Progress Energy’s plan to build new nuclear reactors in Levy County would imperil public health. Despite company assurances that reactors provide “clean” energy, the fact is that over 100 radioactive chemicals are routinely emitted from reactors into the air and water. These chemicals enter the body through breathing, food, and water. They can cause cancer, and are especially toxic to infants and children.
Since 1977, the Crystal River nuclear reactor has operated just seven miles from the proposed new plant. Before Crystal River opened, the county’s cancer death rate was 18% below the U.S., but since has been 1% ABOVE the nation. Exceptionally large rises have occurred for radiation-sensitive cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, and breast cancer.
The biggest cancer problem in the county is actually does not affect its large elderly population. Since Crystal River opened, Citrus County’s death rate age 20-54 has been a staggering 49% higher than the U.S. for cancer – but 26% lower for all other causes. Something is causing lots of local young adults to die (only) of cancer.
Studies should be conducted to better understand these disturbing trends, since many factors might affect them. For example, increasing population creates more auto exhaust, and coal-burning power plants in the county contribute to pollution. But because of the distinct change in cancer rates after Crystal River opened, radioactive emissions from the reactor must also be considered.
Until such studies are completed, it would be prudent for Progress Energy not to proceed with any plans to build new nuclear reactors in Florida. Instead, non-polluting and renewable sources of energy should be given a chance. In particular, wind power, the fastest-growing form of “clean” energy, can help solve Florida’s energy problems, without harming its people’s health.
Joseph J. Mangano MPH MBA is National Coordinator of the Radiation and Public Health Project, a research group based in New York.