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Scientist links cancer to nuclear power

By Tom Reedy Staff Writer

The cancer rate in north central Texas has increased alarmingly since the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant started up in 1990, the keynote speaker at a University of North Texas conference said Monday.

The Southwestern and Rocky Mountain Region chapter of the American Association for the Advancement of Science is holding its 76th annual meeting along with the three-day Natural Philosophy Alliance conference at UNT, which started Monday.

The alliance is a group of dissident scientists who challenge and seek to improve contemporary theories in physics and astronomy.

Ernest J. Sternglass of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Monday's keynote speaker, read his paper, "The Health Effects of Nuclear Fallout and Releases from Nuclear Power Plants."

Dr. Sternglass said his research has uncovered convincing evidence of a large increase in cancer rates since the dawn of the nuclear age.

He also said studies in the north central Texas area indicate large increases in cancer rates since the start-up of the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant in Somervell County southwest of Fort Worth.

The Texas Cancer Center and the Texas Department of Health compared statistics for the first five years of the plant's operation, 1990 to 1994, to the previous five-year period, 1985 to 1989.

Dr. Sternglass said the data indicates that cancer mortality in the counties surrounding the power plant - Somervell, Hood, Johnson and Erath - increased dramatically, 27 percent, during the second five-year period while the rate for the state increased 15 percent for the same period.

In Hood County, breast cancer increased 190 percent over the previous five-year period, and total breast cancer deaths for all four counties increased by 51 percent while the statewide increase was 12 percent for the same period.

Using charts and graphs to illustrate his data, Dr. Sternglass began his talk by tracing the infant mortality rates and cancer rates in both infants and adults since 1935.

Infant mortality rates had been dropping steadily until about 1950, Dr. Sternglass said, when nuclear testing in the atmosphere along with government-sanctioned releases from nuclear power plants increased the amount of radiation in the atmosphere and caused the rate to level off. It has since returned to its rate of decline since nuclear testing in the atmosphere stopped in 1980, he said.

Dr. Sternglass said the cancer rate for children ages 5 to 9 was very low before 1945, one case in 10,000, even in states such as Texas that have high rates of chemical pollution because of the oil and gas industry. The rate has since climbed to 100 in 10,000, "overwhelming evidence" of the link between childhood cancer and radiation, he said.

The partial meltdown in 1979 at Pennsylvania nuclear plant Three Mile Island, which released radiation into the air, resulted in the premature deaths of about 50,000 people, Dr. Sternglass said, despite the government's claim that no one died as a result of the accident. He said a study of the increase in death rates showed a direct relation between the death rate and proximity to the plant.

Dr. Sternglass said the infant mortality rate within 50 miles of seven nuclear power plants dropped dramatically when the plants were shut down in the 10-year period from 1987 to 1997. The rate decrease ranged from 15 percent around a nuclear plant in Wisconsin to 54 percent around a plant in Michigan.

Dr. Sternglass said that Texas now has a higher death rate than California because it has opened new power plants while California has shut its down.

In total, Dr. Sternglass estimates that 19 million adults have died prematurely and that an additional million children have died as a result of radiation in the air from nuclear bomb tests, nuclear plant accidents and radiation released into the atmosphere from power plants.

He said the existing nuclear power plants should be converted to fossil fuels.

"It's in our hands to end this terrible chapter of the mistakes we made because we failed to understand this technology," he said.

The conference will continue at the UNT student union through Wednesday.


TOM REEDY can be reached at (940) 381-9593. His e-mail address is treedy@dentonrc.com