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Public consultation Re: Pickering Nuclear Plant Refurbishment presented to the Pickering Council

By: Dr. Linda Harvey from CCAMU (Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium) March 23, 2009

Thank you for having a public consultation on this very important issue. Perhaps you have pretty much made your minds up already, I don’t know. I still think it is worth reviewing some of the things it is critically important for you to be aware of before you make this very important decision.

I am a physician licensed to practice medicine in the province of Ontario, and have degrees in Biology and Neurophysiology as well. Thus my training is in the sciences and medicine.

Hopefully you are aware of new data coming out of Germany, as well as England and the USA, which links childhood leukemia with proximity of residence to a nuclear power plant. One such study, known as the KiKK study (1,2), (from the German ‘Childhood Cancer in the Vicinity of Nuclear Power Plants’) was commissioned by the German government ostensibly to disprove the claim that there was an excess of childhood cancer near nuclear power plants. It was a meticulously designed case-control study ( a stronger and more definitive design than the more common ecologic study or ‘survey’ of disease incidence in a general population), and examined data from around all 16 of Germany’s nuclear power reactors. It found an unequivocal link between distance of residence from a reactor and likelihood of leukemia in children under 5. The closer the child lived to the plant, the more likelihood of the child having leukemia. This relationship existed out to a distance of 50 km. from the reactor. This result was, needless to say, unexpected.

Data from this study were reviewed by an independent panel of 12 experts, including epidemiologists, pediatricians, statisticians and physicists. The study was found to be scientifically impeccable.

This is not the only such study, although it is perhaps the strongest one. It was undertaken after two other German studies, less refined in their design, also found positive correlations between childhood leukemia and proximity to a nuclear power plant (3,4).

There have been similar studies done in Great Britain, notably by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE). The COMARE studies antedate the KiKK study, and are ecologic in design, and therefore inherently less powerful. Nonetheless, they found some significant increases in childhood cancer and leukemia near nuclear installations, including power plants, reprocessing plants, enrichment facilities and weapons plants (5). It was these studies which in part inspired the German studies.

The Americans have done their own work. There have been documented increases in childhood leukemia and cancer around US nuclear facilities (6,7,8) and after start up of new facilities.

No one study by itself, however well designed, would be enough to govern a decision on this issue, but their mounting numbers and their consistency, even when they do not reach statistical significance, should be cause for alarm. I will remind you that it was German data on thalidomide which caused this drug to be removed from the market before any more tragedies could occur

Are there any studies in Canada? Yes, there are. Two studies were commissioned by the Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB) in 1989 and 1991 (9,10) following concerns about findings in Great Britain. They are both ecologic studies, as opposed to the more powerful case-control type of study, and looked at childhood leukemia at ages 0-4 and 0-14 respectively, within 25 km of Chalk River, Port Hope, Elliot Lake and Pickering and Bruce Nuclear Plants. They found elevated rates at all sites except Chalk River, although not reaching statistical significance.

Another 1991 study (11) specifically of the Pickering region found statistically significant increases in central nervous system defects and Down’s syndrome correlating with airborne tritium releases.

The Radiation and Health in Durham Region study of 2007 (12), an update of a similar 1996 study, examined cancer and leukemia in adults and children. It was and ecologic study, and lumped data not by distance from a nuclear facility, but by municipal boundaries. Despite these methodological shortcomings, there were some positive findings. The study is a comprehensive one, and time constraints do not allow me to do it full justice. Suffice it to say that there are results in all of the Canadian studies which demand a more carefully designed and focused research approach.

I hope members of Council will familiarize themselves with this work. I have given you references. I recommend that you have someone knowledgeable in epidemiology and statistics, who is not connected to the nuclear industry, review this material and prepare a commentary for you. The matter is too important to take lightly.

You do not need to make your decision tonight; you need to make it when you are fully prepared, and comfortable that you can make a sound one.

