How dangerous is a nuclear power plant for health?

With regard to the continued operation of the three remaining German nuclear power plants, many users have questions about the safety of nuclear power plants. We answer the most important of them.

Is there more childhood leukemia around nuclear power plant sites?

The short answer: The data is still unclear.

The long answer: A possible link between leukemia in children growing up near nuclear power plants has been studied in Germany for more than a decade. The status of the study on the risk in normal operation of a nuclear power plant is not yet clear.

In 2007, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection published a study, the KiKK study (Childhood Cancer in the Vocinity of Nuclear Power Plants). It showed that children under five who live within five kilometers of a nuclear power plant are twice as likely to develop leukaemia. You can read more about the KiKK study discussion here.

But the study also has weaknesses. One of the reasons for this is that leukemias are usually very rare and therefore the pure number of leukemias is not statistically reliable. Specifically: During the observed period, two children fell ill with leukemia per year. There was only one in the comparison group. In addition, the concrete radiation exposure of children was not recorded, only the place of residence and its distance from the nuclear power plant.

Nevertheless, international experts were alarmed. Follow-up studies in Great Britain, Switzerland and France came up with partially different results.

A study from the University of Mainz was published in September 2022, which examined whether the number of leukemias had changed after the closure of German nuclear power plants after 2011. Here, the focus is on the environment within a radius of about ten kilometers around a nuclear power plant. Epidemiologist Emilio Gianicolo is one of the study’s authors. In the BR interview, he says: “Between 2004 and 2019, we see a very slight reduction in the number of new cases after the shutdown of the power stations”.

But he concedes: because the numbers of leukemias in Germany are very low, the statistical uncertainty is large. There just isn’t enough data.

Additionally, he and his team analyzed data from the Krümmel nuclear power plant, southeast of Hamburg. Since 1990, there have been staggering numbers of leukemia cases among children who lived in the area, up to three times more than would have been statistically expected.

The result of his study, according to Emilio Gianocolo: “We saw that the risk is permanent. This means that the cases we observed from 2004 to 2019 are on average twice as frequent as those expected statistically. This risk remains the same. And this despite the fact that the Krümmel nuclear power plant was closed in 2011. The reason why leukemia cases occur more frequently in the area around the nuclear power plant remains unanswered.

Angelika Claussen is president of the German section of IPPNW (International Doctors for the Prevention of Nuclear War). In this context, she also recalls that most nuclear power plants are “old”, on average 30 to 40 years in Europe. “The last nuclear power plants that are still connected to the grid in Germany were built in the 1980s. It is no longer state-of-the-art in terms of science and technology.” She says in the BR interview: Even the normal operation of a nuclear power plant is dangerous and refers to the KiKK study.

Leave a Comment