Studying Cancer Near Nuke Plants

  • The NRC tells people that living near nuclear power plants does not pose extra risk for cancer, and it points to a particular study, finished twenty years ago.(Photo courtesy of the Rancho Seco Reactor)

For decades, the federal government has said it’s safe to live near nuclear power reactors and it points to a particular cancer study to back that up. Shawn Allee reports, lately, the government worries that study’s out of date and it wants scientists to take another look.

Transcript

For decades, the federal government has said it’s safe to live near nuclear power reactors and it points to a particular cancer study to back that up. Shawn Allee reports, lately, the government worries that study’s out of date and it wants scientists to take another look.

The federal agency that’s looking for an up-to-date cancer study is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC.

It’s asked the National Academy of Sciences to do that study, but the Academy hasn’t made up its mind. The academy asked the NRC, the nuclear power industry, and the public to explain why a new study’s even needed.

It broadcast the hearing over the Internet.

“Our first speaker is Sarah Sauer, private citizen.”

Sarah Sauer is 16, but looks much younger.

“I am one of the statistics you’ll be studying. When I was seven years old, I was diagnosed with brain cancer. I hope in this study you will remember who you’re doing this for.”

“Thank you Sarah, let me invite your parents to say something if they’d like to.”

“I am Cynthia Sauer, Sarah’s mom. For my family and i this study is long overdue. nine years ago today, Sarah was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. The pain has been so shattering that we still cannot give it words.”

Cynthia Sauer tells the National Academy how her family once lived near the Dresden nuclear power station, about 50 miles Southwest of Chicago.

She’d learned that power plant leaked radioactive water years ago.

Cynthia Sauer can’t say for sure the plant caused Sarah’s cancer, but she wonders … because other kids were diagnosed with cancer, too.

“I began searching for answers to my questions regarding the leaks and the numbers of children diagnosed with cancer in our small town.”

Cynthia Sauer turned to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The NRC tells people that living near nuclear power plants does not pose extra risk for cancer, and it points to a particular study, finished twenty years ago.

“The scientists in the ad hoc committee statement clearly stated the study was flawed and that further monitoring and investigation was needed.”

What are the flaws? For one, the old study concluded people living near nuclear power plants do not face extra risk of dying from cancer … but it didn’t answer whether they’re at risk of getting cancer.

It ignored cancer survivors or people who moved before dying of the disease.

Sauer tells the academy that … this is why we need a new cancer study – we just can’t be confident in the old one.

And that’s a problem because at least three million people live within ten miles of a nuclear power plant.

Some US Congressmen want the safety issue settled, and in fact, so does the nuclear power industry.

Ralph Anderson is with The Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade group.

He says other studies suggest power plants are safe … so the industry has nothing to worry about from a new study – unless the Academy misinterprets results:

“There have been studies where people simply collect the data and let the computer go to work to bend the data in a wide variety of ways. We have been the victim of a number studies that have done precisely that. So, you end up with weird age groups and things like that because the data’s carefully selected to prove the point. That’s what we’d like to see avoided.”

So the public, the government and industry want some kind of follow-up study on cancer rates near nuclear power plants.

But that might not be enough for The National Academy of Sciences to move forward.
Many scientists say we can’t begin good studies, because it’s hard to collect the necessary data.
In fact, one group that says that … is the same group that conducted the original cancer study twenty years ago.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

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Government Meeting on New Nukes

  • Some nuclear companies envision reactors in tiny power stations or even factories. (Photo courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

Commercial nuclear reactors pretty
much come in two sizes: big and huge.
Companies want to create much smaller,
cheaper reactors. Shawn Allee reports they’re pitching their ideas
to the government this week:

Transcript

Commercial nuclear reactors pretty
much come in two sizes: big and huge.
Companies want to create much smaller,
cheaper reactors. Shawn Allee reports they’re pitching their ideas
to the government this week:

These nuclear companies envision reactors in tiny power stations or even
factories. They expect good sales because nuclear power creates almost no
carbon emissions.

But before they can sell even one reactor, they have to go through a
nuclear gate-keeper. That’d be the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

NRC spokesman Scott Burnell says, today, the government is laying out the
ground rules.

“The NRC has focused on large commercial scale nuclear power plants for
several decades. We have requirements for safety systems, for security
where these small reactor designers need to look at our requirements
closely, to make sure they can meet them.”

Burnell says some small reactor designs include technology the NRC has
never approved before.

He says it could take the government up to ten years to evaluate those
designs.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

Related Links

Interview: Great Lakes Need Citizen Input

A recent report indicates many of the problems troubling the Great Lakes are due to poor governance of the lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham talked with the chief author of the report, Restoring Greatness to Government: Protecting the Great Lakes in the 21st Century. Dave Dempsey is a policy advisor with the Michigan Environmental Council, which published the report:

Transcript

A recent report indicates many of the problems troubling the Great Lakes are due to poor
governance of the lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham talked with the
chief author of the report Restoring Greatness to Government: Protecting the Great Lakes in
the 21st Century
. Dave Dempsey is a policy advisor with the Michigan Environmental
Council, which published the report:


Dave Dempsey: “Well, we have sick Great Lakes in part because we have a sick governance
system. We have an array of 21st century problems facing the lakes from climate change to
continued degradation of some of our waters with toxic chemicals, but we have a 19th century
system of government that’s trying to protect them and failing.”


