• NRC pulls plug on health study around nuclear power plants

The NRC states that one 25-year old “deeply flawed” study that supports nuclear energy “answers the question well enough.”

“We have no data to support…” says the government on many issues. There is no data when there are no studies or it comes from a flawed, politically-driven government study.

From the Orange County Register
September 13, 2015
By Teri Sforza

After spending five years and $1.5 million planning a nationwide probe into whether living near a nuclear power plant such as San Onofre is truly hazardous to your health, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission pulled the plug this week, saying the study would take too long and would be too expensive.

An American study from 1990 – derided by critics as the “don’t worry, be happy” report – concluded that there is no health risk associated with living near a nuclear plant, and answers the question well enough, the NRC said.

More recent studies in Europe, using far more sophisticated techniques, have found that kids living within 3 miles of nuclear power plants had twice the risk of developing acute leukemia as those living farther away. The NRC-ordered study was to probe similar data here, and the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station was to be one of the initial areas examined.

“I’m disappointed and disbelieving,” San Clemente Councilwoman Lori Donchak said. “Our people within a 30-mile radius of (San Onofre) would’ve benefited directly from learnings about any cancer risks – for ourselves and our kids.”

There are 4,200 children under 5 living in San Clemente, whose southern border is about 3.5 miles from San Onofre. The study was to help determine if children like them are more vulnerable to leukemia than children in, say, Irvine.

French and German probes from 2008 and 2012 found that children living very close to nuclear plants were indeed twice as vulnerable, with the peak impact on kids aged 2 to 4.

Is the 25-year-old U.S. study, using broad data from the 1980s, the best American science can do?

“No, it’s not,” said Ourania Kosti, senior program officer with the National Academies’ Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board, and erstwhile director of the NRC-ordered probe. “We could do better today.”

BLUNT SCIENCE

There was rejoicing among scientists and nuclear critics alike in 2010, when the NRC asked the National Academy of Science to do a “state-of-the-art study” on cancer risk for populations surrounding nuclear power facilities.

This probe was to remedy deep flaws in the 1990 study by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute, which examined more than 900,000 cancer deaths between 1950 and 1984. Using mortality records from counties with nuclear facilities within their borders, it looked at changes in mortality rates for 16 types of cancer, and found no increased risk of death.

Among the study’s many problems, according to scientists who were designing the new probe:

• It tracked mortality rates based on where people died, rather than where they lived before getting cancer. That makes it hard to determine true lifetime exposure.

• It tracked deaths, rather than total cancer cases. That may downplay the full health impact of living near a reactor, since many cancer patients survive.

• It used countywide data to reach conclusions – a blunt instrument that may again downplay the impact on those living closest to a reactor. Residents in La Habra and San Clemente live in the same county – but few would argue that they had the same exposure to San Onofre.

To remedy all that, the NRC asked the NAS to evaluate cancer diagnosis rates, not just cancer deaths; and to explore how to divide the areas around nuclear facilities into geographical units smaller than counties. The NAS made no bones about the effort being difficult and time-consuming, but said it could be done.

21st CENTURY

San Onofre was one of the seven areas with nuclear facilities that scientists picked to focus on first. [The locations chosen were 6 nuclear power plants — San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (California), Millstone Power Station and Haddam Neck Plant (Connecticut), Dresden Nuclear Power Station (Illinois), Big Rock Point Nuclear Plant (Michigan), and Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station (New Jersey) — plus Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin, Tennessee, which produces nuclear fuel for the U.S. Navy and processes weapons-grade uranium into fuel for nuclear power plants.] They would proceed on two fronts, study director Kosti said:

One would examine multiple types of cancer in people of all ages living within 31miles of seven nuclear sites.

The other would examine cancers in children born within that radius, since children are especially vulnerable to the effects of radiation.

In practical terms, that meant gathering decades’ worth of data about births, cancer diagnoses and cancer deaths from six states, and plotting them on maps surrounding the seven nuclear sites.

It also meant gathering decades’ worth of data about the release of radioactive gases and liquids – accidental or otherwise – at all seven sites, and plotting those on the maps as well.

In January, the NAS forwarded its proposal for the pilot study to the NRC.

It would take 39 months and cost $8 million to examine those seven sites. After that was done, the NAS would turn its attention to the other 50-or-so nuclear facilities throughout America.

NEVER MIND

On Tuesday, the NRC said that continuing work on the NAS study was “impractical, given the significant amount of time and resources needed and the agency’s current budget constraints.”

NRC staffers estimated that it could take NAS eight to 10 years to complete the pilot and the subsequent nationwide studies before NRC has final cancer risk results to share with the public, which was the original intent of the project, said a staff policy paper to NRC commissioners last month.

