Closing a nuclear reactor in California has prevented an estimated
4,319 cases of cancer in the past 20 years, according to a new study
released Thursday. Researchers studied the population of the state
capitol of Sacramento, an area with more than 1.4 million people living
within 25 miles of the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant.
years worth of data, researchers found an overall drop in the incidence
of all cancers, including six of the 16 most common types. The sharpest
drop came within a decade of the plant's closing in 1989.
findings suggest that the closing of Rancho Seco reduced the risk to
health for local residents, and provides a basis for conducting analyses
on potential long-term health changes,” the study, published in the
journal Biomedicine International, states.
Researchers say more work is needed to determine if there’s a cause-and-effect relationship between the reduced incidence of cancer and the closing of the power plant, but they say the data show a statistically significant relationship in several areas.
The most statistically significant reductions were in breast
and thyroid cancers in women, two cancers that appeared more frequently
in survivors of the nuclear bombs attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
A major concern for communities living near nuclear
power plants is the effect of radiation on children, as developing
fetuses are more susceptible to damage from radioactive isotopes leaked
at nuclear sites.
Researchers say that in the first decade after Rancho Seco’s closing, the rate of childhood cancers like leukemia
dropped 13.6 percent, while the rate in the rest of the state—the
control group for the study—remained unchanged. The cancer rate in
Sacramento continued to decline until 2005, when it rose slightly, but
it was still below the rate seen in the late 1980s when the plant
Whites and Hispanics—California’s most rapidly-growing ethnic group—saw the most significant drop in cancer rates.
Rancho Seco power plant closed in June of 1989 following a public vote.
The Sacramento area now uses renewable energy to generate 21 percent of
The U.S. still has 104 nuclear reactors at 65
different sites, and more than 116 million people live within a 50-mile
radius of a nuclear site. These include people in major metropolitan
areas, such as Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago.
2011 meltdown of a nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, the country
shut down all but 17 of its 54 nuclear reactors. Now, the country only
uses two reactors.
Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and France have
since modified their nuclear power strategy by either closing reactors
or making plans to do so. Italy scrapped plans to build its first
Previous studies on the rates of cancer near
eight closed nuclear reactors showed a 25 percent decrease in childhood
cancers, while the national rate rose 0.5 percent 10 years after the
Study co-author Janette Sherman, an internist,
toxicologist, and professor at Western Michigan University, said the
4,319 fewer cases of cancer in the Sacramento area translated into
millions of dollars saved for the American public, as well as the
incalculable value of human life.
“With large numbers such as
these, and with the future of this source of power a matter of great
public concern, reports like this one must be followed by ongoing
efforts to attain better understanding of potential improvements in
public health after reactors are shutdown,” Sherman said in a press release.