Push For New Nuclear Power Sputters, But Old Reactors Still Pose Cancer Risks

The Cancer Prevention Coalition advocates phase out nuclear reactors in the United States and replace them with technologies that do not emit radioactive chemicals, thereby protecting public health. Republican energy lawmakers proposed building 100 nuclear reactors across the country within the next 20 years, according to a recent energy bill.

Due to the lack of new reactor orders since 1978, the proposal would constitute a nuclear renaissance, which would double the current number of nuclear reactors in operation in the United States. Because nuclear power does not emit greenhouse gases when generating power, utilities have stopped closing old reactors while proposing 33 new ones to be built in New England, throughout the South and Southeast, and in Texas, Utah and Idaho. Concerns about global warming have led utilities to take action.

Here is a list of applications for new reactor approvals filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In a recent article, two Swedish scientists concluded that a large increase in nuclear reactors will not solve global warming. (http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/new-licensing-files/expected-new-rx-applications.pdf)

There is one exception when it comes to reporting greenhouse gas emissions, and that is when nuclear power plants operate. But utilities do not report greenhouse gas emissions throughout the entire nuclear fuel cycle. Dr. Samuel S. Epstein, Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition and Professor Emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, warns that nuclear reactors and their support industries emit radioactive materials into the local environment. During the 1970s, Wall Street investors stopped funding nuclear reactor projects due to safety and cost concerns. Private investors again snubbed nuclear power today due to these issues. The Bush administration was a willing partner in bringing nuclear back to life. A 2005 law authorizing $18.5 billion in federal loan guarantees only covered two reactors. On April 1, 1979, a grim-faced President James Carter toured the damaged Three Mile Island reactor as the first sitting president to visit a nuclear plant.

In the stimulus package, President Obama rejected a request for $50 billion in loan guarantees, slamming the renaissance. He also refused to provide further funding for the construction of a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain Nevada, leaving utilities without a permanent facility for storing highly radioactive nuclear waste. There are 55 storage sites licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as well as several Department of Defense facilities and national laboratories where it is temporarily held. As Dr. Epstein explains, nuclear reactors pose a significant threat not through the construction of new ones, but from the continued operation of old and corroded ones. Several U.S. reactors are nearing the end of their 40-year licenses. It has been requested by many utilities to extend their licenses by 20 years. The Radiation and Public Health Project’s executive director, Joseph Mangano, MPH, MBA, said that each of the first 52 requests had been rubber-stamp approved, despite the fact that operating a 60-year-old reactor would be extremely hazardous to human health. A notable exception is the opposition of state government officials in New York and New Jersey to the extension of nuclear licenses.

The residents of New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland, and Boston live within 40 miles of nuclear reactors in 37 states. Dr. Epstein warns that if there is a meltdown, it would be impossible to evacuate safely, resulting in radiation poisoning or cancer for thousands of people. It is not lost on concerned Americans that Chernobyl’s horrific specter, or that terrorists may attack nuclear plants.

Despite widespread media neglect of this fact, he declares that reactors pose a real health threat, not just a potential one. More than 100 radioactive chemicals are created when electricity is generated, including the same toxic chemical mix found in atomic bomb fallout. However, some of these gases and particles, such as Strontium-90, Cesium-137, and Plutonium-239, are routinely released into the atmosphere and water. They are stored primarily as waste. The radiation is absorbed by humans via breathing, eating, and drinking, just like bomb fallout. In spite of industry and government officials’ claims that radiation from reactors is too small to cause harm, researchers have repeatedly documented that cancer rates are high near reactors for years. As an example, researchers at the University of South Carolina reviewed the scientific literature in 2007 and found that nearly all 17 studies examined had elevated rates of childhood cancer, particularly leukemia and brain cancer. The biggest study on German reactors ever conducted was conducted in 2008, which also found high cancer rates among children locally.

The journal “Archives of Environmental Health” published a January 2002 article by Mangano and colleagues showing that when U.S. reactors were shut down, infant deaths and child cancer cases dropped dramatically. It is the very young who suffer most from radiation exposure, which is why they benefit most when exposed to less radiation. A closure of all nuclear reactors would result in approximately 18,000 fewer infant deaths and 6,000 fewer childhood cancer cases over the next 20 years, according to this study. There are currently 31 nuclear power plants in the United States, with Illinois having 11, Pennsylvania having nine, and New Jersey having four.

According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition, state governments should take steps to warn and protect their citizens as they await the federal government’s phaseout of nuclear energy. In the first instance, governors must inform their citizens of the dangers of nuclear plants in order to phase them out politically.

Nuclear power was too cheap to be meterable in 1954, according to Atomic Energy Chairman Lewis Strauss. President Nixon envisioned 1,000 reactors by this time, but staggering costs and built-in dangers dashed his dreams. There has been a great deal of talk about reviving this Cold War-era dream, but it is still largely talk. In the meantime, the nation continues to develop technology like solar power and wind power that never runs out and doesn’t pollute. The risk of cancer is too great to put millions of Americans in danger by hanging on to old reactors that generate only 19% of electricity and 8% of our total energy. The U.S. should phase out nuclear reactors, and replace them with options that don’t pose a health threat.

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Alex Jones

Alex Jones is a tech-savvy editor at World-Wire, renowned for his expertise in writing detailed technical articles and user-friendly how-to guides. With a background in Information Technology, he excels in demystifying complex tech topics. His work is highly valued for its accuracy and practicality, earning him awards like "Innovator in Tech Journalism" in 2023. Alex's role at World-Wire is pivotal in making technology accessible to a broad audience.

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