Solid-Tumor Mortality in the Vicinity of Uranium Cycle Facilities and Nuclear Power Plants in Spain

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To ascertain solid tumor mortality in towns near Spain's four nuclear power plants and four nuclear fuel facilities from 1975 to 1993, we conducted a mortality study based on 12,245 cancer deaths in 283 towns situated within a 30-km radius of the above installations. As nonexposed areas, we used 275 towns lying within a 50- to 100-km radius of each installation, matched by population size and sociodemographic characteristics (income level, proportion of active population engaged in farming, proportion of unemployed, percentage of illiteracy, and province). Using log-linear models, we examined relative risk for each area and trends in risk with increasing proximity to an installation. The results reveal a pattern of solid-tumor mortality in the vicinity of uranium cycle facilities, basically characterized by excess lung [relative risk (RR) 1.12, 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.02-1.25] and renal cancer mortality (RR 1.37, 95% CI, 1.07-1.76). Besides the effects of natural radiation, these results could well be evincing the influence on public health exerted by the environmental impact of mining. No such well-defined pattern appeared in the vicinity of nuclear power plants. Monitoring of cancer incidence and mortality is recommended in areas surrounding nuclear fuel facilities and nuclear power plants, and more specific studies are called for in areas adjacent to installations that have been fully operational for longer periods. In this regard, it is important to use dosimetric information in all future studies. Key words: environment, epidemiology, ionizing, mortality, neoplasms, nuclear facilities, radiation, uranium mines. Environ Health Perspect 109:721-729 (2001). [Online 11 July 2001] .html

The report that appeared in late 1983 of a cluster of leukemias in young residents living near a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Sellafield, England, triggered a considerable amount of investigation into cancer incidence and mortality in areas near nuclear installations. The nuclear industry generates a great deal of social concern, exacerbated recently by the serious accidents that have affected nuclear power plants, such as that of Chernobyl in 1986, and uranium processing facilities, such as the one at Tokaimura in 1999.

Cancer incidence and mortality studies in areas near nuclear facilities have failed to eliminate doubts about possible adverse population effects attributable to routine operations, despite the fact that numerous studies performed in different countries have reported an absence of cancer risk in areas around nuclear fuel facilities and power plants (1-4). In the main, epidemiologic studies have targeted hematologic tumors and young age groups, and very few have sought to assess in depth the remaining malignant tumors. The concern voiced by society regarding the consequences of industry in its immediate vicinity has essentially focused on nuclear power plants. With respect to industries linked to uranium production, considerable effort has been made to ascertain the risk in cohorts of miners (5-7), and although the environmental impact of nearby uranium mines, particularly of uranium mill tailings (8-10), has been studied, the related public health consequences have received scant attention.

Spain currently has seven nuclear power plants, with a total of 10 reactors (nine fully operational and one being dismantled) and nine nuclear fuel facilities (three fully operational, one shut down, and five being dismantled). We therefore performed a cancer mortality study covering towns near nuclear power plants and fuel facilities. Death certificates were the only nationwide source of information on mortality in Spain on which a first analysis of this nature could be based.

In a previous study we reported the results for hematologic tumors (11). In this article we report the results of that study for solid tumors. …