Dr. Helen Caldicott on the nuclear disaster in Japan
Radio Ecoshock show of March 25th, 2011.
Hear the audio at: http://www.ecoshock.org/downloads/nuclear/ES_Caldicott_110325_LoFi.mp3
Alex Smith: As Japan suffers multiple reactor accidents, with radiation of the land and sea, sadly, one woman is vindicated again. Dr. Helen Caldicott is a physician, author, and speaker known throughout the world for her clear warnings about the dangers of nuclear weapons, and nuclear power.
Helen Caldicott woke us up with the film and book "If You Love This Planet" - now the title of her own weekly radio show.
I'm Alex Smith, host of Radio Ecoshock. Dr. Caldicott I'm honored to welcome you to this program.
HC: Thank you Alex.
AS: Let's get right to work. What would you like to tell the world about the nuclear disasters in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th?
HC: Well, what can I say? Fancy building six rather faulty General Electric reactors upon an earthquake fault. Japan has been known forever for having earthquakes.
The disaster is not finished. It's ongoing. In fact nobody can predict how long it will go. I mean, I don't know - it could go for years. If there is a very large release of radiation or a meltdown, and the wind is blowing over Japan, it's only a tiny country - that could be it.
Chernobyl, which had only been operating for three months, has devastated forty percent of the European land mass. The food grown there will be radioactive for hundreds of years. And the New York Academy of Science's document has just reported that almost one million people have died from Chernobyl.
Here we have six reactors, we have six cooling pools, and another two very large cooling pools, all of which are at risk. And there's far more radiation in each of the cooling pools than there is in each reactor itself.
So, it takes my breath away. When I really first just realized what the significance could mean: it's extremely serious. And I have to tell you I think it means the end of the nuclear industry - thank God! And the end of uranium mining. And maybe, the human race will extrapolate further and realize they must abolish nuclear weapons at long last.
AS: And perhaps it could be the beginning of real, earnest efforts to develop clean energy.
HC: Oh yes. I mean look at Canada. You've got huge amounts of geothermal energy. You are blown by wind everywhere, but I think Alberta's very wind blown. And even in the middle of winter you've got enough sun to solarize every single house in Canada. It will employ hundreds of thousands of people, the GDP will go up, and everyone will feel really good with themselves.
AS: At the first announcement of problems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex, a chorus of soothing denial arose from nuclear boosters, like Dr. Barry Brook in Australia I might add......
HC: Oh, don't even talk about him. He's a statistician. He doesn't know any biology, genetics, or medicine. He has no right to talk the way he talks.
AS: Well, we're told everything would be fixed; there was no health risk. Why did it take so many days before the real situation was reported?
HC: I realized immediately. In fact, many people did. I've had so many emails, I'm just overwhelmed, with Face book and all sorts of stuff.
Those who understood, deeply within themselves, about nuclear energy knew immediately what it meant. The nuclear industry was struggling to put a spin on it. They had all their spin doctors out and of course they have got millions of dollars behind them. But it's becoming more and more apparent that they are going to get nowhere.
What really aggravates me though is that they say the levels of radiation are low. You know, no immediate harm, no. But if you inhale or ingest these radioactive particles of Strontium 90, Cesium 137, radioactive Iodine, etc., you won't get Leukemia for five years. So there is no immediate danger 'per se'.
Immediate danger means those poor fellows in the reactor vessels trying to do something, and they're dead men walking. Many of them are going to be dead within two weeks of acute radiation illness. So they are in immediate danger.
Everyone else is in long-term danger of getting cancer, or Leukemia, or having their genes mutated in their testicles or ovaries to affect future generations.
AS: Yes, and we saw after Chernobyl the way that people were shunned who came from there. People didn't want to marry them. People didn't even want them around. They thought they might have radioactivity on their clothes. We are going to see that again with these Fukushima evacuees, who may never be able to go home. What do you think their situation is?
HC: Well, it's so ironic, and tragic because the 'Hibakusha' in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were in exactly the same position. The Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission which was run by the U.S., who dropped the bombs, studied these people voraciously to find out what happened to them, because they were the guinea pigs - but they never got any treatment.
