Cancers and infant mortality – dramatic rises near Diablo Canyon nuclera power plant

Study: Nuclear Reactors Are Toxic to Surrounding Areas, Especially With Age 11 March 2014   By Candice BerndTruthout | Report A study released tlast week shows that public health in the communities surrounding California’s Diablo Canyon power plant in San Luis Obispo County declined dramatically after the plant was built. The findings also document the presence of Strontium-90 in baby teeth.

Is the baby tooth under your child’s pillow radioactive? It could be if you live relatively close to a nuclear power plant that has been operating normally and in accordance with federal regulations, according to a new study.

The study, released last week by the Santa Barbara-based think tank World Business Academy for its Safe Energy Project, found that public health indicators such as infant mortality rates and cancer incidence in surrounding areas rose dramatically after Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) two nuclear reactors at the Diablo Canyon power plant began operations in 1984 and 1985.

“This should be a concern for any nuclear reactor and its health risks, whether it’s been operating for a day or 30 or 40 years because these reactors create over 100 cancer-causing chemicals; much of it is stored as waste at the plant, but a portion of it is released into the environment and gets into human bodies through the food chain,” said Joseph Mangano, who authored the study. He is the executive director of the nonprofit Radiation and Public Health Project (RPHP).

The findings also document the presence of the radioactive isotope Strontium-90 in baby teeth, showing that the Strontium-90 levels in 50 baby teeth collected mostly from San Luis Obispo County, but also from Santa Barbara County, which is downwind from the Diablo Canyon plant, was 30.8 percent higher than the levels found in the 88 baby teeth from the rest of the state.

The isotope displays some biological similarity to the way calcium behaves in the body because of the way it becomes absorbed and deposited in bones and bone marrow. The effects of Strontium-90 on the human body are not completely understood, according to medical professionals, but it has been linked to bone cancer and leukemia.

The Academy study cites previous research conducted from 1996 to 2006 by RPHP, which remains the only analysis of radioactivity levels within the bodies of Americans who live close to nuclear reactors. RPHP tested about 5,000 baby teeth and found consistent elevation levels of Strontium-90 in the teeth of children born in counties closest to nuclear reactors and a consistent rise in these levels over time.

In California, the average Strontium-90 level found in baby teeth has risen with time, increasing 50.2 percent for children born in 1994-97 from the levels found in children born in 1986-89. After the halt of above-ground atom bomb testing in 1963, the average Strontium-90 levels fell, but they began to rise again in the 1980s and ’90s. And according to the Academy study, there is only one source of this isotope not found in nature: the federally-permitted radioactive emissions from all operating US reactors, including the Diablo Canyon plant.

The Academy study’s other key findings include that the infant mortality and child/adolescent mortality rates in San Luis Obispo County, which were far below California’s average rates before the plant began operations, have nearly closed the gap with the state’s average. Moreover, the county’s overall cancer rate, which was previously below the state’s average, is now much greater than the California average. In fact, San Luis Obispo County has the highest rate of cancer incidence of the state’s 20 most southern counties, according to the study, and these rising cancer incidences include statistically significant increases in thyroid and breast cancers, which are particularly radiosensitive.

“Permissible” Limits

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows what it calls “permissible” limits of radioactive emissions from nuclear reactors as well as radioactive concentrations in the surrounding environment, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requires all reactor operators to submit detailed annual reports on the types of radioactive emissions released and their concentrations. But many scientists and medical experts agree there is no safe concentration of radiation, no matter how small, especially for children and other vulnerable demographic populations.

“Every single exposure to radiation carries some level of harm. It’s like saying if you smoke four cigarettes a day, that’s relatively low so we’re going to call it permissible, we’re going to call that safe,” Mangano told Truthout. “Well, cigarettes are cigarettes,” he said.

Mangano has authored 32 peer-reviewed medical journal articles on the topic of radiation and public health impacts. He notes that the nuclear industry, regulators, government health agencies and academics have all neglected to produce studies demonstrating the safety of nuclear plants, so there is no evidentiary basis for what is “permissible.”

“[Regulators] just set these permissible limits, measure them, say ‘yes, we’re below permissible so we’re good.’ … As a health researcher, I think that’s irresponsible to do, and I think it’s misleading to the public because these are not your ordinary chemicals,” he said.

Mangano believes his work is just the beginning. He hopes other researchers will follow up by studying potential health impacts on surrounding communities in more depth. Other medical experts agree that his study is enough to warrant this additional work.

Dr. Stephen Hosea, who is associate director of internal medicine education at the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara told Truthout he believes the study has strong epidemiological merits in that it analyzes patterns of changing health and disease conditions and identifies risk factors in defined populations.

“Any time you look at a study you want to ask if it makes sense with other things that we know, and we certainly know that exposure to radiation can cause birth defects and problems with the fetus and neonates,” Dr. Hosea said. “It also is well-known to cause cancer as well. So it certainly makes sense from that standpoint.”

The Academy commissioned the study in the hope it will prompt the replacement of California’s last nuclear energy source with renewable energy sources instead. The people behind the Academy and its Safe Energy Project aim to inspire businesses to take responsibility for the environment and the concerns of civil society.

Representatives of the Academy have testified in hearings before the California Public Utilities Commission to shut down the San Onofre nuclear plant in San Diego. The plant closed in June of 2013, but the Academy continues to intervene in ongoing legal hearings before the utilities commission for a refund of $1.5 billion in rate-payer dollars charged to consumers, claiming the plant was mismanaged by the utility company that owns it.

“Obviously our goal is to close down Diablo Canyon, we had that goal before this study was done,” Jerry Brown, who directs the Academy’s Safe Energy Project, told Truthout. “However, our hope is this study will inspire all interested parties … to take a serious looks at the health impacts of nuclear power plants, Diablo Canyon, and of all the nuclear power plants in the country.”



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