Nuclear Menace Is Not Over Yet, We Must Fight Against It: Dr. Helen Caldicott Interviewed By Pinar Demircan

Turkish journalist and anti-nuclear activist Pinar Demircan is known to the readers of as we interviewed her earlier about the nuclear risks in her country. Recently, she met eminent health expert and anti-nuclear crusader Dr. Helen Caldicott, who shared some extremely valuable insights about her career, challenges and manipulations by the nuclear lobbies. We are publishing the conversation here with comments from Pinar Demircan, who is also our editorial advisor now.

“I am a doctor, this is my responsibility, I must fight all things nuclear to be able to sleep at night”

Pinar Demircan with Dr. Helen Caldicott, with the Turkish version of her famous book, Nuclear Is Not The Answer

These sentences belong to a woman and a doctor who dedicated over 45 years of her life to the antinuclear fight, who organized resistance against nuclear weapons and was the Founding President of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) which, as a member of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War(IPPNW) won Nobel in 1985. The international Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons(ICAN), recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 has its roots in the IPPNW.

Dr. Caldicott is a mother of 3 children, writer of 11 books between 1997-2017 including the one to be published in October this year. Her most recent – “Nuclear Energy is not the Solution” has been well received by the activists and experts alike . Published in US in 2006 even before Fukushima Nuclear Disaster , Dr Caldicott’s book highlights the inextricable linkages between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, and also draws attention to how nuclear energy is promoted to developing countries as a low carbon energy under the conditions framed by climate change. The book also shows how governments are backing nuclear energy despite competitive and more efficient renewables. In September, I had a chance to meet Dr Caldicott who dedicated herself to this mission, from whom I learned and was inspired a lot at the University of Basel where International Physicians to Prevent Nuclear War (IPPNW) Switzerland organized an event with the theme “Human rights, Future Generation , Crime in The Nuclear Age”. Here is our talk in an interview format for the readers of worldwide –

Pinar Demircan: Dear Dr. Caldicott, would you please tell what drove you to dedicate over 45 years of your life against radioactivity?

Helen Caldicott: Well, my story begins when I read a book at the age of 16, called “On the Beach” . It was about a nuclear war and in the book everyone in the world died except people in Melbourne which is where I lived. Gradually the radiation came down to Melbourne, everyone died, and that was the end of life on earth. That book had a profound effect on me and I went to medical school in 1956 and I wanted to learn about radiation, nuclear weapons, mutations and cancer. In 1971, there were atmospheric French bomb testings in the Pacific, France was violating the atmospheric ban treaty, I have written about this in my book called “A Desperate Passion” . These tests left highly radioactive fallout in Adeleide where I lived and I wrote a letter to the newspaper saying that children could get leukemia and cancer from drinking the milk that was contaminated with fall out from French tests and they published my letter. That night I was on Television talking about French atmospheric nuclear tests in the Maruora Atolls, atomic fall out and radiation. We were exposed to the fallout in Adelaide and people became very cross and started to boycott French products. Everytime the French blew up a bomb I was on TV as a doctor teaching people about what radiation does, teaching mothers who have children that they could get cancer. We went to Paris to meet the French Government and man who later became our Deputy Prime Minister said to the French Government officers “why are you testing your bombs in the Pacific” and the French said that “our bombs are perfectly safe”. Then we said “if they were really safe why don’t you blow them up in the Mediterranean”. They replied “there are too many people living round the Mediterranean.”

Thus, for the first time in my life I was sitting opposite unscrupulous politicians who did not give a damn if some Australian children died from their nuclear tests. That was really very revealing for me personally. Then I read a book called “Poisoned Power” by Gofmann and Tamplin and it changed my life. I knew nothing about uranium or nuclear power or radioactive waste and I was appalled. Then, I contacted mining unions in Australia and I spoke to them about medical effects of mining uranium – they allowed me to speak but added that they needed their jobs. So I educated them about the fact that when they mine uranium their testicles that get irradiated by radiation and how that is bad for their children, also for their sperm. I told them that they breathed in radon in the uranium mine. Uranium and radon can both cause cancer. The unions were shocked when they learnt these facts and the whole union movement in Australia voted not to mine anymore and not to export from uranium. It happened just by educating the workers and mining ban lasted for 5 years.

P: How did you start to engage doctors in your struggle?

