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Agency to leave children unprotected and public in the dark on cancer risks around nuclear power facilities

Vital cancer study canceled as nuclear industry moves in to offer end-run cover-up
TAKOMA PARK, MD, September 8, 2015 — Beyond Nuclear, a leading U.S. NGO of record on the health, safety and environmental dangers of nuclear power facilities, today decried the outrageous decision by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to cancel a study that would have examined cancer incidence and mortalities and the connection to U.S. nuclear facilities.

“Study after study in Europe has shown a clear rise in childhood leukemia around operating nuclear power facilities, yet the NRC has decided to hide this vital information from the American public,” said Cindy Folkers, radiation and health specialist at Beyond Nuclear.  The study, initiated in 2009 and carried out under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), had completed Phase 1 and was looking at seven pilot nuclear sites around the country, a project that was estimated to cost $8 million.

“An $8 million price tag for the next phase of this study is a drop in the bucket for an agency with a $1 billion annual operating budget,” added Folkers.  The NRC identified the “significant amount of time and resources needed and the agency’s current budget constraints” as its excuse for terminating the study. 

Folkers noted that, in reality, nuclear industry manipulation, rather than budget constraints, could be behind the NRC’s sudden decision to abandon the NAS study.

In documents obtained by Beyond Nuclear it was revealed that NRC staff had been approached by the president of U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP), John Boice, offering a cheaper, faster and less sensitive study design to replace the NAS study, although the NRC has not yet agreed to accept the NCRP bid.

“NCRP is not only funded in part by the nuclear industry but its decision-makers also have strong pro-nuclear ties,” said Folkers, who has been leading a six-year effort by Beyond Nuclear and other groups to ensure the NAS cancer study went forward with scientific integrity. 

“John Boice has repeatedly taken industry funding for health studies and has testified against plaintiffs in radiation exposure cases,” Folkers continued.  “The public will have absolutely no confidence in any conclusions reached by such a study and would recognize it as an attempt by the NRC to, yet again, bury public concerns about radiation exposure,” Folkers added.

What’s also behind the cancelation, Folkers alleges, is the incontrovertible evidence of negative health impacts caused by the routine operation of nuclear power reactors and especially on children, that such a study would have made public. 

Last year, Dr. Ian Fairlie, a noted British radiation biologist, conducted a meta-analysis of cancer studies around nuclear plants in the UK, Germany, France and Switzerland and found “a highly statistically significant 37% increase in childhood leukemias within 5 km (3 miles) of almost all nuclear power plants” in those countries. 

Reacting to the NRC’s decision, Fairlie said it was “highly regrettable and inexplicable given the large amount of good evidence from countries outside the U.S. which strongly pointed to increased leukemias near nuclear power plants.”

The influence of the nuclear industry over the NRC is no surprise, given the agency receives 90% of its funding from the nuclear industry itself.  But a recent pattern of dismissing public engagement and canceling minimal safety measures at U.S. nuclear plants is a worrying trend.

“Funding a cancer study around nuclear power plants is a legitimate cost of doing radioactive business that the NRC could have collected through its licensing fees,” said Paul Gunter, Director of Reactor Oversight at Beyond Nuclear and an NRC watchdog.  “Instead, the NRC has decided to pass along another cost savings to the nuclear industry at the expense of public health and safety.”

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The NRC is ceasing work on a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) pilot study (Phase 1 and Phase 2) of cancer risks in populations near U.S. nuclear power facilities. The NRC determined that continuing the work was impractical, given the significant amount of time and resources needed and the agency’s current budget constraints.

The NRC continues to find U.S. nuclear power plants comply with strict requirements that limit radiation releases from routine operations. The NRC and state agencies regularly analyze environmental samples from near the plants. These analyses show the releases, when they occur, are too small to cause observable increases in cancer risk near the facilities.

“We’re balancing the desire to provide updated answers on cancer risk with our responsibility to use Congressionally-provided funds as wisely as possible,” said Brian Sheron, director of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research. “The NAS estimates it would be at least the end of the decade before they would possibly have answers for us, and the costs of completing the study were prohibitively high.”

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Exelon Generation Company, LLC, Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station Unit 1 - NRC Inspection Report No. 05000171/2015009

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NRC to Increase Oversight of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant Based on New Inspection Finding

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has finalized an inspection finding of low-to-moderate safety significance and an associated violation for the Pilgrim nuclear power plant. The decision will result in increased NRC oversight at the Plymouth, Mass., facility.

Specifically, the enforcement action will move the plant into the Repetitive Degraded Cornerstone Column, or Column 4, of the NRC’s Action Matrix. The plant transitioned into the Degraded Cornerstone Column, or Column 3, in late 2013 as a result of unplanned shutdowns and unplanned shutdowns with complications that year. During an inspection in December 2014, the NRC found that Entergy, the plant’s owner and operator, had not adequately evaluated the causes of those shutdowns and that some corrective actions had not been completed as intended or were closed out prematurely.

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Susquehanna Steam Electric Station, Units 1 and 2 - Request for Additional Information Regarding License Amendment Request to Adopt NEI 99-01, Revision 6, EAL Scheme Change (TAC Nos. MF6057 and MF6058)

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Susquehanna Steam Electric Station, Units 1 and 2 - Acceptance of Requested Licensing Action Re: Proposed Relief Requests for the Third Ten-Year Inservice Inspection Interval (TAC Nos. MF6302 through MF6307)

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Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment Report Shows Threats to Human Health, Water and Air Quality

HARRISBURG, PA -- Pennsylvanians should prepare for dangerously high summer temperatures and more severe storms, increased threat of certain diseases carried by insects, and drastic changes to agriculture and water quality, according to a new report on the impact of climate change from Penn State University. The report was authored by Dr. James Shortle with assistance from a multidisciplinary team of colleagues at Penn State.

The Pennsylvania Climate Change Act (PCCA) (Act 70), enacted by the General Assembly in 2008, directed Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to conduct a study of the potential impacts of global climate change on Pennsylvania over the next century. This report is the second update to the original report published in 2009.

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NRC Issues Mid-Cycle Assessments for Nation’s Nuclear Plants

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued mid-cycle assessment letters to the nation’s 99 operating commercial nuclear power plants regarding their performance through the first half of 2015. The mid-cycle assessment period concluded on June 30, with 96 plants in the two highest performance categories.

“NRC senior management and staff perform a systematic review of all current performance indicators, recent inspection findings and other pertinent information for each domestic power reactor facility,” said Scott Morris, Director of the Division of Inspection and Regional Support in the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation. “One key outcome from this semi-annual process is to ensure that all of our stakeholders clearly understand the basis for our assessments of plant performance and the actions we are taking to address any identified performance deficiencies.”

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Mid-Cycle Assessment Letter for Three Mile Island Nuclear Station, Unit 1 (Report 05000289/2015005)

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Mid-Cycle Assessment Letter for Susquehanna Steam Electric Station, Units 1 and 2 (Report 05000387/2015005 and 05000388/2015005)

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