The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to revisit the issue of cancer incidence around nuclear reactors has drawn approval from anti-nuclear activists.
The 1991 study, conducted by the National Cancer Institute, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service and the National Institute of Health originally found “no evidence to suggest that cancer mortality in counties with nuclear facilities was higher than, or was increasing in time faster than, the mortality experience of similar counties in the United States.”
The three-volume study measured all cancer deaths between 1950 and 1984 in 107 counties with nuclear installations. Critics have long argued that the study should have looked at cancer incidence instead of cancer deaths. States did not keep careful records of cancer incidence at the time. The new study will also try to pinpoint areas smaller than the country level.
Dr. Steven Wing, of the University of North Carolina, who claims to have found elevated incidence of childhood cancers after the Three Mile Island accident, was particularly enthusiastic about the new initiative. Wing claims that a number of other studies of populations around nuclear plants have also found elevated cancer rates.
Wing claimed to discover that lung cancer and leukemia rates were two to ten times higher downwind form Three Mile Island than upwind in the years following the accident. One of the weaknesses of the study is that it has never been determined exactly which way the wind was blowing at the time.
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