What Are the Health Risks of Working at a Nuclear Power Plant?

Working at a nuclear power plant can be a safe and rewarding experience, as long as the proper safety protocols are followed. Nuclear power plants produce very small amounts of radioactive gases and liquids, as well as small amounts of direct radiation. The average radiation dose for those living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant is approximately 0.01 millirem per year, which is a fraction of the annual AERB dose limit of 30 mSv. This means that the health risks associated with radiation exposure are negligible.

Steve Dobbins, technical training instructor at Duke Energy's McGuire nuclear station, explains that much of the work done in areas with radiation is done with safety in mind. External exposure comes from walking on contaminated soil or coming into contact with contaminated materials at nuclear accident sites. All workers are exposed to low doses of radiation as part of their work in the production of nuclear energy, the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the processing of nuclear fuel, or the research of nuclear reactors or weapons. If you lived 24 hours a day outside the door of a nuclear power plant for a year, you would receive less than an additional mrem of radiation.

Researchers have reported that there is no evidence of increased risk among Canadian nuclear workers and that the risk estimate is consistent with the estimates that form the basis of radiation protection standards. It is important to keep records of radiation exposure in case of an accident at a nuclear power plant or other large-scale events that can interrupt medical services and cause medical records to be lost. Extensive epidemiological studies have shown that working in a nuclear power plant is not a risky occupation. Fuel rods and specially designed containment structures enclose radioactive materials to prevent them from polluting the environment.

The ALARA principle (keeping radiation as low as possible) is a basic principle of plant operations in the nuclear industry. Based on estimates, researchers say that about 1 to 2% of all deaths among workers in the nuclear industry can be attributed to radiation exposure. However, it is important to note that these estimates are controversial and should not be taken as fact.