There are some other things I would like to mention in passing:

Cancer, including leukemia, is not the only effect of low level radiation exposure on humans. Low level radiation has been implicated in cardiovascular disease, immune system dysfunction including autoimmune disorders and decreased resistance to disease, accelerated aging, genetic damage passing down through generations, even diabetes and obesity (13). Very few studies on any of these things have been done in Canada. The population of Pickering is quite large, and you have an operating plant here already. It would be prudent and responsible to do these studies before committing your population to more of something which may be harmful.

Operating your plant requires uranium. This necessitates mining uranium, an ecologically devastating undertaking. This happens in somebody’s back yard, if not yours.

There is currently no satisfactory long term storage method for spent fuel rods. These are highly dangerous, and subject to mishaps and sabotage. Do you want them around? Do you think any community wants them?

The possibility of a catastrophe, such as happened at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, while very small, is not zero. It will not be zero until the reactor has finished operating and the fuel rods have cooled enough that they are safe.

Finally, nuclear power is most certainly not green house gas-free. It takes enormous amounts of fossil fuel to mine uranium, crush rock to extract it, ship it from northern Saskatchewan to Blind River to Port Hope to Kentucky and back for all the different stages of processing, to manufacture, mix and pour concrete for the reactor building, to build and maintain storage casks for the spent rods, decommission mines, etc. It can take a third or more of the energy you ever get back from the plant, and many of these steps require non-electrical energy.

There are alternatives, consider them.

Of all the reasons not to use nuclear power, the most compelling has to do with our health, and our children’s health.


References:

1) Spix C., Schmiedel S., Kaatsch P., Schulze-Rath R., Blettner M. “Case-Control Study on Childhood Cancer in the Vicinity of Nuclear Power Plants in Germany 1980-2003.” Eur. Journal of Cancer 2008; 44:275-284

2) Kaatsch P., Spix C., Schulze-Rath R., Schmiedel S., Blettner M. “Leukemia in Young Children Living in the Vicinity of German Nuclear Power Plants.” Int. J. Cancer 2008; 1220: 721-26

3) Kaatsch P., Kaletsch U., Meinert R., Michaelis J. “An Extended Study on Childhood Malignancies in the Vicinity of German Nuclear Power Plants.” Cancer Causes Control 1998; 9: 529-33

4) Hofmann W., Terschueren C., Richardson D. B., “Childhood leukemia in the Vicinity of the Geesthacht Nuclear Establishments near Hamburg, Germany.” Environmental Health Perspectives 2007; 115: 947-52

5) Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE), 10th Report, “The Incidence of Childhood Cancer around Nuclear Installations in Great Britain.” 2005

6) Baker, PJ and CG Hoel “Meta-analysis of Standardized Incidence and Mortality Rates of Childhood Leukemia in proximity to Nuclear Facilities.” Eur. J. Cancer Care 16:355, 2007

7) Mangano, J. “Short Latency between Radiation Exposure from Nuclear Plants and Cancer in young Children.” Internat. J Health Services 36:113, 2007

8) Mangano, J. “Excess Infant Mortality after Nuclear Plant Start-up in Rural Mississippi.” Internat. J. Health Services 38: 277-291, 2008

9) Clarke E., McLaughlin J., Anderson T. “Childhood Leukemia Around Canadian Nuclear Facilities” – Phase 1 and 2. Ontario Cancer Treatment and Research foundation, University of British Columbia. A report prepared for the Atomic Energy Control Board Ottawa, Canada. May 1989 (Phase 1), June 1991 (Phase 2)

10) Johnson K., Rouleau J. “Tritium Releases from the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station and Birth Defects and Infant Mortality in Nearby Communities 1971-88.” (AECB Project No. 7.156.1). Birth Defects and Poisonings Section, Diseases of Infants and Children Division, Bureau of Chronic Disease Epidemiology, Laboratory Centre for Disease Control, Health Protection Branch, Health and Welfare Canada. A research report prepared for the Atomic Energy Control Board Ottawa, Canada. Oct. 1991

11) Durham Region Health Department (2007), Radiation and Health in Durham Region 2007. Whitby, Ontario: The Regional Municipality of Durham

12) BEIR VII Phase 2. Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation: Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation. National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2006,

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