Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations near Nuclear Facilities: Phase 1 (2012)Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board
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Report in Brief >>
The question of whether there are cancer risks associated with living near a nuclear facility is of great interest to the public, especially those living closest to the facilities. Airborne and waterborne emissions of radioactive materials from the facilities’ normal operations (called effluents) can expose nearby populations to ionizing radiation, which could elevate the risk of cancer in the exposed populations. The first phase of a two-phase project, this report identifies scientific approaches for carrying out an assessment of cancer risks for populations near the 104 nuclear reactors and 13 fuel cycle facilities that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses across the United States, as well as for people who have lived close to former sites.
Studies of health effects in populations (epidemiologic studies) could provide clues for a potential association between living near nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities and risk of cancer. However, such studies are challenging because of incomplete data on occurrences of cancer and cancer deaths in geographic areas of interest (i.e., smaller than the county level), incomplete information on radioactive releases from nuclear facilities during early years of operation, and other factors. Moreover, because radioactive releases are generally low, any risks would be expected to be small and difficult to detect with statistical certainty. This report identifies two health study designs deemed suitable for assessing cancer risks in populations near nuclear facilities, having both scientific merit and the ability to address some public concerns. A pilot study would be needed to determine whether either or both of the two recommended study designs are feasible to implement on a large scale and to assess the required time and resources. Communicating with and involving the public and other stakeholders is an essential element in the study process.
The report will be open for public comment for 60 days starting April 1, 2012. 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. Comments can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 202-334-3077.
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- There are several challenges for carrying out epidemiologic studies of cancer risks in populations near U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission-licensed nuclear facilities in the United States, including: (1) Uneven availability and quality of data on cancer mortality and incidence; (2) Uneven availability and quality of data on nuclear facility effluent releases (airborne and waterborne) from normal operations; (3) Inability to reliably capture information on population mobility, risk factors, and potential confounding factors; and (4) the low expected statistical power.
- An assessment of cancer risks in populations near nuclear facilities could be carried out using several study designs, each of which has strengths and limitations for estimating cancer risks.
- Radioactive effluent release, direct exposure, and meteorology data, if available, can be used to obtain rough estimates of annual variations in dose as a function of distance and direction from nuclear facilities.