No leukemia risk in the vicinity of nuclear power plants?



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Study on leukemia diseases in the vicinity of nuclear power plants

A potentially increased risk of leukemia in the vicinity of nuclear power plants has been repeatedly discussed in the past. Most recently, the comprehensive German study "Childhood Cancer for Nuclear Power Plants" caused a sensation in 2007, in which a 100 percent increased blood cancer risk was found in children under the age of five who live within five kilometers of one of the sixteen German nuclear power plants .

In the so-called Canupis (Childhood Cancer and Nuclear Power Plants in Switzerland) study, Swiss researchers from the University of Bern have now identified a twenty percent increased risk of leukemia in small children living within five kilometers of the Swiss nuclear power plants. However, the investigated case numbers with only eight leukemia diseases (theoretically expected 6.8) were too small to derive a connection with the nuclear power plants, explained the researchers of the Bern University Institute for Social and Preventive Medicine (ISP). In addition, significantly fewer leukemia cases had occurred in the study regions with a greater distance from the nuclear power plants (five to ten kilometers or ten to 15 kilometers), according to the Canupis study. In the end, the study therefore does not allow any reliable statements to be made about a possible connection between leukemia diseases and the nuclear power plants.

Insignificance of the cancer study due to statistical uncertainty As part of the Canupis study, the researchers at the Bern University Institute for Social and Preventive Medicine (ISP) took a close look at the leukemia disorders of the past 25 years in Switzerland and with the respective place of residence of those affected compared. A possible connection between the leukemia diseases and a place of residence near the nuclear power plants should be examined. However, according to the latest study, the public is no smarter on Tuesday than before. Because of the extremely low number of cases, the accumulation of leukemia diseases in the immediate vicinity of the nuclear power plants (within a radius of five kilometers) cannot be used as evidence of an increased risk of leukemia. In eight cases of leukemia compared to 6.8 statistically to be expected, this was “compatible with chance”, the researchers explained when the Canupis study was presented. The Swiss researchers consider a connection between the leukemia diseases and the place of residence close to the nuclear facilities to be “unlikely”. However, they cannot rule it out, since “observation on small numbers leads to great statistical uncertainty,” explained the head of the Institute for Social and Preventive Medicine, Matthias Egger.

No evidence of an increased risk of leukemia? In total, the scientists analyzed the data from 1.3 million children between the ages of zero and 15 years from the period from 1985 to 2009 in order to examine a possible connection of the leukemia diseases with a place of residence in the vicinity of the nuclear power plants. As part of their investigation, the researchers divided the places of residence in the vicinity of the reactors into three different investigation zones. Zone I with places of residence within a radius of up to five kilometers around the nuclear power plants, Zone II with places of residence within a radius of five to ten kilometers and Zone III with places of residence within a radius of ten to fifteen kilometers. For Zone I, the researchers found a 20 percent increase in the number of leukemia diseases, although the number of cases with eight leukemia cases was statistically expected at 6.8, which was too low to make a reliable statement. In zone II, the leukemia diseases actually diagnosed (12 leukemia cases) were significantly below the expected value of 20.3 blood cancer cases. A slight increase in the number of leukemia cases was also found in zone three, but in 31 cases of leukemia compared to 28.3, this increase also does not allow any conclusions to be drawn about a connection with the nuclear power plants, the Swiss researchers explained. Overall, the number of blood cancer cases in the vicinity of the nuclear power plants has increased slightly, but a connection with the nuclear facilities cannot be derived from this, according to the Canupis study. However, this connection cannot be ruled out on the basis of the current investigation.

Discussion of an increased risk of leukemia in the vicinity of the nuclear power plants It remains controversial whether the radiation from the nuclear power plants in normal operation, in children residing in the vicinity of the reactors, can possibly cause blood cancer - even if the Canupis study does not confirm such a connection. The study commissioned by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (BAG) and the Swiss Cancer League (KILS) has therefore not really enriched the critical discussion about a possible connection between leukemia diseases in children living in the vicinity of nuclear power plants. "This nationwide cohort study found little evidence for a connection between living in the vicinity of a nuclear power plant and the risk of leukemia or other cancer in children," the researchers concluded. However, "the statistical significance" is limited due to "the small number of cases (...) and we cannot rule out a slight increase or decrease in the cases in the five-kilometer zone, especially for leukemia in children aged 0 to 4 years, “The scientists at the Bern University Institute for Social and Preventive Medicine explained the significance of their study.

Criticism of the significance of the current study The Swiss president of the nuclear-critical medical organization "International Doctors for the Prevention of Nuclear War / Doctors with Social Responsibility" (IPPNW), Claudio Knüsli, said after the publication of the current study that it was methodologically clean and in no way that Results of the German child cancer study from 2007 contradict. However, the nuclear critic criticized the fact that too few cases were simply investigated. "Only when the risk is significantly increased, for example tripled, can a statistically clear statement be made in so few cases," emphasized Knüsli. In the run-up to the Canupis study, Knüsli had already complained that Switzerland was too small for such an investigation. "You could just as easily throw a coin and not have to do a complex study that can be used to claim that there is no connection between leukemia and nuclear power plants," said the Swiss IPPNW president at the start of the study two years ago. Knüsli also pointed out that in the Canupis study, children are only recorded from birth, but it is known that “the embryo or the unborn child is extremely sensitive to radioactive radiation”. Therefore, the place of residence of the mothers during pregnancy should have been taken into account as part of the investigation, said the Swiss IPPNW President. (fp)

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Photo credit: Angela Parszyk / pixelio.de

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