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We welcome news of a pending study by the well-respected National Academy of Sciences to determine if there is any link between increased cancers and proximity to nuclear power plants. The Millstone Power Station in Waterford and the site of the former Connecticut Yankee nuclear plant in Haddam, now a high-level radioactive waste storage site, will be included in the study initiated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
This will be a preliminary study of seven sites to determine whether the proposed study design will get the information scientists need to reach an informed conclusion and is worth extending to a full-blown review of all areas around the nation's nuclear power plants.
Airborne and waterborne emissions of radioactive materials from normal operations at nuclear plants can expose nearby populations to ionizing radiation, which could potentially, at least, elevate the risk of cancer. The vast majority of scientists in the field have in the past concluded that the exposures are too small to cause any statistically significant increase in cancers. The NRC rightly recognizes, however, that modeling tools have improved significantly since the last cancer study a quarter century ago and that another look is in order.
Such a study, however, is extremely challenging given the many other natural and manmade environmental factors that can cause cancers. Frequently in the past critics of nuclear power generation have pointed to various spikes in cancer rates and suggested a link to reactors, but attempts to prove a cause and effect have not stood up to peer scientific reviews.
This newspaper has advocated for an expansion of nuclear power generation as part of a national strategy to continue reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil. Having an objective review and assessment of health issues by the National Academy of Sciences will provide important information in the discussion over the role of nuclear power going forward.