Both the great Truths and the great Falsehoods of the twentieth century lie hidden in the arcane, widely inaccessible, and seemingly mundane domain of the radiation sciences

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Trial of the Cult of Nuclearists: EXHIBIT F continued

What follows is the continuation, in serial form, of a central chapter from my book A Primer in the Art of Deception: The Cult of Nuclearists, Uranium Weapons and Fraudulent Science.

EXHIBIT F continued:

People tolerate nuclear power plants in their midst only because of constant reassurances by government and industry that routine emissions of radionuclides are insignificant and “doses” to the population are below regulatory concern. This posturing is intended to imply that the health of citizens is not being eroded by radiation. But what about the high incidence of breast cancer consistently found downwind of nuclear reactors?

“Libel!” thunders the Cult of Nuclearists. “Call in the prosecutor! The National Cancer Institute, in a study completed in 1990, found no heightened rates of cancer among populations living in proximity to nuclear reactors!”

The NCI study being referred to is Cancer In Populations Living Near Nuclear Facilities. If ever there was a scam orchestrated to beguile citizens, this was it. Thanks to Jay M. Gould and members of the Radiation and Public Health Project, its fraudulent conclusions were exposed in their book, The Enemy Within: The High Cost of Living Near Nuclear Reactors [1]. As revealed in this work, the authors of the NCI research, in a brilliant act of deception, based their entire study on the devious premise that the only people exposed to radioactive emissions from nuclear power plants are the people living within the counties where the facilities are located. Swept under the carpet was the embarrassing little detail that liquid and gaseous effluents pay no attention to county lines, that they are whisked to outlying counties by meteorological and geophysical forces. By defining at-risk counties as those actually hosting the reactor, the NCI authors harvested a second boon for deceit. Most nuclear reactors are located in rural counties with relatively small populations. Consequently, an increased incidence of breast cancer mortality, if one were detected, would represent only a small number of cases, too small to be considered statistically significant. As observed by Gould,

“A change in mortality in any county cannot be considered significant if it can be shown to be the product of chance variation. Most of the 3,000-odd counties in the United States are small rural counties. Any single county would have to register an extremely high above average mortality increase to be judged statistically significant, simply because there would be too few deaths involved.”

Thus, guaranteed by the dishonest methodology of examining cancer mortality in individual counties, the foregone conclusion was that no “statistically significant” rise in cancer mortality would ever be found among residents of “nuclear counties.” The NCI study echoed this in its conclusion: “if any excess cancer risk was present in the US counties with nuclear facilities, it was too small to be detected with the methods employed.” Case closed! Nuclear reactors do not cause cancer.

The monumental deficiencies of the NCI study and its counterfeit claim that living nearby to nuclear reactors presented no hazard to health were first exposed by Joseph Mangano in his article “Cancer Mortality Near Oak Ridge, Tennessee” [2]. (Oak Ridge was one of the secret cities of the Manhattan Project, created during World War II to produce uranium-235 by the process of gaseous diffusion. After the war, it remained a major production facility, helping America to amass its nuclear arsenal.) When the NCI turned its attention to Oak Ridge, it confined its study to examining cancer mortality for the two counties in which the facility was actually located, Anderson and Rowe. Although it identified an increased rate of cancer mortality in these counties when compared to the nation as a whole, the excess cancer deaths did not represent a sufficient number of cases to be statistically significant.

Using a more sensible methodology, Mangano set out to reexamine any possible connection between cancer mortality (from all types of cancer) and the nuclear pollution emitted from Oak Ridge. He compiled NCI statistics of the aggregated age-adjusted cancer mortality rates from 1950-52 to 1987-89 for the 94 contiguous counties within a 100-mile radius of the Oak Ridge facility. Using this approach, he overcame the two shortcomings of the NCI study. His “nuclear counties” were more realistically representative of areas actually contaminated by radionuclides emanating from Oak Ridge, and the study population was large enough for statistical significance to be achieved. (During 1987-89, 20,000 cancer deaths were on record within the area studied.) What Mangano uncovered put the NCI research to shame. During the period under investigation, combined cancer mortality rates in the counties under investigation increased 34 percent as compared to the five percent increase for the United States as a whole. As Gould observes,

“The probability that so great a divergence over a 37-year period could be the result of chance is less than 1 in 10,000 cases. Proximity to the plant must be a factor involved in this epidemiological anomaly. In the absence of a plausible alternative explanation, it is evident that some malevolent force of mortality has been emanating from the Oak Ridge reactors for a long enough time to have a much wider geographic impact than would be shown by merely the two counties chosen by the NCI for study.”

Through his new window on the cancer cluster near Oak Ridge, Mangano was also able to observe important environmental trends that had remained invisible in the NCI study. For instance, he discovered a significantly greater combined cancer mortality risk for counties located downwind of Oak Ridge, to the north and northeast, in comparison with counties upwind of the facility. This was to be expected if the center of the study area, the Oak Ridge reactors, were responsible for the increased mortality rates. He also discovered that residents living in elevated mountain counties faced a greater risk of cancer mortality than people living in lowland counties due to the greater precipitation to which they were exposed. This also was to be expected since radionuclides afloat in the air are brought down to the ground primarily by rain and snow.

