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Cancer Risk for Children Near German Power Plants

The risk of children under 5 years of age to contract leukaemia increases the closer they live to a nuclear power plant. This is the result of an investigation of the German Childhood Cancer Registry (GCCR) in Mainz carried out on behalf of the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS). The investigation concludes that in the study period from 1980 to 2003, within a radius of 5 km around the reactors, 37 children contracted leukaemia. On the statistical average, 17 cases would have to be expected. About 20 cases can thus be attributed to the fact that they live within this radius.

The investigation, which was headed by Professor Dr Maria Blettner and accompanied by a panel of 12 experts appointed by BfS, comprised 1,592 children with cancer and 4,735 children without cancer (so-called controls were similar with respect to age and gender) under five years. 41 districts in the vicinity of the 16 nuclear power plant sites in Germany were investigated. The risk to contract a tumour or leukaemia significantly increased with the vicinity of the residence to a reactor site. This finding can mainly be attributed to leukaemias in children under the age of five.

The study is the third in a series of corresponding investigations of the German Childhood Cancer Registry. However, it essentially stands out from the two preceding studies regarding its strength of conclusion. The significant advance of this investigation is that not only disease rates in defined areas were compared. For the first time, exact data on the distance of a residence to a reactor could be taken into account in a case-control study, in fact for both children with cancer (cases) and children without cancer (controls).

The study result is in line with similar investigations carried out world-wide. In a so-called meta-analysis in which previous ecological studies relating to the occurrence of childhood cancer in the vicinity of nuclear power plants were summarised and evaluated and which was published this year, such a correlation has been determined, too. However, it is surprising that the leukaemia risk among children increases demonstrably with decreasing distance of their residence to the reactor site.

The detailed final report of the study and background information (some only in German) is available at www.bfs.de/de/kerntechnik/kinderkrebs.