WASHINGTON -- A proposed study could help determine if there is a link between living near nuclear power plants or other nuclear facilities and having a higher risk of cancer, but challenges and limitations exist, says a new report from the National Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering. The report recommends that a pilot study be completed first to evaluate the feasibility of a full-scale study, although the ultimate decision about whether to perform either would be the responsibility of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC), which sponsored the Research Council report.
The first phase of a two-phase project, the 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 USNRC licenses across the U.S. as well as for people who have lived close to former sites. The USNRC requested the report because it has been using the results of a 1990 National Cancer Institute survey as its primary public resource about cancer risks near its nuclear facilities, and that study is now outdated and has limitations.
"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," said John Burris, chair of the committee that wrote the report and president of Burroughs Wellcome Fund in Research Triangle Park, N.C. "There are issues of whether scientists can get the information needed to carry out the study. For example, some state cancer registries have only recently attained quality data. Also, data may be insufficient to estimate the amount of radioactive material released from nuclear facilities, especially during early years of operations. This makes it much more difficult to determine risks from decades ago when radiation releases from nuclear facilities
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National Academy of Sciences