Projecting thyroid cancer risk to the general public from radiation exposure following hypothetical severe nuclear accidents in Canada

Abstract of the journal article published in Journal of Radiological Protection (September 2020)


  • Julie Burtt, Melanie Rickard, Andrew McAllister, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
  • Lauren Bergman, Health Canada
  • Lydia Zablotska, University of California, San Francisco


Introduction: A robust emergency management framework can limit radiation exposures and effectively minimize the potentially devastating consequences of a nuclear emergency. We projected thyroid cancer risk resulting from two hypothetical severe nuclear accidents occurring at the Darlington nuclear power plant (NPP) located in Ontario, Canada.

Methods: Single- and multi-unit accidents were considered. A dose assessment was previously performed using the MELCOR Accident Consequences Code System. The generic criteria used to select the appropriate protective actions are described in the Ontario Provincial Nuclear Emergency Response Plan (PNERP). We hypothesized protection actions only within the 10 kilometre (km) radius of the NPP given the time sensitivity of iodine thyroid blocking. The excess risk of developing thyroid cancer was projected using the US National Cancer Institute’s radiation risk assessment tool RadRAT.

Results: We projected zero dose, and subsequently zero risk of developing thyroid cancer for people living within 10 km of the NPP, due to effective implementation of selected protective actions. Based on centreline doses, at the 12 km radius, excess childhood thyroid cancer risks of approximately 600% and 130% compared to the baseline were projected for the single- and multi-unit scenarios, respectively. The risk of developing thyroid cancer was projected to be low for adults for both scenarios.

Discussion: The results of this modelling study provide insights into the effectiveness of protective actions in reducing radiation-related thyroid cancer risk when considering hypothetical severe nuclear accidents. Implementation of select protective actions protects the population living near the Darlington NPP. The projected increase of developing thyroid cancer for children living beyond 10 km could potentially be eliminated with additional mitigation measures specified in the PNERP.

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