Despite the three-eyed fish regularly seen in Lake Springfield, Bart Simpson can breathe a little easier: researchers in the United Kingdom have found that living near a nuclear power plant does not raise the risk of childhood leukemia or non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
In an article recently published in the British Journal of Cancer, scientists from the Childhood Cancer Research Group in Oxford report the results of a case-control study of almost 10,000 children under 5 years of age who were diagnosed with either leukemia or non-Hodgkin lymphoma between 1962 and 2007.1
Cases were drawn from the National Registry of Childhood Tumours, a database that records all diagnoses of malignancy in children less than 15 years of age. The registry is known to include at least 99% of childhood leukemia cases in the United Kingdom during the study period. Sex- and age-matched children who were free of cancer served as controls.
Logistic regression analysis showed that, for children under age 5, living within 5 km of a nuclear power plant at the time of birth conferred no increased risk of leukemia or non-Hodgkin lymphoma (odds ratio [OR], 0.86; 95% CI: 0.49-1.52). Nonsignificant increases in risk were found for children between the ages of 5 and 9 (OR, 1.28; 95% CI: 0.60-2.73) and 10 and 14 (OR 2.70; 95% CI: 0.42-17.4).
Similarly, when children under age 5 were diagnosed with leukemia or non-Hodgkin lymphoma, they were no more likely to live within 5 km of a nuclear power plant than they were to live elsewhere (OR, 0.86; 95% CI: 0.62-1.18). However, children between the ages of 5 and 9 who were diagnosed with either cancer were slightly more likely to live near a nuclear plant (OR, 1.61; 95% CI: 1.07-2.40).
A subset analysis of children under age 5 who had either lymphoid leukemia or acute myeloid leukemia also found no risk associated with living in close proximity to a nuclear plant.
Despite its careful design, this study will not end the debate about the risk of living close to a possible source of radiation. A similar case-control study examining childhood cancers in Germany from 1980 to 2003 found that children living near a nuclear plant had twice the risk of leukemia as other children (OR, 2.19; 95% CI: 1.41-3.41),2 and a study conducted in France also found a near-doubling of leukemia risk for children within 5 km of a nuclear plant.3
However, the latter included 2,753 children diagnosed with leukemia over a 6-year period, only 14 of whom lived near a nuclear plant. A survey of residential areas near nuclear sites in the United Kingdom did find an excess of childhood leukemia, but only near sites whose primary function was something other than generating electrical power.4
“There have been conflicting reports in the United Kingdom and Europe as to whether there is an increased incidence of childhood cancer near nuclear power plants,” said Dr. John Bithell, honorary research fellow at the Childhood Cancer Research Group and lead author of the study. “Our case-control study has considered the birth records for nearly every case of childhood leukemia born in Britain and, reassuringly, has found no such correlation with proximity to nuclear power plants.”
Or as Bart would put it, “Don’t have a cow, man.”
1. Bithell JF, Murphy MFG, Stiller CA, et al. Leukaemia in young children in the vicinity of British nuclear power plants: a case–control study. Br J Cancer. 2013; DOI:10.1038/bjc.2013.560.
2. Kaatsch P, Spix C, Schulze-Rath R, et al. Leukaemia in young children living in the vicinity of German nuclear power plants. Int J Cancer. 2008;1220:721–726.
3. Sermage-Faure C, Laurier D, Goujon-Bellec S, et al. Childhood leukemia around French nuclear power plants—The Geocap study, 2002–2007. Int J Cancer. 2012;131(5):E769–E780.
4. Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE). (2005) Tenth Report. The incidence of Childhood Cancer Around Nuclear Installations in Great Britain. HMSO: London. Available at: http://www.comare.org.uk/documents/COMARE10thReport.pdf