Radiation and Public Health Project / Making use of the internet to obtain data on nuclear reactor performance and health risk near reactors: A Guide for Non-Health Professionals

Spotlight: Radiation and Public Health Project


Joseph J. Mangano, MPH MBA 
Radiation and Public Health Project

 odiejoe@aol.com May 6, 2005

Monitoring the performance of nuclear reactors is a function assigned to government regulatory agencies at the national, state, and federal levels. However, it is important that citizens also have the ability to monitor performance. Reactors routinely emit hazardous radioactive chemicals as they operate, threatening the safety of the air, water, and food.

The development of the internet has made an enormous amount of information available to the general public. The following guide outlines some of the more useful sources of information, and gives instructions on how interested persons – who do not have to be health or scientific professionals - can obtain data.


1. List of U.S. nuclear plants. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is authorized by law to ensure that nuclear reactors operate within specified guidelines. The NRC licenses utility companies to operate reactors, and monitors their performance.

The NRC’s web site (www.nrc.gov) contains a very large amount of data on reactors.

Perhaps the most basic information (name of reactor, location, which utility operates the reactor) can be obtained by by clicking here, or going to the following web address:

2. License extension status Reactors are licensed by the NRC for a 40 year period. Recently, a number of utilities have requested a 20-year extension of reactor licenses. To find the list of utilities (and reactors) that have either been granted extensions, have applied for extensions, or have indicated interest in applying, click here: http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/renewal/applications.html

As of early May (of 103 reactors), 30 had been granted license extensions, 18 had applications under review, and another 23 were the subject of letters of intent to apply for license renewal. To find a calendar of dates for each reactor’s license extension process, click on the name of the reactor in the status list.

3. Power Uprate Applications Utilities are able to petition the NRC to expand their operating capacity. Since 1977, the NRC has granted 104 of these applications (90 of these came after March 1993), which have expanded reactor capacity about 4 to 5 percent. Currently, there are 12 applications being considered by the NRC, and 29 more are expected by the year 2010.

To view lists of applications approved, pending, and granted, click on the following web addresses:

Approvals: http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/power-uprates/approved-applications.html

Pending: http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/power-uprates/pending-applications.html

Expected: http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/power-uprates/expected-applications.html

4. Licensing New Reactors

While no new nuclear reactor in the U.S. has been ordered since 1978, several utilities have recently expressed interest in new orders. In the fall of 2003, three utilities (Dominion, Entergy, and Exelon) submitted “Early Site Permit” applications to the NRC, which are required before the full application for a new reactor. The three companies are seeking permits for new reactors at the North Anna VA, Grand Gulf MS, and Clinton IL sites).

The NRC web site contains information about new reactor licensing. To view a schedule of the various steps, including public meetings and public comment periods, for each Early Site Permit application, click here to go to


5. Percent of time reactors operate One safety and health issue raised by nuclear reactors is the percent of time that they operate. Before the 1990s, U.S. nuclear reactors often were shut down due to mechanical problems. In recent years, however, utilities have altered operations to improve efficiency. Since 2000, U.S. reactors have operated about 91% of the time, which is a health and safety concern since reactors are aging. Running old reactors a greater percentage of the time may mean higher emissions into the environment, along with more waste buildup.

To calculate the percent of time that a reactor operates, go to:


Then click on Begin ADAMS Search then click Advanced Search

In the top box (marked Search), enter the name of the plant, such as Indian Point. In the third box from the top (marked Title), enter the words Monthly Operating Report, then click the Search button.

The user will now see a series of documents; each is a monthly operating report that the utility submitted to the NRC. As of early May 2005, all reports from November 1999 to March 2005 are available.

To find out how many hours the reactor operated in a year, click on to the December monthly report for that year. Scroll down until the words “Hours critical” or “Reactor critical” are found. Three numbers will appear

•   The hours critical for the month.

•   The hours critical for the year.

•   The hours critical for the lifetime of the reactor


Month Year Lifetime
It may look something like 744.0 8310.0 154,663.7

To calculate the operating factor for 2004, take the number of hours critical and divide it by the number of hours in the year. In 2004, there were 366 days, so 366 times 24 hours = 8784 hours. 8310 / 8784 = 94.6%

6. Emissions from nuclear reactors. Nuclear reactors emit generally low doses of radioactivity into the air and water, not just from accidents but during routine operations. It is important to understand emission patterns and trends in evaluating safety and health risks.

Each utility is mandated to report annual emissions to the NRC, which may be obtained by clicking here, to go to

Then click on Begin ADAMS Search then click Advanced Search

In the top box (marked Search), enter the name of the plant, such as Indian Point. In the third box from the top (marked Title), enter the words Annual Operating Report, then click the Search button.

