Federal regulators killed a rigorous examination of cancer in millions of Americans living near nuclear plants because they were convinced the study couldn’t link reactors to disease and would be too costly, newly released records show.
Doubts over the study’s usefulness ran deep at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency overseeing America’s aging fleet of nuclear plants. But some study skeptics pushed to save it nonetheless, arguing that modern science could help address public concerns over possible health risks related to the plants. They couldn’t convince their bosses, however, who concluded that the $8 million price tag for the pilot study – which would have examined San Onofre and six other sites – couldn’t be justified.
The previously unreported rift is captured in more than 1,000 pages of NRC documents obtained by Southern California News Group under the Freedom of Information Act. Some officials worried that killing the study would be “a PR fiasco,” reigniting questions about the demise of what some saw as the most significant federal examination of nuclear plant safety in a generation.
The push for this new probe was driven by dissatisfaction with the U.S. government’s reliance on an unsophisticated 27-year-old study – employing even older data – to assure Americans there are no health risks associated with living near nuclear power plants.
Several recent European studies found disturbing links between childhood cancers and kids living close to nuclear plants, and NRC staffers traded emails citing them. A senior agency advisor dismissed the methodology used in those studies. “Publish or perish,” she wrote to her colleagues.
NRC staffers began pressing for an update of the old U.S. study a decade ago. The NRC contracted with the National Academies of Sciences, a separate agency, to design a modern scientific assessment in 2010. The NRC spent five years and $1.5 million on the effort before abandoning…