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NUCLEAR REACTOR RESTART AT BROWNS FERRY POSES HEALTH RISKS
Joseph J. Mangano, MPH, MBA
Tuscaloosa News, May 31, 2007
Huntsville Times, June 5, 2007

The recent restart of the Browns Ferry 1 nuclear reactor after 22 years of sitting idle has been scrutinized for its $1.8 billion renovation cost. But public health is also an issue raised by restart.
Nuclear reactors routinely release over 100 chemicals into the air and water. Cancer-causing chemicals such as Cesium-137, Iodine-131, and Strontium-90, created only in nuclear weapons and reactors, enter the body through breathing and the food chain, and are especially harmful to infants and children.

Jackson, Madison, Marshall, and Morgan counties, with a population of 550,000, lie east/downwind within 50 miles of the plant. They have been subjected to radioactivity for three decades (Browns Ferry has two other reactors). Its age mix, poverty rate, and educational level are similar to the U.S., and it has 10 hospitals with specialized care nearby in Birmingham. Thus, there is no obvious local health risk, and death rates should not be elevated.

Just after Browns Ferry began operating, the local cancer death rate was 5% below the U.S., but is now 8% higher. With over 1100 persons in the four counties dying of cancer each year, this change equals hundreds of “excess” deaths – with no apparent reason to explain the shift from a low-cancer to a high-cancer area.

The restart of Browns Ferry 1 should be a wake up call to study health risks of nuclear power more thoroughly. If rising local cancer rates are due partly to radiation exposure, it may be best to turn to safe power sources such as solar and wind, which can meet the growing electricity needs of northern Alabama in a more environmentally friendly way.

Joseph Mangano MPH MBA is Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, a research group based in New York

Joseph J. Mangano MPH MBA is the Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, a research group based in New York.


REFERENCES USED

1. Population.

Four Alabama counties lie downwind (east) and within 50 miles of the Browns Ferry plant, and thus are likely to be exposed to the highest levels of emissions from the three reactors. The largest city is Huntsville, in Madison County. These counties, have an estimated 2005 estimated population of 551,186, more than double the 1960 population of 262,501. They include:

County Population
Jackson County 53,650

Madison County
298,192

Marshall County
85,634
Morgan County 113,740
TOTAL 551,186
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, www.census.gov, your gateway to census 2000, state and county quick facts.

2. Demographics.

The area is similar to the U.S. in a variety of demographic indicators:

Indicator U.S. 4 Counties
% under 18, 2004 25.0 24.2
% over 65, 2004 12.4 12.6
% female, 2004 50.8 51.0
% white, 2004 80.4 80.6
% black, 2004 12.8 15.7
% high school grad, age 25+, 2000 80.4 79.1
% college grad, age 25+, 2000 24.4 25.3
% below poverty, 2003 12.5 12.4
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, www.census.gov, your gateway to census 2000, state and county quick facts.

3. Cancer Death Rates.

The age-adjusted cancer death rate for the four-county area rose during the past quarter century by 5.1%, compared to a 7.1% decline nationwide. The local rate jumped from 4.6% below the U.S. to 7.9% above the U.S.

County
Cancer Deaths
Deaths/100000
% Change
  1979-81 2002-04 1979-81 2002-04  
Jackson 224 405 182.3 221.5 +21.5
Madison 854
1625
213.0 201.6 - 5.8
Marshall 345 638 193.8 231.1 +19.2
Morgan 421 722 190.7 207.4 + 8.8
TOTAL 1844 3390 199.6 209.7 + 5.1
U.S. 1260330 1704624 209.2 194.3 - 7.1

In 1979-81, local rate was 4.6% below U.S. rate (199.6/209.2)


In 2002-04, local rate was 7.9% above U.S. rate (209.7/194.3)
Source: National Center for Health Statistics CDC Wonder, Underlying Cause-of-Death. Uses ICD-9 codes 140.0-239.9 (1979-1981) and ICD-10 codes C00-D48.9 (2002-2004).

 

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