Cancer clusters around nuclear installations have always been the subject of great debate, however, they should not be ignored. In early 2008, the very large Childhood Cancer Near Nuclear Power Plants study in Germany reported increases in leukaemias and solid cancers among children living near all German nuclear power plants.
The study triggered debates in many countries as to the cause or causes of these increased cancers.
An accompanying article reported on the developments of the study, including the responses by German radiation agencies, and the results of epidemiological studies near UK and French nuclear installations. The article outlined a possible explanation for the increased cancers: in essence, doses from environmental nuclear power plant emissions to embryos/foetuses in pregnant women near nuclear power plants may be larger than suspected, and haematopoietic tissues may be considerably more radiosensitive in embryos/foetuses than in newborn babies. The article concluded with recommendations for further research.
Sometimes background radiation is brought into the argument when discussing radiation resulting from nuclear power plants, however, this should not be the case because, as mentioned in Annex 6B of The Other Report On Chernobyl (TORCH) report by the Greens/EFA:
- it invites the reader to infer that background radiation is “safe” when this is not the case (the former UK NRPB has calculated that an average UK background dose in a population of 55 million will result on average in about 6,000 to 7,000 future cancer deaths per year); and
- comparisons with background are not used to justify the acceptability of industrial discharges of chemical toxins such as aflatoxin, ozone or dioxin that also occur naturally.
With respect to highly radioactive waste, there are various quotes for the length of time it remains dangerous, including:
- hundreds of thousands of years (No2NuclearPower’s 2007 briefing Nuclear Waste – A global problem with only one answer: Stop producing it!);
- at least 240,000 years (a Greenpeace USA news item from May 2003); and
- 10,000–100,000 years or more (Rocky Mountain Institute’s 2009 article ‘New’ Nuclear Reactors, Same Old Story).
Whichever set of figures is used, there is no denying highly radioactive waste remains dangerous for a very, very long time and the waste responsibility is passed to future generations.