Public health expert urges examination of cancer rates around Fermi nuke plant
Eartha Jane Melzer
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission begins a public comment period on the permit application for a new reactor at the DTE Energy’s Fermi complex in Monroe, a public health expert is warning that a rise in cancer rates in Monroe County appears to be linked to operations at the existing 1,130 megawatt nuclear reactor.
In a statement submitted to the NRC at a public hearing in Monroe last week, Joseph Mangano, a public health administrator and researcher with the Radiation and Public Health Project, said that data from the Centers for Disease Control shows an increasing cancer death rate, particularly among children, since Fermi 2 became operational in the 80’s.
Because Monroe County has a low risk population that is well educated, high income, and has few language barriers, rising cancer rates are unexpected, and all potential causes should be investigated by health officials.
Fermi 2 reactor began “operating” June 21, 1985. However, it ran very little after the initial low-power start-up until a warranty run in January of 1988, marking the commercial start-up of the reactor. In the early 1980s, the Monroe County cancer death rate was 36th highest of 83 Michigan counties, but by the early 2000s, it had moved up to 13th highest. From 1979-1988, the cancer death rate among Monroe County residents under age 25 was 21.2% below the U.S. rate. But from 1989-2005, when Fermi 2 was fully operational, the local rate was 45.5% above the U.S.
All nuclear reactors produce electricity by splitting uranium atoms, which creates high energy needed to heat water. This process also creates over 100 radioactive chemicals, not found in nature, including Strontium-90, Cesium-137, and Iodine-131.
While most of these chemicals are retained in reactors and stored as waste, a portion is routinely released into the local air and water. They enter human bodies through breathing and the food chain, and raise cancer risk by killing and injuring cells in various parts of the body. They are especially harmful to children.
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