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Cancer risk study moving forward

A pilot planning phase of a study on the risks of cancer in populations near nuclear facilities recently concluded.
According to a recent report issued by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the organization was asked to undertake the study, “Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations near Nuclear Facilities,” by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Seven nuclear facilities were chosen to participate in this study, including Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) in Erwin. NFS is the only fuel cycle facility included in the study, according to the NAS report.
The other six facilities are: Dresden Nuclear Power Station, Morris, Ill.; Millstone Power Station, Waterford, Conn.; Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station, Forked River, N.J.; Haddam Neck Plant, Haddam Neck, Conn.; Big Rock Point Nuclear Plant, Charlevoix, Mich; and San Onfore Nuclear Generating Station, San Clemente, Calif.
All the facilities were chosen during the Phase 1 segment of the study, which took place from September 2010 through May 2012, according to the NAS report.
The study has now entered the Phase 2 segment. The pilot planning portion of Phase 2 took place from September 2013 through December 2014. This is one of two portions in Phase 2. The start of the second portion, pilot execution, has not yet been announced. The pilot execution step will carry out the pilot study.
The goal of the pilot planning stage was just that – to plan for the pilot study – according to the NAS report. Included in the pilot planning stage were steps which included: appointing the study committee; identifying processes for selecting qualified individuals and organizations to perform tasks; initiate effluent release and meteorological data collection; and identifying key stakeholders and ways to communicate with them.
The study will examine two areas concerning cancer risks around these facilities – population-level and linkage-based, according to the NAS report.
“The population-level, or ecologic, study would describe cancer incidence and mortality in populations living in census tracts within approximately 50 kilometers (30 miles) of the nuclear facilities,” the NAS report states. “This study would examine all radiogenic and relatively common cancer types at all ages in populations that are potentially exposed to radiation from nuclear facility operations during their operational histories to the extent feasible with available data.”
The report also states that this area of the study should address the following questions: “Do cancer incidence and mortality vary by proximity to nuclear facilities?” And, “does cancer incidence or mortality reflect patterns of radiation exposure associated with the nuclear facility?”
The second area of the study, linkage-based case-control study, should “assess whether children younger than 15 years of age whose mothers lived close to the nuclear facilities at the time of their birth are at higher risk of developing cancer compared with those whose mothers lived farther away but within a 50-kilometer (30-mile) radius from the facilities,” the NAS report states.
Questions addressed in this area of the study include: “Is a mother’s residential proximity to a nuclear facility at time of delivery associated with cancer in her children?” And, “is estimated radiation exposure during pregnancy, early infancy, or childhood associated with childhood cancer occurrence?”
This study will be conducted by using health information from cancer registries, as well as statistics from the seven facilities, the state and other entities on radioactive effluent releases, the NAS report said.
“There is no intention to conduct interviews with people who live near the pilot nuclear facilities or to make new measurements of radioactive effluent releases from the facilities or in the environment,” the NAS report continues. “Still, the committee judges that the pilot study will likely require substantial effort and resources. The monetary cost for the retrieval of the data, construction of databases, and subsequent analyses will also be substantial.”