“Greenwich and Stamford lie nestled at the lower tip of Connecticut, on the New York State border. The prosperous suburban towns feature picturesque homes and lovely views of the Long Island Sound.

But surprisingly, Greenwich and Stamford have a very high rate of childhood cancer. According to the Connecticut Department of Public Health, in the most recent six years, 62 children living in the two towns were diagnosed with cancer, a rate 40 percent greater than the U.S.,and higher than almost all towns in Connecticut.

This fact should surprise many, as Greenwich and Stamford children should be healthier than those in other areas. Their mothers received excellent medical care while pregnant, and during and after birth. Their parents are less likely to smoke or practice risky health habits. Most don’t have the obstacles facing poor children, like substandard housing, nutrition problems, and lack of access to medical care.

Childhood cancer may have multiple causes. But the existence of this “cluster” in Greenwich and Stamford suggests that radioactive emissions from the Indian Point nuclear plant may be playing a role. Indian Point, near Peekskill, N.Y., lies just 15-20 miles northwest of Greenwich and Stamford, the closest towns in Connecticut.

Indian Point’s two reactors generate huge amounts of radioactivity to produce electricity. This radioactivity is found in the reactors’ core and waste pools, the equivalent of several hundred Hiroshima bombs.

If a meltdown from mechanical failure or terrorist attack occurred, these poisons would be released into the air. Moving with the prevailing winds (from the northwest during the colder months), they would arrive at towns like Greenwich and Stamford a few hours after the meltdown. Safe evacuation of all local residents would be impossible on the already-crowded roads, and many thousands would suffer from radiation poisoning or cancer.

The full meltdown at Chernobyl and the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island demonstrated that accidents do happen. Indian Point has never had a meltdown since it opened in 1962, but a recent report identified five recent “near miss” meltdown situations at Indian Point.

The other meltdown scenario, from an act of terrorism, is all too real in the metropolitan area. During the 9/11 attacks, one of the hijacked planes flew directly over Indian Point on its way to the World Trade Center. A successful strike on the plant would inflict far more casualties than the 2,700 who perished that day.

But even without a meltdown, the two Indian Point reactors pose a threat to local residents. All nuclear reactors must routinely release some radioactivity into local air and water. More than 100 radioactive and carcinogenic chemicals make up this cocktail, including Strontium-90, Iodine-131, and Cesium-137 — the same chemicals found years ago in atomic bomb test fallout. Each causes cancer, and is especially harmful to fetuses, infants and young children.

A recent study measuring Strontium-90 in baby teeth of local children shows that Fairfield County had the highest levels in the metropolitan area, except for the areas in New York where Indian Point is located.

The two Indian Point reactors are nearing the end of their 40-year licenses. They are owned by Entergy Nuclear of Jackson, Miss., which has applied to federal regulators for 20-year license extensions. A number of organizations — including the New York State Attorney General’s Office — are attempting to legally block the extension based on safety concerns.

With the ongoing threat of a meltdown, and with the potential that radiation exposure may be contributing to high child cancer rates in places like Greenwich and Stamford, federal regulators should not allow the aging, corroding plant to continue operating, and instead turn to safe, renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

Joseph J. Mangano is executive director of the New York-based Radiation and Public Health Project.