Each Annual Radiological Environmental Operating Report from 1999 to 2004 for each plant is available as of early May 2005. However, it appears that no numerical data exists. Instead, utilities simply report that emission were monitored and fell below the federally-prescribed limits.

7. Environmental radiation levels Each state’s department of environmental radiation measures levels of man-made radioactivity in the air, water, soil, etc. Most states do not post the results on the internet. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also performs monitoring, and results are kept on the portion of the EPA web site dedicated to the National Air and Radiation Environmental Laboratory.

To access data on EPA’s environmental radioactivity levels, click here to go to the following:

The web site has a series of quarterly reports, from #75 (July to September 1993) to #115 (July to September 2003). Clicking on the desired report will reveal the contents; each is about 30 pages long.

If a user selected report #114 (April to June 2003), and wanted measurements for locations in Iowa, they would find the following:

•   Tables 2-4 are monthly tables of Gross Beta in Airborne Particles. Of the 40 to 50 sites, Iowa City IA is one. The right hand column in the tables gives the average picocuries of beta per cubic meter of air. In Iowa City, the levels were .014 in April; .009 in May; and .011 in June.

•   Tables 5-7 are monthly tables of Gross Beta in Precipitation, covering 30 to 35 sites including Iowa City. The left hand column in the tables gives the average picocuries of beta per liter of water. In Iowa City, the levels were 0.90 in April; 1.99 in May; and 1.14 in June.

•   Table 8 includes three monthly tables of Tritium in Precipitation, covering 40 to 50 sites. The Iowa City levels, measured in picocuries of tritium per liter of water, are 21, -18, and 13. (Because of measuring error, some samples are less than zero).

•   Tables at the end of the report cover monthly milk samples of Cesium-137, Iodine-131, and Barium-140. Since December 1990, instead of supplying actual numbers, EPA simply gives a “ND” (not detectable below a certain level) for each of the 60 cities in the program, so there are no milk data that can be analyzed.

8. In-body radiation levels In 1970 and 1971, the U.S. government defunded two programs that measured radioactive Strontium-90 in American children, one in bone and one in teeth. With no program to measure in-body levels of radioactivity near nuclear reactors, the Radiation and Public Health Project began a study of Sr-90 in baby teeth. The group has collected and tested over 4000 teeth, and has posted results on its web site.

To find results, click here go to


The user will view a table of average Sr-90 concentrations in baby teeth in 5 states (with at least 130 teeth) and in 16 counties near six nuclear plants (with at least 50 teeth). The report will be expanded as more teeth are received and tested.


1. Death rates For decades, U.S. public health departments have collected and published extensive data on death patterns. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site now maintains data on all deaths to U.S. residents from 1979-2002, and adds the most recent year each spring. Data are available by cause of death, race, sex, age, state, and county, and can be accessed by clicking here to go to


The user now has a choice of which years to analyze:

•   a. mortality for 1999-2002 with ICD-10 codes

•   b. mortality for 1979-1998 with ICD-9 codes

•   See the appendix for code ranges of selected causes of death

After choosing the desired time period, the user then will view a screen in which a number of variables can be selected. The variables are almost all self-explanatory. An illustration of how to request and access data follows.

Goal: To find out the 2002 infant mortality rate for blacks in Cook County IL.

Several variables need to be selected, beginning at the top of the screen, while others are set at default values and don’t need to be changed. The ones to be changed are:

•   Select state – Illinois

•   Select county – Cook

•   Select race – Black

•   Select age ranges – Under 1 day to 28-364 days

•   Select years – 2002 to 2002

•   Summarize data by – County

•   (click) send

The output appears as follows

Location code County Death Count Population Crude Death Rate
17031 Cook 359 23,057 1557.0

This means that in 2002, there were 23,057 births to blacks mothers residing in Cook County, and 359 deaths to babies under age one year to black mothers. Dividing 359 over 23,057 and multiplying by 100,000 gives a rate of 1557.0 deaths per 100,000 persons (births).

Clicking on the red “X” in the top right hand corner of the screen returns the user to the main screen.

To obtain the 2002 national infant death rate for blacks, one only needs to change two variables:

•   Select state – United States

•   Summarize data by – Race

Race Death Count Population Crude Death Rate
Black 8,524 593,691 1435.8

Thus, the user now knows that the Cook County infant death rate (1557.0) is higher than the national rate (1435.8). It is 8.4% higher

(1557.0 - 1435.8) / 1435.8 = .084 times 100 = 8.4%

Another example:

Goal: To examine recent trends in cancer death rates for children under age 15 in Cook County, IL. Again, several variables need to be selected from the CDC mortality menu.