And people shunned them. They got cancers in large numbers. No one wants to marry them because their genes may have been affected and mutated. So at Chernobyl it's the same, and here again we have another absolute disaster which if it really is ongoing, it's going to contaminate the whole of the Northern Hemisphere, as did Chernobyl.
AS: In fact, we've received radiation here in British Columbia [Canada] and along the West Coast. But it's also been measured in Iceland, having arrived from Fukushima...
HC: Oh really!
AS: Now in very low amounts they say, but they can find that signature so it is moving around the northern hemisphere as we speak...
HC: Well, when they say low amount, you know, you need one millionth of a gram of plutonium inhaled into your lung, to give you cancer. They are measuring the external gamma radiation, running around with Geiger counters. But that doesn't give you any indication at all of the kind of isotopes which make up the radiation that they are measuring. They don't know what they are talking about.
AC: That is part of my next question, and it involves your expertise as a medical doctor. The released radiation is being compared to Chest X-rays, or a CT Scan. But I thought radioactive particles ingested in your food, or breathed from the air, acted differently in your body from the radiation coming from the outside. Can you clear up that confusion for us?
HC: I can, yes. There are about two hundred new elements made when you fission uranium in a reactor, all of which are radioactive and man-made. Some last seconds, and some last millions of years.
Now many of them emit Gamma radiation like X-rays, but many do not. So when they are measuring the external does, in other words of you are enveloped in a cloud of radioactive elements, you get an external does, like an X-ray. But the most important thing for everyone to understand is you inhale Plutonium, or Americium, or Curium, or radioactive Iodine, if the elements become bio-concentrated at each step of the food chain - algae, crustaceans, little fish, big fish, humans - or in the plants, the lettuce, the spinach, into the milk from the grass and the cows - then you are getting inside your body these elements that locate, for instance, on bones Strontium 90, where just a very, very tiny amount can mutate a single regulatory gene in a single cell to give you Leukemia five years later, or cancer fifteen years later. And that applies to all of them.
So people do not understand the difference between vaguely measuring some external dose, from internal emitters. And that's what you all have to understand: internal emitters.
And I go into that in my two books 'Nuclear Madness' and the one that recently came out called 'Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer to Global Warming'. So you will understand.
AS: We've also learned, many of us for the first time, that so-called 'spent' nuclear fuel is extremely dangerous. Tell us about those pools of nuclear waste.
HC: Every year they remove one third of the fuel rods from the reactors because they are so, so thermally hot and radioactively hot. And they are inefficient for the reaction anymore, and they are called 'spent' fuel. They are put in cooling pools which euphemistically the industry calls 'swimming pools'. And you see, thirty tons are removed every year, and so they've got six reactors there a few of them are forty years old, and a few of them are about thirty five years old.
Can you imagine how much radioactive stuff they've got stored in those fuel pools!
Now the very short-lived isotopes have decayed away to nothing. But the long-lived ones, the very dangerous ones, Cesium, Strontium, Uranium, Plutonium, Americium, Curium, Neptunium, I mean really dangerous ones, the long-lived ones - that's what the fuel pools hold.
There was a study done by Von Hipple et al at Princeton to show if a spent fuel pool went it would just produce an enormous amount of damage - far, far worse than a melt-down like Chernobyl, in a reactor core.
AS: And Dr. David Lockbaum from the Union of Concerned Scientists reported the spent fuel ponds in the United States pose the same risks as at Fukushima. He said most of the cooling pumps for these pools are not even connected to diesel backup generators, and none of them have battery backup power.
Can you talk to us about the risks of American nuclear power plants?
HC: Well, I mean it's the same as in Japan. God almighty! David is an absolutely magnificent fellow who helped write the Generation Four Reactor chapter in my latest book.
But I did not know - I did not know - that there weren't emergency cooling pumps for the spent fuel pools, backup diesel generators or batteries, I did not know that. How alarmingly irresponsible of the industry!
These guys are engineers and often engineers, they work for the worst case possibility, i.e. 'what is the weakest point in the bridge, therefore we'll make the bridge safe.' But overlook most obvious problems. I think it's a sort of industry which these particular men love because it's the power of the atom. They just sort of love playing around with that, like people like driving racing cars and things. Do you know what I mean? I think there's a psychology behind it which is very strange to me as a physician.
