Guest Article: Do Emissions from Nuclear Power Plants Cause Cancer? via Irvine Community News & Views

By Roger Johnson

While we agonize over the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps it is also appropriate to consider another medical enigma which kills far more.  Cancer is the number one killer in California.  This year, cancer deaths are expected to exceed 60,000 in California and 600,000 nationwide.  Radioactive discharges from nuclear power plants are viewed by many as a contributing factor.  Over 100 million Americans live within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant.

Our very own San Onofre has been regularly releasing low-level radiation into the ocean and atmosphere for more than a half-century.  Although it is listed as “low-level,” the destructive biological effects of radiation are cumulative.  According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, even small doses of ionizing radiation increase risks to humans.  Air ejectors blast dozens of radionuclides into the prevailing winds which generally blow over the populated cities of Orange County.  Giant pipes that are 18 feet in diameter discharge liquid releases into the ocean, up to a million gallons per minute.  Radionuclides are mixed with sea water in discharges that can go on for more than a day.  The theory is simple: The solution to pollution is dilution.

Unfortunately for us, this radioactivity is a protected pollutant.  While the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says radioactive waste is permissible, it is careful not to say that it is safe. The concentrations which are discharged are governed by a motivational standard known as ALARA which means “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.”  Permissible levels are based on healthy young adult males even though it is well known that women and children are much more vulnerable to the damaging effects on cell DNA.  The human fetus is about 50 times more vulnerable.


Yes, San Onofre is now closed but its 1,773 tons (not pounds) of highly radioactive spent plutonium and uranium will remain in our backyard for the indefinite future.  It is called “spent” fuel because its profitability is spent.  Some of the radioactivity will remain lethal for millions of years.  It has taken a long time, but our country is finally learning that nuclear power is by far the most expensive, the most unreliable, the most dangerous, and the most environmentally destructive form of energy production.

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