ERWIN — Whenever officials with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have publicly conveyed the cancer risks associated with residing near nuclear facilities such as Nuclear Fuel Services, they have relied upon information contained in a more than 20-year-old study.
Now, the NRC is seeking more current information on these risks, and the Erwin facility is to be included in what could be the first step of a full update of the two-decade-old study.
The NRC announced Tuesday that it is sponsoring a pilot cancer risk study to be carried out by the National Academy of Sciences at seven NRC-licensed facilities in order to determine the feasibility of extending the study to include additional reactor and fuel cycle sites across the U.S.
“It’s a pilot study that they’re going to do to help the agency determine if it’s going to do the study nationwide,” NRC spokesman Joey Ledford said.
The National Academy of Sciences will conduct two types of epidemiological studies at the recommended sites. The first study type will examine multiple cancer types in populations living near the facilities. The second will be a case-control study of cancers in children born near the facilities.
Aside from NFS, the only non-reactor facility to be included in the pilot study, the study will also assess the areas around six reactor sites — the Dresden Nuclear Power Station in Morris, Ill.; the Millstone Power Station in Waterford, Conn.; the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in Forked River, N.J.; the decommissioned Haddam Neck facility in Haddam Neck, Conn.; the decommissioned Big Rock Point Nuclear Power Plant in Charlevoix, Mich.; and the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Clemente, Calif.
“The Academy recommended these sites because they provide a good sampling of facilities with different operating histories, population sizes, and levels of complexity in data retrieval from the relevant state cancer registries,” an NRC release issued Tuesday states.
Ledford said the ultimate goal of the study is to update a 1990 study completed by the National Institute of Health’s National Cancer Institute that examined cancer risks for populations in counties with nuclear facilities. That study, which found no increased risk of death from cancer for people living near nuclear facilities, has served as the NRC’s primary source of information when discussing cancer mortality risks in areas containing nuclear power facilities with the public.
The NRC plans to begin working with the National Academy of Sciences to initiate the pilot study process within the next three months. Ledford said the pilot study is expected to take two to three years to complete.
“The NRC staff expects the effort will continue at least into 2014 and cost approximately $2 million,” the NRC release states. “The Academy will work with interested parties near the sites prior to gathering information and beginning the necessary analyses.”
In 2010, the NRC approached and commissioned the National Academy of Sciences to update the 1990 study. Last fall, representatives with the Academy visited Erwin to discuss the two-phase study, the first phase of which was to identify approaches for carrying out the cancer risk assessment, with the second phase being the assessment itself.
In March, the National Academy of Sciences released the details of the study’s first phase. According to information released at that time, the study’s approaches would consist of researchers investigating rates of cancer occurrence and death in geographic areas within a radius of approximately 30 miles of nuclear facilities, and a study to assess the association of cancers in children less than 15 years old in relation to their mothers’ residential proximity to a nuclear facility during pregnancy.
The National Academy of Sciences committee that completed the first-phase report recommended that a pilot study be completed to examine the feasibility of carrying out a large-scale cancer risk study. NFS was among the seven facilities recommended by the committee for the pilot study.
“NFS supports the decision of the NRC to sponsor the NAS study,” NFS officials said in a brief statement issued Tuesday.