AS: I want to report to you and to the listeners, that I've just listened to NHK World television and they've reported that the Tokyo drinking water has been to contain Iodine, and it's not recommended for feeding babies anymore. And they believe that got into the water system through polluted rivers.
And a Professor has measured soil 40 kilometers north of the plant, found radiation five centimeters deep, and says that will last in the soil for at least thirty years. So I think it's time now that we can say that a large part of Japan has been damaged by this accident and may not recover.
HC: Well it won't recover. These accidents go on forever because plutonium's half-life is 24,400 years. It lasts for half a million years. Thirty tons of plutonium got out at Chernobyl.
And then Cesium 137, it's half life is 30 years. It lasts for 600 years. The same with Strontium 90, and I could go on and on down the Periodic Table of the list of all the elements. This is on-going. And not what's more, if a man's genes mutated in his testicles by plutonium, which has a particular predilection for testicles, then the genes, the damaged genes transmit it generation to generation, while the plutonium lives on. And if the man gets cremated, it can be inhaled by another man and get into his testicles ad infinitum.
So you can see an exponential increase in genetic disease. There are now 2,600 such diseases like Diabetes, Cystic Fibrosis, dwarfism, and the like. My specialty is Cystic Fibrosis. And they will increase in frequency down the generations, and that's the legacy we leave: random compulsory genetic engineering for the rest of time.
AS: Looking at the world picture, is it accurate to say that the majority of the world's nuclear reactors are situated by the ocean, within range of large tsunamis?
HC: Yes. But they are also on lakes. Lake Ontario has quite a lot. In fact I'm going to the Darlington hearings tomorrow. What am I going to say to them? 'Are you really psychotic? You want to build two more reactors on Lake Ontario? Just near Port Hope, which is built on radioactive tailings.' What am I going to say to them, as a physician?
AS: Those plants, they said they were going to cost about six billion dollars, and now the new estimate is 36 billion dollars. It doesn't seem to matter what the price tag is, we just have to build them. Why? Why?
HC: Well, it's the same way they built nuclear weapons. You know I called one of my first books 'Missile Envy' a la Freud. And that's what it is.
I think the etiology or the cause of this nuclear illness is the reptilian mid-brain of some men's minds. And it's very interesting to read about the latest physiology of the brain. The limbic system which produces a hormone which is rather like morphia - the two instincts which generate that wonderful hormone that makes you feel terrific in men, are sex and violence. Intrinsic in nuclear weapons, and nuclear power which is an off-shoot of nuclear weapons, it's the same technology - is violence.
AS: And this is probably resulting from a brain problem.
HC: It's not a brain problem, it's just a normal physiological problem that we evolved with since we lived in caves, I think.
AS: Right. I'd like to talk for a minute about President Barack Obama. You know, before he announced his candidacy, we saw prominent press coverage of his visit to a nuclear plant in Ohio. We have since learned his campaign received substantial money from nuclear power companies like Exelon. He appointed a pro-nuclear Energy Secretary, physicist Steven Chu, and they are all backing more nuclear power, even after this accident. Where do you see Barack Obama on nuclear power?
HC: Oh look I'm sorry. I really had such hopes for the man. He's so intelligent, he's such a fine human being. But he's being co-opted by these nuclear people. And I heard that when he was in Chile, even after the Fukushima accident, he signed an agreement to sell Chile reactors. Now I can't confirm that. But I did hear it. I'm sorry but I've lost faith in Obama, which is an absolute tragedy.
AS: The second argument that's advanced is that everyone in Asia deserves the benefits of lights, refrigeration, the lifestyle we enjoy. If energy-hungry countries like China and India don't build lots of nuclear power plants, they will use coal, adding to climate suicide. What is your reply?
HC: Well, they'll also get the benefits of cancer, leukemia, deformed babies, children with genetic disease for generations hence. That's a good idea too, isn't it?
