Analysis of the mortality experience amongst U.S. nuclear power industry workers after chronic low-dose exposure to ionizing radiation

Radiat Res. 2004 Nov;162(5):517-26. doi: 10.1667/rr3258.


Workers employed in 15 utilities that generate nuclear power in the United States have been followed for up to 18 years between 1979 and 1997. Their cumulative dose from whole body ionizing radiation has been determined from the dose records maintained by the facilities themselves and the REIRS and REMS systems maintained by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy, respectively. Mortality in the cohort from a number of causes has been analyzed with respect to individual radiation doses. The cohort displays a very substantial healthy worker effect, i.e. considerably lower cancer and noncancer mortality than the general population. Based on 26 and 368 deaths, respectively, positive though statistically nonsignificant associations were seen for mortality from leukemia (excluding chronic lymphocytic leukemia) and all solid cancers combined, with excess relative risks per sievert of 5.67 [95% confidence interval (CI) -2.56, 30.4] and 0.506 (95% CI -2.01, 4.64), respectively. These estimates are very similar to those from the atomic bomb survivors study, though the wide confidence intervals are also consistent with lower or higher risk estimates. A strong positive and statistically significant association between radiation dose and deaths from arteriosclerotic heart disease including coronary heart disease was also observed in the cohort, with an ERR of 8.78 (95% CI 2.10, 20.0). While associations with heart disease have been reported in some other occupational studies, the magnitude of the present association is not consistent with them and therefore needs cautious interpretation and merits further attention. At present, the relatively small number of deaths and the young age of the cohort (mean age at end of follow-up is 45 years) limit the power of the study, but further follow-up and the inclusion of the present data in an ongoing IARC combined analysis of nuclear workers from 15 countries will have greater power for testing the main hypotheses of interest.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Radiation-Induced / epidemiology
  • Leukemia, Radiation-Induced / mortality*
  • Male
  • Models, Statistical
  • Nuclear Energy
  • Nuclear Reactors*
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Power Plants*
  • Radiation Dosage
  • Radiation, Ionizing*
  • Radiometry
  • Risk
  • Sex Factors
  • Time Factors
  • United States
  • Whole-Body Irradiation