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UK Study Finds No Increased Childhood Cancer Risks Near Nuclear Plants

Sept. 26, 2013—Children living near nuclear power plants in Great Britain do not have a greater risk of developing cancer than children living elsewhere, a new study says.

Conducted by researchers at the Childhood Cancer Research Group in Oxford, the study looked at nearly 10,000 children under the age of five who were diagnosed with leukemia or non-Hodgkin lymphoma between 1962 and 2007 and matched them with children who did not have cancer. The researchers calculated the distance from these children’s homes to the nearest nuclear power plant, both at birth and at the time of cancer diagnosis.

Adjusting the analysis for relevant variables such as father’s occupation and characteristics of the region where the children lived such as whether it was rural or urban, the researchers found no increased risks of any childhood cancer for children living near nuclear plants.

The study report was published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Hazel Nunn, Cancer Research UK’s head of health information, called the study results “heartening” and said they support the findings of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment.

Sixteen nuclear reactors are currently in operation in Britain at nine sites.

The British study is the first to use a case-control design to assess the possibility of a link between living close to a nuclear power plant and childhood leukemia or non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Recent studies conducted in Canada and Switzerland similarly have found no linkage between childhood cancers and proximity to nuclear energy facilities (see Nuclear Energy Overview, Sept. 11 and July 14, 2011).

Meanwhile, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has begun to implement a pilot cancer risk study commissioned by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to update a 1990 National Cancer Institute report used to communicate the risks of living near U.S. nuclear energy facilities.

The NRC/NAS pilot study will initially examine cancer risks around seven nuclear plants, including six operating and shutdown commercial reactors and a fuel cycle facility, using two types of epidemiological studies. The first will examine multiple cancer types in populations of all ages living near the nuclear sites, while the second will be a record-linkage-based case-control study of cancers in children born near the sites.