Replicating Mangano’s methodology, Gould et al. studied age-adjusted breast cancer mortality in white females nationwide based upon a county-by-county database published by the NCI. Examining statistics for the 71 counties fully enclosed within a 100-mile radius of Oak Ridge, they calculated a 29 percent increase in aggregated breast cancer mortality during the same study period (1950-54 to 1980-84) compared with the national increase of only one percent. Recognizing that nuclear pollution from other distant sites may have contributed to the cancer increase in so large an area, the researchers narrowed their study to 20 contiguous rural counties downwind of Oak Ridge. In this instance, the aggregated breast cancer mortality rates showed a gain of 38 percent. In comparison, eight counties upwind of Oak Ridge during the same period had a four percent decline in breast cancer mortality.

The Enemy Within recounts the complete study performed by Gould et al. who investigated 60 reactor sites throughout the United States and calculated the age-adjusted breast cancer mortality rates within areas of 50- and 100-mile radii from these installations. What they uncovered was that, throughout the nation, counties within these designated areas had significantly higher rates of breast cancer mortality than either aggregates of counties further from reactor installations or for the nation as a whole. (The 50-mile radius was set for the study because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission uses a 50-mile definition to calculate dosages to the population in connection with nuclear plant licensing procedures. The implication is that the NRC is granting licenses to facilities that are killing women with dosages that are deemed safe.)

The national database used by both the NCI and Gould et al. consisted of 3,053 counties. In the research conducted by the NCI, cancer mortality rates around 62 reactor facilities were studied. On the basis of their location, only 107 counties were identified as “nuclear” counties, i.e., counties hosting or immediately adjacent to the reactors whose population was considered potentially exposed to radionuclides. This fundamental premise of the NCI study is completely unsound. Any eighth grader would know that pollution vented into the air or flushed into waterways will migrate great distances through the environment, contaminating humans either directly or through food chains or water sources that in turn will be the vehicle for contaminating humans. The control population used by the NCI consisted of people living in 292 different counties. For three-quarters of the nuclear facilities under investigation, the control counties were adjacent to the nuclear counties. All the control counties were located within 100 miles of a reactor. This ridiculous choice hopelessly biased the data. Whatever exposure to radionuclides suffered by people in a “nuclear county” would likely be suffered by people dwelling in a “control county.” Rates of cancer would be similar, allowing the fraudulent conclusion to be reached that people in nuclear counties are at no greater risk of dying of cancer than anyone else. This foolishness is an example of our tax dollars at work.

Gould et al. reviewed the conclusions of NCI study. When they looked at all 107 nuclear counties as an aggregate (simultaneously taking into account cancer rates in each county before and after the startup of each reactor), they observed a statistically significant increase in all types of cancer including breast cancer. When they combined the populations of the 107 nuclear counties with the 292 control counties and compared the cancer mortality rates in this population to the rates for the US as a whole, they once again discovered a statistically significant increase in cancer risk for this group of people. This finding soundly refuted the NCI claim that nuclear reactors were not inducing excess rates of cancer.

In their own study, Gould et al. studied 60 reactor sites and the age-adjusted breast cancer mortality rates in those counties located within a 50- and 100-mile radius of these facilities. This procedure produced study populations large enough to display statistical significance. At one point, using a methodology similar to that of the NCI, they calculated the combined breast cancer mortality trends of seven contiguous rural counties downwind and within 50 miles of each reactor. The total number of counties was 346. For the period 1950-54, the recorded age-adjusted breast cancer mortality rates for the people living within these counties was well below that of the US as a whole. In contrast, breast cancer mortality among women living within these counties today is well above the national rate. This observation again refutes the conclusions of the NCI study. As Gould observes in The Enemy Within:

“All in all, for 55 out of the 60 reactor sites we have been able to define some 346 contiguous, mainly rural counties that adjoin one or more reactor sites that have registered aggregated increases in current breast cancer mortality rates significantly higher that the corresponding national increase. Our sole purpose here is to demonstrate the limitations of the NCI definition of proximity to nuclear reactors, which in almost all cases resulted in too small a number of deaths to achieve statistical significance.”

In the Gould et al. study, 1319 counties in the United States were identified as being “nuclear,” within 100 miles of a nuclear reactor. The remaining 1734 counties, mostly rural and lying between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River, were defined as “non-nuclear.” For the period 1985-89, the combined age-adjusted breast cancer mortality rate for the nuclear counties was 25.8 deaths per 100,000. By contrast, the breast cancer death rate in the non-nuclear counties was 22.1 deaths per 100,000. Once again, the conclusion was reached that nuclear reactors were inducing cancer in the population. In an attempt to discredit this conclusion, the NCI undertook a review of the study of Gould et al., copying their methodology. Looking at the mortality rate of nuclear counties within 50 miles of a reactor site, they estimated a rate of 26.9 breast cancer deaths per 100,000 women, based on the 69,554 deaths nationally in the years 1985-89. In contrast, the breast cancer death rate for all other counties was calculated at 23.3. Of this, Gould made the following observation:

The probability that so great a difference could be due to chance is infinitesimal. This means that the cause of the current epidemic increase in breast cancer involves geographical factors that must be environmental and cannot be ascribed to differences due to genetic factors. We must therefore discard all the “blame the victim” and lifestyle factors invoked by the authorities to conceal the true man-made cause of the epidemic.”


[1] Gould J.M., Sternglass E.J., Mangano J.J.., McDonnell W. The Enemy Within: The High Cost of Living Near Nuclear Reactors. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows; 1996.

[2] Mangano J.J. Cancer Mortality Near Oak Ridge, Tennessee. International Journal of Health Service. 1994; 24(3):521-533.