That would possibly take until 2025, 15 years after the start of the project, the NRC paper noted.

If it cost $8 million to examine seven sites, it could cost $60 million or so to examine the remaining 50. The NRC’s annual budget is about $1 billion.

A simple update of the 1990 study could be done much more quickly and much more cheaply – but it would have the same problems as the original, the NRC noted.

“The NRC continues to find U.S. nuclear power plants comply with strict requirements that limit radiation releases from routine operations,” the agency said in a statement. “The NRC and state agencies regularly analyze environmental samples from near the plants. These analyses show the releases, when they occur, are too small to cause observable increases in cancer risk near the facilities.”

The agency is balancing the desire to provide updated answers on cancer risk with its responsibility to use taxpayer funds as wisely as possible, Brian Sheron, director of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research, said in a statement.

It might be worth noting that the NRC asked the NAS to do the study in 2010, when Gregory Jaczko was still NRC chairman. Jaczko was a frequent critic of the nuclear industry, who pushed for swifter action in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. He resigned in a hailstorm of controversy in 2012.

REACTION

“The nuclear energy industry sees the NRC’s decision as a sensible one rooted in the NRC’s judgment about the safe operations of our facilities,” said John Keeley, spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade group.

“The nuclear industry has been so successful in keeping radiation in effluents at such a low level that the general scientific community has concluded that this kind of study is scientifically challenged in trying to prove or disprove any cancer risk,” he said. “There are simply too many variables that could influence cancer rates other than very small releases from commercial reactors.”

Ted Quinn, a member of the volunteer panel overseeing the decommissioning of San Onofre and past president of the American Nuclear Society, was a bit surprised by the decision to abandon the effort.

“I think their decision is based on a combination of poor funding availability, recognition that the sample sizes are too small to reveal any justification for changing … and belief that there really is no technical basis for challenging the analysis from the earlier scientific studies,” Quinn said in an email.

Donchak, the San Clemente councilwoman, didn’t find much comfort there. “I’m still frustrated about the recent announcement that San Clemente hospital has been taken out of the new (San Onofre) emergency plan. To have yet another safety aspect removed is unacceptable. This kind of incrementality – gradually removing safety aspects – isn’t good.”

Kosti, the NAS study director, pointed out that the NRC requested a scientifically-sound, epidemiological study, and that those things take time.

The French and German studies did not prove causality between the plants and the childhood leukemias, but they raised many questions, she said.

“Right now we cannot explain the twofold increase,” she said. “These other countries are continuing to probe, trying to understand what is happening.”

Contact the writer: tsforza@ocregister.com

Posted under Fair Use Rules

http://www.ocregister.com/articles/nuclear-682289-nrc-cancer.html

Comments:

“The NRC continues to find U.S. nuclear power plants comply with strict requirements that limit radiation releases from routine operations,” the agency said in a statement.

We know that isn’t true, including from the data from Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.

“The NRC and state agencies regularly analyze environmental samples from near the plants. These analyses show the releases, when they occur, are too small to cause observable increases in cancer risk near the facilities.”

Nuclear power plants routinely emit radionuclides into the air and water, especially during refueling. These radionuclides can be inhaled and ingested. Nuclear experts repeatedly say there is no safe dose of radiation. Internal exposure, through inhalation and ingestion, causes cancer.

The agency is balancing the desire to provide updated answers on cancer risk with its responsibility to use taxpayer funds as wisely as possible, Brian Sheron, director of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research, said in a statement.

The public isn’t worth $8 million to the NRC. That isn’t a wise expenditure for the NRC when the study’s findings would most assuredly interfere with the NRC and the nuclear industry’s first priority — promoting nuclear energy. Our health and environmental safety are last in their priorities.

If you are outraged by this decision, write your elected officials and tell your community.

More information:

Beyond Nuclear’s press release:
http://www.beyondnuclear.org/storage/nas-cancer-study/NAS%20cancer%20study%20canceled.pdf

Feds cancel nuclear health study, leaving questions for Tennessee plant’s ailing neighbors, Institute for Southern Studies, 9-9-15
http://www.southernstudies.org/2015/09/feds-cancel-nuclear-health-study-leaving-questions.html

On life near two nuclear power plants in Illinois: an interview with Cindy and Joe Sauer, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research
http://ieer.org/resource/commentary/on-life-near-two-nuclear-power-plants-in-Illinois/

Health Concerns and Data Around the Illinois Nuclear Power Plants
http://dels.nas.edu/resources/static-assets/nrsb/miscellaneous/Sauer_morning_present.pdf

 

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