Nuclear regulators drop cancer risk study

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Federal nuclear energy regulators have decided to end a study they had started to determine the risks of cancer near nuclear power plants.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which had hired the National Academy of Sciences to conduct the study, said Tuesday that it determined that the cost and time of the second phase of its research would be too high given the agency’s budget restraints.

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“We’re balancing the desire to provide updated answers on cancer risk with our responsibility to use congressionally-provided funds as wisely as possible,” Brian Sheron, director of the NRC’s research office, said in a statement.

“The NAS estimates it would be at least the end of the decade before they would possibly have answers for us, and the costs of completing the study were prohibitively high,” he said.

The NRC undertook the study effort in 2010 and completed the first phase in 2012. But the first phase on resulted in recommendations for a second phase, which would focus on analyzing populations near six nuclear power plants to find cancer risks.

NRC staff detailed the decision to end the study in an August memo that the agency made public Tuesday.

It said that completing the study would take as long as 10 years at a cost of $8 million, and alternatives to the research plan should be explored.

The NRC did not endorse a specific alternative, but noted that commissioning an update to the National Cancer Institute’s 1990 study on cancer risks from nuclear plants might be a more cost-effective option.

The agency said that radiation exposure to the public from nuclear plants are as low as reasonably available and a small fraction of what federal standards mandate.

The 1990 study concluded that there is no increased risk of death from cancer for people living in counties near nuclear facilities, a position the NRC still endorses.