The question of whether there are cancer risks associated with living near a nuclear power plant or another nuclear facility is of great interest to the public, especially those living closest to the facilities. Airborne and waterborne emissions of radioactive materials from the facilities’ normal operations (called effluents) can expose nearby populations to small doses of ionizing radiation, which could potentially elevate the risk of cancer.  The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) has been using the results of a 1990 National Cancer Institute (NCI) survey as its primary resource for communicating with the public about cancer risks near the 104 nuclear reactors and 13 fuel cycle facilities that it licenses. However, that study is now outdated and has recognized limitations.

A new report from the National Research Council, conducted at the request of the USNRC, evaluates methodologies for assessing cancer risks in populations living near nuclear facilities.  The report identifies two epidemiologic study designs deemed most appropriate to the task based on their scientific merit, their feasibility, and their ability to address some non-scientific concerns that arise for people near nuclear facilities.  A 4-page brief explaining the main findings of the report is available here.

We invite members of the public to ask any questions they might have to the Chair of the report’s committee, Dr. John E. Burris.  A biologist, Dr. Burris became the president of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund in 2008. He is the former president of Beloit College and prior to that appointment he served as a director and CEO of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.  He has served as president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences and on a number of distinguished scientific boards and advisory committees including the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima, Japan.

In addition to taking questions, the report will also be open for public comment for 60 days starting April 1, 2012. Comments submitted about the report’s proposed methodologies will be used to inform the design of the next phase of study and will be placed in the project’s public access file, which can be made available to the public upon request. Comments can be submitted via email to crs@nas.edu or faxed to 202-334-3077.

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