This is all medical. It's like when we doctors started talking about the medical effects of nuclear war, the press was stunned. They said 'What are you talking about this for? This is national defense, it's security and army generals, and war.' And we started to describe the effects of a bomb dropping on Boston. People being vaporized up to five miles. And third degree burns up to twenty miles and the like. And suddenly people woke up and said 'Oh my God! Nuclear war is bad for our health.'
This is all about medicine. Nuclear power poses the greatest public health hazard the world will ever see. Period.
AS: Even greater than coal, you would argue.
HC: Oh, far far greater, yes. But then coal must be stopped being burned as we speak. You must stop digging up your coal tar sands, that's a terrible thing to do. And we've got to stop burning carbon. So I commissioned a study some years ago called 'Carbon Free, Nuclear Free' by a brilliant physicist called Arjun Makhijani. You can find it at ieer.org. The present renewable technology, which is very cheap, can supply all the energy America needs by 2040. 2040.
AS: And now we find that America is saddled with 40 year old technology, but nobody seems to be able to close a nuclear plant and clean up the mess. Can you talk to us about decommissioning.
HC: Oh well. To decommission a reactor you have to wait until it cools, radioactively cools down. For about 40 years, until anyone can get near it. It actually has to be taken apart by robots, by remote control, it's so radioactive. And then it's got to be taken somewhere. In other words, you can never get rid of nuclear waste. You just transport it from one place to another, exposing more and more workers, usually men, and their testicles, and therefore future generations to more and more radiation. A very big large nuclear reactor has never been decommissioned.
AS: And I've been told that the cost of doing so, even if we could, be as much as building the plant in the first place.
HC: That's correct. Or even more. And I write about decommissioning and the costs in my book 'Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer.'
AS: Right, talk to us for a minute about that book, would you. I think it's really important.
HC: The first chapter deals with the fact that nuclear power in its own right produces a huge amount of global warming gas. Because it relies upon a vast industrial infrastructure, mining millions of tons of uranium. You know about that in Canada. Your uranium was used for Trinity, Fat Man and Little Boy, the first three bombs that were ever exploded on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was used for all the bombs that America built until 1957, so you know about that.
Then you have to crush millions of tons of uranium into a fine powdered dust. And then you have to extract the uranium itself from the soil that's been mined. Then you have to enrich the uranium. Well first Uranium Hexafloride is formed in Port Hope, at the Cameco plant, then sent to Paducah Kentucky, where they use two huge coal-fired plants to enrich the uranium. So at every step of the fuel chain, large quantities of global warming gas are formed.
Then, the next chapter is on the cost, and the hidden cost. And the support of the government. You can't buy insurance against nuclear power. The government covers it, but not
nearly enough. It's called the Price-Anderson Act in America but it only - most of it goes back to the utility, not to the people who are dead and dying. Or families are.
The next chapter deals with the basic fundamentals of radiation and how internal emitters cause cancer. And how they cause genetic disease. Just a basic first year medical lecture, but easy to understand.
And they I go into First, Second, Third and Fourth Generation reactors. I go into the industry and how it continually lies and obfuscates information. Then I go into what people can do about it I think. It's a quick read, but if you know the data in that book, you'll be able to argue with anyone, including Prime Minister Harper, and beat him.
AS: And the title is...
HC: 'Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer to Global Warming' and it's published by the New Press.
AS: Right. Now back in Tokyo we find the Tokyo Power company has announced rolling blackouts will continue into May, and then reappear in the Summer, when air-conditioning season appears. With the multiple nuclear power plants shut down, the utility says it does not have enough electricity to support full manufacturing in Japan. So it looks like nuclear power can severely damage your economy, once an accident like this happens.
HC: Correct. Yes, I this is going to be the end of Japan as an economic giant. If there's a real melt-down, like Chernobyl, and it blows over Japan, that's the end of Japan. That is the end of Japan.
AS: Yes it is a small island. I've always thought that France is threatened by just such a complete breakdown. They've got 75 percent I think of their power coming from nuclear. If something irradiated that beautiful country and the public revolt, how would France even begin to cope?
HC: You know, every corner you turn in France there's a huge cooling tower. And the French love their food, their wine, their cheese. It's radioactive, some of it. Because nuclear power plants as they operate normally routinely emit radioactive elements into the air and water all the time. And often there are accidents and they emit much more radiation than they plan to do.
