Nuclear-plant workers face elevated cancer risk: report.

Canwest News Service: Jeremy Warren - June 23, 2009

SASKATOON - Those working in, and living near, nuclear-power plants - such as the one being considered for construction in Saskatchewan - are more likely than the general population to develop cancer or die from it, according to a research paper being released Tuesday.

The 30-page Exposure to Radiation and Health Outcomes, commissioned by the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, found that chronic exposure to low doses of radiation causes the higher risk.

A 15-country, 12-year, 407,391-person study of nuclear-power workers found the employees are twice as likely to die from all causes of cancer than the general public because of the extra radiation exposure, said the report written by Saskatchewan-based health researcher, Mark Lemstra.

But in Canada, one of the 15 countries studied, reactor workers are 7.65 times more likely to die from all causes of cancer compared to non-employees, said the report.

Researchers are unsure why Canadian reactor workers seem to face a higher cancer risk than those in other nuclear countries.

``We don't know why Canadians are more likely to get cancer than others,'' said Lemstra, a former researcher with the Saskatoon Health Region. ``We are going to have to consider revising the protection standards of nuclear workers. ''

Another study, which looked only at cancer rates among Canadian workers, concluded nuclear-power workers are still 3.8 times more likely to die from radiation-related cancer than non-workers, said the report.

``The results . . . confirm that chronic exposure to low doses of radiation are associated with an excess relative risk of cancer mortality,'' it said.

The report was presented to the Future of Uranium in Saskatchewan stakeholder conference in Regina.

Lemstra cited 22 articles in the report, pared down from a review of more than 1,700 articles he found in medical databases, reference lists and on the Internet.

The report found that, even outside the workplace, radiation has effects on the human population.

A German study cited in the report found children below the age of five who live within five kilometres of a nuclear facility are 2.19 times more likely to develop leukemia.

``There's a simple solution: Keep children more than 10 kilometres away from a nuclear facility,'' said Lemstra.

Children are more susceptible to radiation because, in the early stages of development, their bodies are more sensitive to the effects of inhalation, ingestion and other forms of internal exposure, said the report.

``The association between leukemia incidence and mortality from radiation exposure is very strong. The greatest risks are found for youth under the age of 20,'' said the report.

Health effects of nuclear power go beyond radiation. Consistent cost overruns of constructing a nuclear reactor can siphon off government money that could be spent elsewhere, according to the report.

If the provincial government is responsible for all, or a percentage of, cost overruns - a common deal between private and government partners - there is less money for health or education spending, wrote Lemstra.

In Finland, a reactor under construction has already gone 50 per cent over its $4.2-billion budget and will cost $8 billion to finish.

Based on the $10-billion estimate to build a reactor in Saskatchewan, the final tally could rise to $20 billion, and if the province is responsible for a portion of the extra costs, government coffers will be stretched thin to the detriment of other departments, said Lemstra.

``Where will this money come from? In the U.S., the costs are transferred to the public or the ratepayers,'' he said. ``We don't really have the extra money to spend on risky ventures.''

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