Do people who live near nuclear power plants run a higher risk of cancer than those who don’t? If a study recommended by a Washington DC group is undertaken, the region around Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant in Lacey Township is one of seven targeted for analysis.

A report compiled by the National Research Council branch of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering also lists reactors in Dresden, Illinois; Millstone and Haddam Neck, Connecticut; Big Rock Point, Michigan; San Onofre, California; and Nuclear Fuel Services, Tennessee.

NAS spokesperson Lorin Hancock tells us that Oyster Creek was chosen for its design – a boiling-water reactor – and its longevity. Oyster Creek is the oldest active commercial nuclear reactor in America, having begun operations in 1969.

Plant owner Exelon was granted a 20-year extension by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2009. However, in an agreement brokered by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the plant is scheduled to close in 2019, 10 years ahead of schedule.

A decision to proceed would be subject to a preliminary feasibility study. John Burris, who chaired the committee that issued the report, says that access to accurate data looms as a major hurdle.

“For example,” he said in a release issued today, “some state cancer registries have only recently attained quality data.  Also, data may be insufficient to estimate the amount of radioactive material released from nuclear facilities, especially during early years of operations.  This makes it much more difficult to determine risks from decades ago when radiation releases from nuclear facilities were larger.”

The NRC sponsored the source study, and would ultimately decide whether any subsequent research takes place.

See the report and related information at http://www.nationalacademies.org.