•   Select state – Illinois

•   Select county – Cook

•   Select age ranges – Under 1 day to 10-14 years

•   Select years – 1999 to 2002

•   ICD code ranges – C00 (upper left hand box); D48.9 (upper right hand box)

•   see appendix for code ranges of selected causes of death

•   Summarize data by – Year

•   (click) send

The output appears as follows:

Year Death Count Population Crude Death Rate
1999 27 1,180,356 2.3
2000 42 1,182,863 3.6
2001 30 1,174,876 2.6
2002 33 1,170,054 2.8

The user can see that the rate rose in 2000, declined in 2001, and rose again in 2002. If data prior to 1999 are desired, one can click on the “previous window” key (upper left hand corner), and choose the option “mortality for 1979-1998 with ICD-9 codes.”

2. Birth-related rates The CDC web site also provides information on births from 1995 to 2002, only for counties with populations over 100,000. Of all the variables on the site, perhaps the most important two for radiation-related research are gestation period and birth weight. Exposure to harmful radiation may raise the risk of a baby being born prematurely or at low weight.

Goal: To find out the percent of white babies in Cook County who were born at low weight in 2002 (the standard definition of underweight is below 2500 grams, or 5.5 plans). Click here to go to 

Only several of the variables need to be changed; default settings can be left on the others. The first step is to request the number of underweight births.

•   Select state – Illinois

•   Select county – Cook

•   Year(s) – 2002 to 2002

•   Birth weight – 499 gms or less through 2000-2499 gms

•   Mother’s race – White

•   Display data by – Year

•   (click) Send

The output appears as follows

Year Births
2002 3,633

The second step is to request the total number of births (only use births with a stated weight)

•   (click) the red “X” on the top right hand part of the screen

•   Change only Birth weight – 400 gms or less through 5000-8165 gms

The output appears as follows

Year Births
2002 53,790

The percent of births that are underweight is 6.75% 
(3,633 / 53,790) x 100 = 6.75.

Another example:

Goal: To review the 1995-2002 trend in premature births among black babies in Cook County. (For purposes of this analysis, we will define prematurity as any live birth with a gestation period under 37 weeks).

Click on the red “X” on the top right of the screen, and change only the following variables. The first step is to request the number of premature births.

•   Years – 1995 to 2002 (also the default setting)

•   Birthweight – 499 grams or less through Not Stated (also the default setting)

•   Mother’s Race – Black

•   Gestation Period – Under 20 weeks through 36 weeks

•   Display Data By – Year

•   (click) Send

The output appears as follows:

Year Births
1995 5,688
1996 5,254
1997 5,032
1998 5,066
1999 4,948
2000 4,635
2001 4,551
2002 4,249

The next step is to request the total number of births with a stated gestation period.

•   Click the red “X” on the top right hand part of the screen

•   Change the Gestation Period – Under 20 weeks through 42 weeks

The output appears as follows:

Year Births
1995 28,995
1996 27,783
1997 27,046
1998 27,104
1999 25,550
2000 25,363
2001 24,399
2002 22,984

The percent born premature can be calculated for each year:

1995 (5,688 / 28,995) x 100 = 19.6% (use the same formula for each year)

3. Disease incidence – National cancer statistics While U.S. public health departments maintain an extensive, centralized system of disease mortality (deaths), the situation is different for disease incidence (cases). For many diseases, the only statistical information available is an estimate of the number of cases nationally or regionally.

Each state now operates a cancer registry, also known as a tumor registry. But many states only began these registries recently. Thus, the centralized data base on the internet only covers the years 1999, 2000, and 2001, and covers 43 of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia (93% of the U.S.). It may be accessed by clicking here to go to 
http://wonder.cdc.gov then by clicking on the following:

- Cancer incidence

•   United States cancer statistics

•   United States cancer statistics: 2001 Incidence and Mortality Web-Based Report (can also select 2000 or 1999)

At this point, the user can select several helpful data items for various types of cancer

•   Rankings by state (lists each state’s 2001 cancer incidence) rate from highest to lowest

•   Cancer data by age and race (for the U.S. combined)

•   Childhood cancer by site and age (for the U.S. combined)

The closest to a “national” cancer incidence database in existence is known as SEER (Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results), operated by the National Cancer Institute. SEER, formed in 1973 as part of President Richard Nixon’s War on Cancer, includes information from cancer registries in five states (Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, New Mexico, and Utah) and four metropolitan areas (Atlanta, Detroit, San Francisco, Seattle). Each of these areas had a comprehensive cancer registry by the early 1970s. About 10% of the total U.S. population lives in these areas.