The French, I've got a French son-in-law who's a Count, and they tend to be arrogant, and they are terrible ignorant because the French reactors were all built by the French government. And 'Le Monde' was kind of run by the French government, the newspaper, and they don't know anything about nuclear power. But they are learning, by God.
It's a disaster. Look, nuclear power makes war obsolete. Europe is covered with nuclear reactors. If the Second World War was fought today, Europe would be uninhabitable for the rest of time. And that holds true for the rest of time, because even if the reactors were shut down, you've got all these huge, huge pools full of thousands, hundreds of thousands of tons of radioactive waste which lasts forever. Forever.
AS: I'm Alex Smith, with famous anti-nuclear spokeswoman Helen Caldicott, as we face nuclear fear in Japan.
Already, Helen, American companies are saying that new nuclear plants may not be financially feasible in Texas, Maryland and other places. One CEO it's been stalled for another decade anyway, by falling price of natural gas. It isn't even competitive with solar these days. Realistically now, Helen Caldicott, what do you see happening in the nuclear industry?
HC: I think it's the end, as I said earlier in the program. It's the end of the nuclear industry. As soon as I heard about this accident, that's what I thought, it's the end. It's the end of uranium mining. Thank God.
I've been doing this crazy work for 40 years, and I said all that time: it will take a major melt-down to end the industry. And here we have not one, but six possible melt-downs, and cooling pools as well.
AS: Where should anti-nuclear campaigners focus now? What are the key places and issues?
HC: Go to my web page called nuclearfreeplanet.org. You'll get a huge amount of information. I've also got a Face book, Dr. Helen Caldicott. And we post we post every up to date article we can find so that you'll learn all about it. Information is ammunition. Jefferson said an informed Democracy will behave in responsible fashion. We've got to have a revolution, a nuclear revolution against nuclear psychosis. And that means doing an Egypt or a Wisconsin, or what we did in the '80's to try and end the nuclear arms race. I mean millions and millions of us. It's got to be peaceful and sagacious and dignified - but we can do that!
AS: On a personal level, Helen, what have you been up to lately?
HC: I'm doing a trip now. I've just been up to Montreal for a speech. I'm now in Boston having a day of rest. Tomorrow I go to the Darlington Hearings, I go to Ottawa probably for a press conference and a talk at a hospital for doctors. And on Saturday there is a very large day-long conference with me and many other of my colleagues, talking about the medical effects of just what we've been discussing. It Ottawa. If you go to the Global Physicians for Survival web page you'll find where this conference is and you and come to it.
I have a radio program which is a weekly thing called 'If You Love This Planet' that should play on every station in every country I suppose, because it's mostly focused upon global warming, and nuclear power and weapons, and their medical implications.
My web page really is an outreach to the younger generation who know absolutely nothing about nuclear because they grew up not knowing about it. But they are Face booking it and they are Twittering it and all of that stuff. So I'm hoping to get into their hearts and souls and brains - and I think now with this catastrophe that will happen.
AS: As we wrap up, is there something else you want listeners to know?
HC: I would want the Canadians to stand up and do the right thing. They're fine, good, honest decent people. Now get going. Stop sitting in front of your computers and get out there and stop this madness. You are one of the major suppliers of uranium to the world. Cameco in Port Hope supplies the whole world with nuclear fuel rods. And the name is 'Port Hope'. So stop it. Close down Cameco. You export two things, you export wheat for life, and you export uranium for death.
AS: You know, more than half of our listeners are Americans, how about them?
HC: Americans, you know deep in your hearts and souls, you must close down all the nuclear reactors. If you can't do it overnight, do it next week. Now I'm really serious. This is a matter of extreme medical urgency. You've got the message. Do it.
AS: I'm Alex Smith for Radio Ecoshock. It's been my honor to interview Dr. Helen Caldicott, who is simply the strongest voice for sanity for nuclear affairs, for almost four decades. Our web site is ecoshock.org
But more importantly, follow Helen through her web site, helencaldicott.com, and her weekly radio show at ifyoulovethisplanet.org.
Dr. Caldicott, thank you for sharing your valuable time with us.
HC: Thank you Alex.