Children under five years old living near nuclear power stations have contracted cancer at a greatly higher rate than the national average, a study by the German government said Saturday.
The risk of cancer increased by 60 percent for children living less than five kilometres (three miles) from a nuclear power plant, according to the study by the federal office for protection against radiation. The risk was 117 percent higher when only leukemia was taken into account.
The study looked at statistics from between 1980 and 2003 in regions near 21 reactors or former reactors.
In those areas, 77 cases of cancer were found among children under five, or a 60-percent increase over the national average. Some 37 cases of leukemia were recorded instead of the average of 17.
But explaining the rise in cancer risk has proved difficult.
German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in a statement that, based on current scientific knowledge, the findings could "not be explained by exposure to radiation from a nuclear reactor".
"To explain this increased cancer risk, the population would have to be exposed to radiation at least 1,000 times higher than what comes from German nuclear power plants," he said.