SEER includes cancer incidence and mortality; but since the CDC web site is so comprehensive for mortality, SEER should only be used for incidence.

The user can access the SEER data base by clicking here to go to 

The 2002 volume is the most current SEER data. Additional years are added each spring. But each volume beginning in 1993 is also on the site; if these are needed, click “Previous Versions of the CSR” and select the desired year.

The user will now view a long list of options. Many correspond to certain types of cancer; thyroid cancer, leukemia, and childhood cancer are often of great interest to radiation researchers. Click on the desired cancer type, and a series of reports on incidence and mortality trends and patterns will appear.

The best use of SEER is to provide national cancer incidence rates to be compared with incidence near nuclear plants.

4. Disease incidence – State and county cancer statistics A number of state cancer registries now make statistical data available on the internet. They tend to be listed under the Department of Health in a state government’s web site. Illinois maintains one of the most comprehensive online data sets from a cancer registry, containing detailed data by type of cancer by county. Pennsylvania is another good one; it contains county-specific and municipality-specific information.

County-specific data from the Illinois site from 1986 to 2000 can be accessed by clicking here to go to 

The user can select reports by county, or by community. After making this choice the user will be asked to select certain variables.

An example of trends in childhood cancer incidence rates in Will County (near the Dresden plant) follows:

•   Select county(s) – Will

•   Select indicator – 4.14.10 Childhood Cancer Age-Adjusted Incidence Rate

•   Select a Data Year – All Years

•   (click) Search

The output appears as follows:

Year: 96-00
Ages 0-14 Will Illinois
Rate Number Rate Number U.S.
138.9 83 140.8 1902 146.4

Each five year group will follow (95-99, 94-98, etc., with the final one appearing as)

Year: 86-90
Ages 0-14 Will Illinois
Rate Number Rate Number U.S.
140.6 62 134.0 1692 142.2

From the above data, we can observe that the Illinois rate rose from the late 1980s to the late 1990s (134.0 to 140.8) while the Will County rate declined slightly (140.6 to 138.9). In the late 1990s, the Will County rate (138.9) falls below the state rate (140.8) and the U.S. rate (146.4).

5. Medical journal articles Another way to obtain information on the health of populations living near nuclear plants is to consult articles that have been published in medical journals. The National Library of Medicine has made citations of all articles (and abstracts of most articles) published since 1966 available on the internet. Click here to visit the site at

The user can now select any combination of words, representing topics or authors, to obtain a list of articles. An example of one request would be to enter childhood leukemia AND nuclear plants.

The article abstracts tend to be written in technical language, and does not present all data, so this site is limited. However, it can be helpful in obtaining professional backup for any research efforts.


1.Do local infant death rates increase after reactors start?

2.Do local infant death rates decrease after reactors close?

3.Are local childhood cancer death rates higher than state/national rates?

4.Do cancer death rates rise as a plant ages? (as plant is running almost all the time)

5.5. Are environmental radioactivity levels rising over time?

6.How much of the time is a plant in operation?



Commonly-Used Disease Codes
To Be Used With the CDC Web Site
For Computing Death Rates

Cause of Death

ICD-9 (1979-1998)

ICD-10 (1999-2002)


All Causes

000.1 - 999.9

A00 - Z99.9


All Medical Causes*

000.1 - 799.9

A00 - R99.9






All Cancers

140.0 - 239.9

C00 - D48.9


All Malignant Cancers

140.0 - 208.9

C00 - C97.9


Bone Cancer

170.0 - 170.9

C40 - C41.9


Breast Cancer(Female)

174.0 - 174.9

C50 - C50.9


Cervical Cancer(Female)

180.0 - 180.9

C53 - C53.9


Hodgkin's Disease

201.0 - 201.9

C81 - C81.9



204.0 - 208.9

C90.1 - C95.9


Multiple Myeloma

203.0 - 203.9

C90 - C90.0


Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

200.0 - 200.9

C82 - C85.9



202.0 - 202.9


Ovarian Cancer (Female)

183.0 - 183.9

C56 - C56.9


Thyroid Cancer


C73 - C73.9

Uterine Cancer (Female)

182.0 - 182.9

C54 - C54.9






Birth Defects

740.0 - 759.9

Q00 - Q99.9



250.0 - 250.9

E10 - E14.9



042.0 - 044.9

B20 - B24.9



038.0 - 038.9

A40 - A41.9


Viral Hepatitis

070 -

B15.0 - B19.9

Respiratory Diseases

460 - 519.9

J00 - J99.9

Circulatory Diseases

390 - 459.9

I00 - I99.9

*All causes excluding accidents, suicide, and homicide.


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