Expert Report

Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations near Nuclear Facilities: Phase 1 (2012)

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.


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 crs@nas.edu or faxed to 202-334-3077.

Have a question about this report? From March 29-April 11, 2012, you can submit questions to the chair of the committee that authored the report at this website.