science began a 60-day public comment period.
“Comments submitted about the report's proposed methodologies will be used to inform the design of the next phase of study and will be placed in the project's public access file, which can be made available to the public upon request,” Sheehan said.
Comments can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 202-334-3077.
The research institute’s report and a brief summary of the report are attached to this story as PDFs.
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