By John Daly
In a report certain to cause fear and loathing in the global nuclear industry, an eminent French research institute published a study in the International Journal of Cancer, which notes increased rates of leukemia in children living close to French nuclear power plants (NPPs.)
How much greater?
The study by the Institut National de la Sante et de la Recherche Medicale (French Institute of Health and Medical Research, or INSERM) found a leukemia rate twice as high among children under the age of 15 living within a 3.1-mile radius of France’s 19 nuclear power plants.
INSERM has carried out similar research in conjunction with the Institut de Radioprotection et de Surete Nucleaire (Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety, or IRSN) CEPA UMRS1018, team 6 for over two decades, but has never before found a higher incidence of leukemia.
The report builds upon the findings of a German study published in late 2007 studying German children under 5 years old, which found that children of that age in the vicinity of German NPPs had suffered an increase in the incidence of childhood leukemia.
IRSN epidemiology research laboratory head Dominique Laurier observed, “This is a result which has been checked thoroughly and which is statistically significant.”
For those wishing to read the International Journal of Cancer study by C. Sermage-Faure, D. Laurier, S. Goujon-Bellec, M. Chartier, A. Guyot-Goubin, J. Rudant, D. Hemon and J. Clavel, “Childhood leukemia around French nuclear power plants – the Geocap study, 2002 – 2007,” the document is online in English at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ijc.27425/pdf.
The study has ominous implications for the future of the nuclear industry in France, which opted for a full-blown nuclear energy program with minimal public debate after the first oil crisis in 1974 and whose 19 NPPs’ 58 reactors now provide more than 78 percent of the country’s electricity.
As for the study’s methodology, “The case-control study included all the 2,753 French childhood leukemia cases aged up to 15 years at the end of the year of diagnosis, diagnosed between 2002 and 2007, and residing in metropolitan France. The cases were obtained from the French National Registry of Childhood Hematological Malignancies (NRCH).”
Other unsettling findings from the study –
“The age distribution of the cases included in the study showed the expected peak of incidence, between 2 and 4 years old.”
“Overall, the results suggest a possible excess risk of AL (Acute lymphoblastic leukemia) in the close vicinity of French NPPs in 2002-2007.”
Nuclear power proponents will immediately seize upon the fact that the study fell short of establishing a direct causal link between the higher incidence of leukemia in children living near nuclear power plants. Laurier, one of the study’s authors remarked, “But we are working on numbers which are very small and results have to be analyzed with a lot of care. It’s a rare disease and working on a bigger scale would allow more stable results.”