Lester Graham: “Now, the International Joint Commission, which is a body made up of
appointees by the Canadian government and the U.S. government, is to watch over the water
quality agreement and the treaty between the U.S. and Canada as to how we treat the Great Lakes.
And the Great Lakes Commission is another group that’s made up of representatives from the
eight Great Lakes states and the two provinces in Canada that surround the Great Lakes. And
these are all 21st century people, I know some of them, and they’re bright folks, they’re doing an
earnest and fairly decent job. What’s holding them back? They’re not 19th century people.”


DD: “No, but the structures and the systems they use are 19th century. There’s two problems: with
several of the commissions, they’ve become very politicized. The International Joint Commission
used to have a tradition of independence from political pressures and looking at the long-term
health of the Great Lakes. That’s been compromised since the ’90’s. But maybe more
importantly, with all these institutions, they’re relying on the old fashioned way of dealing with
public input. We think, in the environmental community, that the way to restore healthy Great
Lakes is to make sure the citizen voice is heard. These institutions cover a Great Lakes basin
that’s hundreds of thousands of square miles, and they’re expecting people to show up at public
hearings, perhaps traveling hundreds of miles to get there. Today, what we need to do is take
advantage in governance of the Internet, and other ways of involving people that don’t require
that kind of commitment or sacrifice because people frankly don’t have the time.”


LG: “How would increased participation of the public help the health of the Great Lakes?”


DD: “Well, looking at the history of the Great Lakes, every time the public voice is heard
strongly in the halls of government, the Great Lakes recover. Every time the voices of special
interests are drowning out the public voice, the lakes begin to deteriorate and that’s what we see
happening now.”


LG: “The Great Lakes Commission has had some success recently in getting more money from
the government for the Great Lakes recovery, the IJC has done a good job recently of working
with the media to bring public awareness to invasive species because of the Asian black carp. So,
are those moves the kind of thing you’d like to see to solve this problem?”


DD: “I think it’s helpful. Both of these commissions can use their bully pulpit to publicize
problems and call attention. But if you took a poll of the average Great Lakes residents, very few
of them would ever have heard of these commissions. We need bodies that look out for the Great
Lakes that are really plugged into individual communities, and that doesn’t exist right now. The
Great Lakes Commission specifically was set up to promote commercial navigation in the Great
Lakes, and while it has broadened its agenda to look at ecosystem issues, it has been an advocate,
for example, for the Great Lakes review of navigation that could result in more invasive species
coming into the Great Lakes by allowing more ocean-going vessels. We need an institution that’s
looking at the health of the Lakes first, not at the health of the industries that sometimes exploit
them.”


LG: “Bottom line, what would you like to see done?”


DD: “I’d like to see a Great Lakes citizens’ commission building on the existing institutions that
plugs into the individual states and provinces around the Great Lakes and brings people and their
voices together so that their vision of healthy Great Lakes can be carried out by government.”


Host Tag: Dave Dempsey is chief author of a report on governance of the Great Lakes issued by
the Michigan Environmental Council. He spoke with the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester
Graham.

Related Links

Asian Traditions May Spread Invasive Carp

Biologists say the invasive Asian carp is knocking on the door of the Great Lakes as populations of the imported fish make their way up the Mississippi River system. And while officials are seeking funding to construct and maintain an electric barrier to keep the fish out, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush reports that the fish has another way of getting into the lakes:

Transcript

Biologists say the invasive Asian carp is knocking on the door of the Great Lakes as populations of the imported fish make their way up the Mississippi River system. And while officials are seeking funding to construct and maintain an electric barrier to keep the fish out, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush reports that the fish has another way of getting into the Lakes:


Two years ago an Asian carp was netted in Lake Erie. And another was found
in a fountain in downtown Toronto. These fish were more than likely released
by humans. And while biologists have not yet found evidence of an
established population of Asian carp… they fear more releases like these
could lead to the spread of this harmful fish.


Dennis Schornack is the U.S. Chair of the International Joint Commission, a
governmental body which monitors the waters between Canada and the U.S. He
says that certain traditions of Asian immigrants may be unknowingly contributing to the problem:


“We are advised that there are certain customs in the Asian community which
involve not only eating the fish, but giving the fish back to the source, so
that it’s sort of, ‘buy two, eat one, return one.'”


Schornack says that the governments of Canada and the U.S. should educate
those who buy Asian carp for food about the threat the fish pose to the
Great Lakes ecosystem. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark
Brush.