Nuclear Worker Health

KiJung Park
February 11, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: Nuclear Reactor in Spain. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

General public today are well aware about the dangerousness of exposure to high dose of radiation through various studies and real life accidents such as the notorious Chernobyl accident and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Although recent explosion of Japan's Fukushima power plant has not yet shown any acute effects on those who were exposed to the radiation the most, the incident itself built negative attitudes toward nuclear power and nuclear power plant. [1] Having experienced these tragic accidents and being informed about the harmfulness of exposure to radiation, we begin to think about the health of those who work in nuclear industry, especially nuclear power plant employees, who spend the most time near nuclear power plant, thus have biggest change of being exposed to radiation. In this report, we will examine short-term and long-term health of workers of nuclear industry.

Short-Term Health effects

In order for nuclear workers to experience short-term health effect due to radiation, or in other words, experience acute symptom, workers need to be exposed to more than the radiation dose (100mSv), but the average measurable dose of radiation exposure per worker is 0.19mSV, way less than the radiation dose. [2] Thus, experiencing a short-term health effect due to radiation exposure is something very unlikely to happen unless an accident occurs in nuclear power plant. In fact, many of the nuclear power plant workers are more concerned about issues such as fire, explosion, and radiation leakage, rather than naturally being exposed to radiation during routinely work. [3] Another health related issue that can be brought up about nuclear power plant workers is the shift related problems. Because nuclear power plant has to be examined 24 hours, workers must have regular night shifts. Shift workers are very likely to experience less alertness, more fatigue, sleepiness, and social issues, all increasing the likelihood of an accident. [4] Thus, in a short- term, unless an accident happens, radiation does not affect workers' health, and health problems of nuclear power plant workers are similar to those of ordinary workers.

Fig. 2: Nuclear Power Plant Workers building reactor in Brookhaven, USA. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Long-Term Health Effects

Most well-known long-term health effects caused by radiation are cancer and leukemia. However, those illnesses are more likely to occur when a person is exposed to a radiation dose of 100mSv or higher in a span of five years. However, according to the annual report published by Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) in India, no nuclear worker exceed the annual dose exposure limit of 30mSv during the year 2015 and earlier years. [5] However, several studies were held to see the relationship between low-dose exposure of ionizing radiation and cancer in a long-term, and they suggest the possible relationship between the long-term exposures of radiation with cancer except leukemia. [6,7] Still, these studies claim that further follow-ups are necessary to conclude the relationship between radiation and cancer due to characteristics of these studies.


In conclusion, unlike what we tend to think, nuclear power plant workers are safe from being exposed to great amount radiation that might lead to illness. In a short-term, their daily dose of exposure is less than measurable amount, and in a long-term, further studies need to be done to prove the relationship between long-term, low-dose radiation exposure and cancer. [2] In a short-term, best way to maintain health for the nuclear power plant workers is to prevent possible accidents and improve work environment.

© KiJung Park. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] G. Prati and B. Zani, "The Effect of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident on Risk Perception, Antinuclear Behavioral Intentions, Attitude, Trust, Environmental Beliefs, and Values," Environ. Behav. 45, 782 (2012)

[2] D. E. Lewis, D. A. Hagemeyer, and Y. U. McCormick, "Occupational Radiation Exposure at Agreement State-Licensed Materials Facilities, 2007-2010," U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NUREG-2118, Vol. 1, July 2012.

[3] H.-H. Lee, "A Study on the Risk Perceptions for Workers of Nuclear Power Plants", Seoul National University, February, 2015.

[4] L. Smith and S. Folkard, "The Impact of Shiftwork on Nuclear Power Personnel: An Exploratory Survey Study," Work Stress 7 341 (1993).

[5] "Annual Report 2015-2016," Government of India Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, 2016.

[6] E. Cardis et al. "The 15-Country Collaborative Study of Cancer Risk among Radiation Workers in the Nuclear Industry: Estimates of Radiation-Related Cancer Risks," Radiat. Res. 167, 396 (2007).

[7] M. K. Schubauer-Berigan et al. "Cancer Mortality through 2005 among a Pooled Cohort of U.S. Nuclear Workers Exposed to External Ionizing Radiation," Radiat. Res. 183, 620 (2015).