The US NRC has announced that a study examining cancers around NRC-licensed facilities will move forward through the National Academy of Sciences. The study will be conducted according to study designs set forth in the report Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations Near Nuclear Facilities: Phase I. Beyond Nuclear has released a statement to the press outlining our expectations and the necessity for conducting such a study. When the Phase I report was released, Beyond Nuclear, along with several other citizens and interest groups, submitted comments to NAS. Phase II of the study will focus on seven pilot sites - San Onofre, CA; Millstone and Haddam Neck, CT; Dresden, IL; Oyster Creek, NJ; Nuclear Fuel Services, Erwin, TN; and Big Rock Point, MI. The final phase could expand to multiple US nuclear sites.
The Phase I report recognizes many of the shortcomings of prior health studies including the imperfection of relying on data from the atomic bomb exposures in Japan, and investigation of cancer deaths only rather than examining incidence.
In general, Beyond Nuclear supports the case-control study as outlined by the NAS phase one report but NOT the ecologic study if it contains dose estimates which rely on industry data or if it includes adults. In general, a case-control study of childhood cancer will be the most scientifically defensible and probably the least expensive, especially if assumed doses to children rely on place of birth rather than any dose derived from industry data. The Phase I report recognizes the daunting task of reconstructing doses for individuals (rather than whole groups of people) using industry effluent or monitoring data and the impossibility of doing this consistently.
Dose estimates are not necessary to perform a health assessment, and if based on bad data, may actually act to obscure the truth. If a dose assessment is to be performed it should be de-coupled from an epidemiological assessment and done as a separate investigation. This holds true for environmental contamination assessments as well.
Viable, scientifically independent and defensible studies can be conducted based on many of the principles and methods detailed in the NAS Phase I report. But clearly, some of the Phase I report assumptions must be abandoned in order to obtain a scientifically supportable and publicly acceptable picture of cancer risks around nuclear facilities.
Beyond Nuclear is concerned that, based on recent statements by nuclear proponents, the industry will force the study to start with the assumption that no health effects will be found. This assumption, is itself based on incomplete, inaccurate or inappropriate industry-generated data and exposure assumptions. This methodology creates a circular logic with and inescapable, and ultimately unsubstantiated, conclusion that radioactive effluent carries very little health risk, an assumption question in several health studies including ones from Germany and France. When, as in the case of these two studies in Europe, increased risk of disease is found, and the previous assumption was that the radiation exposure was too low to cause this risk, this increased risk is left with no explanation. In fact, the assumption that radiation wasn’t the cause should never have been made in the first place.
See a very good article focusing on San Onofre, one of the pilot sites in this study. Cindy Folkers and Paul Gunter interviewed.