Shutdown of Iowa’s only nuclear power plant will mean less cancer via Des Moines Register

By Joseph Mangano

The Duane Arnold shutdown, at a time when safe, renewable wind power is growing rapidly, means a healthier future for Iowans.

The derecho that slammed Iowa on Aug. 10 damaged the Duane Arnold nuclear reactor near Cedar Rapids. The reactor had been scheduled to cease operations in the fall. Plant owners, rather than repairing the reactor, opted to shut it down instead.


Similar to atomic bomb explosions, nuclear power reactors create over 100 radioactive chemicals not found in nature, waste products that last hundreds and thousands of years. Much of this waste remains stored at sites like Duane Arnold as the 60-year search for a permanent storage location continues.

Unfortunately, not all waste can be stored and kept out of the environment. Some of these toxic metals and gases are released into local air and water, and enter human bodies through breathing and the food chain. Each of these chemicals kills or harms cells, leading to cancer, birth defects, and other diseases.

Federal leaders, subject to the whims of powerful utility companies who give large campaign donations, have conducted just one study on cancer near nuclear plants. The 1990 study was performed only at the insistence of Sen. Ted Kennedy, and concluded that no radiation-cancer link existed.

But results of the National Cancer Institute’s 1990 effort suggest that humans, especially children (who are most vulnerable to radiation exposure), were harmed. In Benton and Linn Counties, which flank Duane Arnold, the cancer rates in children age 19 and younger was 7% above the Iowa rate in the period before Duane Arnold operated, jumping to 28% above in the first decade after startup.

High local rates of cancer near Duane Arnold have continued. In the period from 2013 to 2017, the Linn County child cancer rate was 20% above the state’s. The problem may not just be restricted to children. For Linn County residents under age 50 who lived near Duane Arnold most or all of their lives, the cancer rate was 15% higher than the state, covering 900 young persons diagnosed in the five-year period. Linn has the highest rates of breast and cervical cancer under age 50 of all 99 Iowa counties.

The shutdown of Duane Arnold, and the end of nuclear power in Iowa, is the latest change in electricity generation. Coal, also hazardous to health, once was the primary source of the state’s electricity, but has declined to 35% as old and dirty plants shut down. Coal has largely been replaced by wind power, which has jumped from 29% to 42% in the past five years. The 42% figure is the highest of any U.S. state, and will continue rising as more wind farms are constructed.

Studies have shown that after nuclear plants close, local cancer rates decline, most immediately in young children. The Duane Arnold shutdown, at a time when safe, renewable wind power is growing rapidly, means a healthier future for Iowans, as fewer will suffer the ravages of cancer.

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Joseph Mangano MPH MBA is an epidemiologist and executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project.

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