San Onofre Nukes: Highest Childhood Leukemia Death Rates

Michael Steinberg

A recent study of childhood leukemia death rates found that they are higher than the national average in counties adjoining nuclear power plant sites. The highest rates were in counties around the San Onofre nuclear power station in Southern California.

Michael Steinberg

A recent study found that childhood (ages 0-19) leukemia mortality rates around US nuclear power plants have been significantly higher than the national average.

“Leukemia death rates in U.S. children near nuclear reactors rose sharply (vs. the national trend) in the past two decades,” a November 11 press release for the study stated.

The study, “Childhood Leukemia Near Nuclear Installations,” appeared as a letter to the editor in the most. Recent issue of the European Journal of Cancer Care.

Its authors are epidemiologist Joseph Mangano and toxicologist Janette Sherman, both members of the Radiation and Public Health Project (

The authors chose to study childhood leukemia because it “is the type of childhood cancer most frequently studied by scientists,” the authors wrote. “In the U.S., childhood leukemia incidence has risen 28.7% from 1974-2004, according to CDC data.”

Using mortality statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the authors analyzed death rates from 67 counties adjoining 51 nuclear power stations. They then compared changes in the rates for the period of nuke plant startups, through 1984, with rates for the period 1985-2004.

Among the study’s findings:

- An increase of 13.9% in death rates near nuclear plants started 1957-1970 (oldest plants).

-An increase of 9.4% near nuclear plants started 1971-1981 (newer plants).

-A decrease of 5.5% near nuclear plants started 1957-1981 and later shut down.

The 13.9% rate for older plants was statistically significant (P<0.02).

For all plants still operating, the mortality rate, comparing startup-1984 to 1985-2004, was 9.9% higher than the national rate, and also was statistically significant (P<0.03).

San Onofre #1

The authors noted, “The plant with the largest local population is the San Onofre installation in Southern California, located on the border of San Diego and Orange Counties Results are also presented for this site…and a [statistically] significant increase in leukemia for children aged 0-9 [41% higher than the national rate] and 10-19 [29.5% higher] was observed. Areas near other individual facilities experienced many fewer deaths, and no changes achieved statistical significance.”

Despite these disturbing findings, the study did hold out a ray of hope. “Because of major therapeutic advances in the past several decades,” the authors wrote, “the childhood leukemia survival rate is one of the highest of any type of cancer in developed nations. The death rate has plunged while incidence has risen; in the USA, the childhood leukemia mortality and incidence changes from 1975 to 2004 were –49.0% and +29.7% respectively.”

Clearly, however, closing down all nuclear plants and preventing new ones from being built would be the best choices we could make.

Actor and activist Alec Baldwin put it well in the study’s press release:

“Exposure to ambient levels of radiation near nuclear reactors used by public utilities has long been suspected as a significant contributor to various cancer and other diseases,” he stated.

“Nuclear power is not the clean, efficient energy panacea to which we are presently being reintroduced. It is dirty, poses serious security threats to our country, and is ridiculously expensive. Nukes are still a military technology forced on the American public with a dressed up civilian application.”