It was classic Caldicott in Concord last night at the NH Peace Action dinner: part biology lesson, part moral outrage, and part call to action. The long-term impact of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, the longer-term impacts of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the still unfolding disaster at the Fukushima reactors in Japan have provided the Australian pediatrician with more than enough data to underline her call for nuclear plants to be shut down and nuclear weapons to be abolished.
Part of the problem, Dr. Caldicott told the audience at Concord’s City Auditorium, is an “unholy alliance” between the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose purpose includes promoting nuclear power. And the IAEA still bases its health assessments on outdated analysis of the health impacts of the atomic bombings of Japan. Different types of cancer have varying incubation periods, she said, and even now people in Japan are getting sick from the use of nuclear weapons 68 years ago. Children in the Chernobyl vicinity are still being coming into the world with high rates of birth defects, she noted.
Another problem, she charged, is that physicists, not doctors, still dominate the discussion of radiation effects. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to let those bastards get away with it,” she said, with passion in her voice and a twinkle in her eye.
“Large areas of the world are becoming contaminated by long-lived nuclear elements secondary to catastrophic meltdowns: 40 percent of Europe from Chernobyl, and much of Japan” Dr. Caldicott wrote in a recent NY Times op-ed, reprinted on her web site.
As a doctor treating children with leukemia in Boston in the 1970s, Dr. Caldicott was a key figure that animated the No Nukes movement in New England and then re-awakened the nuclear disarmament movement of the early 1980s. She served as President of Physicians for Social Responsibility, started the Women’s Party for Survival (which became Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament and lives on as Women’s Action for New Directions), and in 2001 formed the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, now known as Beyond Nuclear. Through books, films, and lectures like the one last night, she has reached millions across the world with an alarming analysis of the dangers we face from nuclear power and weapons.
Alarm is an appropriate state to be in.
High on Dr. Caldicott’s list of concerns right now is the need to remove damaged nuclear fuel rods form the melted-down reactors at Fukushima, where she said “they’re running out of workers” and mistakes could be deadly. [see comment]
When Dr. Caldicott turned to her slide presentation, she began with a list of radioactive isotopes, then showed slides of birds and insects with genetic mutations associated with radiation spewed from Chernobyl 27 years ago.
The nuclear industry is carcinogenic, she said, “and it’s going to kill people. These people should be tried like Nazi war criminals.”
Dr. Caldicott wound up her presentation with a shorter warning about the dangers of nuclear weapons and the influence weapons builders have over US military policy. “Who runs the Pentagon?,” she asked. “Lockheed Martin,” she answered.
There are still 20,000 H-bombs in the world, and the US and Russia control most of them. “How dare America have enough weapons to destroy life on earth? How dare the Russians?”
Dr. Caldicott’s pleas would have been strengthened by references to efforts by Beyond Nuclear and SAPL to block a 20-year license extension for Seabrook Station and to the fact that Vermont Yankee (which she mentioned several times) is actually going to be closed after decades of No Nukes campaigning. But at least she did follow Will Hopkins and Sandra Yarne, who talked about NH Peace Action’s current projects, including efforts to place “Move the Money” resolutions on New Hampshire Town Meeting warrants and city council agendas.
One thing we’ve learned over the years: the best way to deal with the realistic dread that comes from living in the nuclear age is to work for a nuclear-free world.
You can find out more about Dr. Helen Caldicott on her web site, http://www.helencaldicott.com/.