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No, living near a nuclear plant doesn't raise leukemia risks

No, living near a nuclear plant doesn't raise leukemia risks

Posting in Cancer

A 35-year study finds no link between childhood leukemia and living within 3 miles of a nuclear power station, saying the risk is "extremely small, if not actually zero."

According to a 35-year study, there is no link between childhood leukemia and living near a nuclear power station.

The report – from the UK’s Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) – suggests that clusters of leukemia cases found near nuclear plants have non-radiation causes.

The report looks specifically at the incidence of this cancer in children under the age of 5 living within 5 km (3.1 mi) of any of 13 nuclear power plants in Great Britain. It found "no significant association,” according to COMARE chair, Alex Elliott.

Between 1969 and 2004, there were only 20 cases of leukemia in those children – compare that to roughly 500 UK children diagnosed with leukemia in any given year.

The added risk was "extremely small, if not actually zero," the report concludes.

In leukemia, Elliott notes, there are known to be correlations between the disease and socioeconomic status and population density, for example. COMARE attempted to compensate for these and other issues.

In 2008, a German study called Kinderkrebs in der Umgebung von Kernkraftwerken (KiKK, Childhood cancer in the vicinity of nuclear power plants) reported that living within 5 km of a nuclear power plant in Germany roughly doubled the risk of childhood leukemia.

But according to the COMARE report, KiKK didn’t fully assess confounding factors or perhaps those findings were influenced by one particular unexplained leukemia cluster in Krummel that lasted 15 years.

When asked if the COMARE findings had any implications for people living near Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant or near the site of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, Elliot stressed that the British studies had looked only at nuclear power plants during normal operation.

"You can't extrapolate (from these findings) to a catastrophic situation," he says.

Since September of last year, a US team has been updating a 1990 study on the link between nuclear power stations and cancer cases at the request of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

This report [pdf] was published last week.

Image: Sizewell B reactor dome in England via Wikimedia

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure