Monitoring of possible health effects of living in the vicinity of nuclear sites in Belgium [NUCABEL 2]

Last updated on 21-3-2019 by Sébastien Daems
January 9, 2017
June 30, 2020

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Sciensano's project investigator(s):


In short

The Nucabel study is performed on demand of the Belgian Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health. The study investigates the possible health risks and particularly cancer risks of living in the vicinity of Belgian nuclear sites by means of an epidemiological study at national level.

Project summary

The possible health risks associated with living in the vicinity of nuclear installations, a public concern for several decades, was boosted worldwide by the publication of a German study, which found more childhood leukemia cases than expected for those living at close proximity of German power plants. The radiological incident that happened at the Belgian Institute for Radio-elements in Fleurus in 2008 raised public concern even more. Hence, the Minister for Social Affairs and Public Health ordered a nation-wide epidemiological study to take a first look at the possible health risks associated with living in the vicinity of nuclear sites.

More specifically, the objective is to investigate whether there is an excess of cancer incidence in the population living around the nuclear sites in Belgium as compared to the rest of Belgium or to a comparable reference population. The objective is also to investigate the association between cancer occurrence and different surrogate exposures from the nuclear sites, i.e. distance, wind direction and frequency, hypothetical estimated releases from the nuclear sites.

The Nucabel 1 study was performed at the level of the municipality. No increased incidences of thyroid cancer or childhood leukemia were observed for the population living in the vicinity of the nuclear power plants of Doel and Tihange. Close to the sites of Fleurus and Mol-Dessel, the incidence of thyroid cancer was slightly higher than expected. Close to the site of Mol-Dessel, the incidence of acute childhood leukemia was higher than expected but this observation was based on a very low number of cases. This study aims to perform an epidemiological follow up but does not allow to conclude to a causal relationship between increased cancer incidence and living in the vicinity of nuclear sites. It also does not provide information at individual level.

The Nucabel-2 study was requested by the Belgian Federal Parliament as a follow-up study of the previous study. The study will be carried out with cancer data on a smaller geographical level, i.e. the statistical sectors which are subdivisions of the municipalities. Working at the statistical sector level will allow more precise analyses.

Added value for public health

Assessment of the possible health risks and particularly cancer risks of populations living in proximity of Belgian nuclear sites.

Added value at scientific level

Acquisition of scientific knowledge, providing information to the authorities and the public in the areas of cancer risks and radiation exposure.

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