H: I went to America with my family and I had a job at Harvard Medical School in the cystic fibrosis clinic and during that time I wrote a book called “Nuclear Madness” about the dangers of nuclear power. The book became quite well known and then I formed the organisation Physicians for Social Responsibility(PSR). I published in the New England Journal of Medicine about the medical dangers of nuclear power. It was published the day after Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident happened and so hundreds of doctors joined PSR and then we started holding symposiums on the medical effects of nuclear war . We held symposiums in all the major cities of the USA, at universities all over the country. I also went to a lot TV studios, because I had an agent in Hollywood who represented film stars and and she put me on TV shows with film stars. The general public were not interested in hearing a boring doctor talking about nuclear war but if I was accompanied by a film star people also listened to me.

P: So you could educate general public through TV?

H: Yes. I educated them about medical effects of nuclear power and nuclear war . Over 5 years, as I continued my public educational efforts, I also traveled through the country educating my colleagues, the doctors and we ended up with 153 chapters and 23 thousand doctors members of the IPPNW within 5 years and we were very active writing letters and presenting papers about medical effects of nuclear war and within 5 years 80% of Americans became opposed to nuclear war.

P: Did you also get in touch with political leaders?

H: Yes. I went to see President Reagan, I spent an hour and a quarter educating him. I also met with Pierre Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada and convinced him to initiate the 5 continent 6 nation peace initiative. I met Gorbachev and I traveled the world starting doctors organizations in many counties : Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Britain, Ireland, Scotland and others .

P: And since then the world has seen one more major nuclear disaster. Your book was written before Fukushima happened . Fukushima forced us to reckon the reality of nuclear contamination even further. For instance the standard for radiation exposure was changed from 1 msv to 20Milisievert . What do you think about such arbitrary increase in the dose, as a doctor?

H: In Japan where there are many nuclear power plant, a conglomeration of nuclear industries and politicians work very closely together and they are called the “Nuclear village”. So really the nuclear industry runs the government and this is just the way it happens in Japan.

P: In your book you also mention about how International Atom Energy Agency(IAEA) decided the general limit dose applied only to a white 70 kilogram man aged above age of 25, So do you think that women and children are much more sensitive to the threat of radiation?

H: Yes. Children are 10-20 times more sensitive to radiation than adults. Little girls are twice as sensitive as boys are. Fetuses are thousands of time more sensitive and women are twice as sensitive as men – we have known that for a long time.

P: Recently North Korea conducted a nuclear test. What do you think about its fallouts?

H: North Korea can blow up a city, but only the US and Russia can blow up the world, these two countries are the real terrorists in the world . There are thousands of nuclear bombs in the world and Russia and America own 94% of them. If there is a global war between Russia and US everything will be destroyed. North Korea wants the USA to talk to them . They want to sign a peace treaty, a non-aggression pact and be treated normally with good trade agreements with the world . That is what North Korea wants. North Korea does not want to use nuclear weapons and it says it will give them up if this happens.

P: About nuclear weapons. You know there is a belief that it provides balance power and global security can be maintained by nuclear weapons . How do you respond to this idea.

H: This is a lie this is to balance peace with nuclear is very masculine thinking.

P: In Germany people were distributed iodine pills recently. What do you think about this?

H You know people must be given iodine pills before the radiation gets into them. Unfortunately, they give it too late. Pills should be taken before the radioactive exposure meets them so that the inert iodine blocks the uptake of radioactive iodine by the thyroid gland, but the nuclear industry lies about their accidents and the general public don’t know about it until it is too late. But there is cesium 134 and 137, strontium 90 and 200 other types of radioactive elements manufactured in nuclear reactors . People do not understand. They think that when they take iodine pills everything is ok but that only protects the thyroid gland and leaves all the other organs at risk.

P: How and what kind of difficulties have you experienced while defending the life against nuclear?

H: No one has killed me yet but they tried . I was prepared to die. I received death threats 8 times. I just kept going.

P: In your book you mention that 3rd generation nuclear plants are only modified for cost effectiveness. Would you please explain this a little further?

H: “Cost effectiveness” when used in the constructing of nuclear reactors just for saving money, is very, very dangerous. The 3rd generation reactors are therefore are cheaper to build, hence they are more dangerous because they use cheaper parts.

P: So you mean that there is no safety in NPPs , safety is not considered seriously?

H: No safety in nuclear power plants. Lets talk about nuclear waste which remains radioactive for millions of years. Lets look at how nuclear waste will inevitably destroy the positive process of revolution by damaging the very building blocks of life – DNA molecules, or genes in every living species on earth. I need not say more. Nuclear waste as it infiltrates into our water and food will over time induce epidemics of cancer, genetic disease and congenital deformities – leading to random compulsory genetic engineering not just for humans but also in plants and animals.

P: Thank you for your time and explanations

H: Thank you.


This interview first published at Yesil Gazete in Turkish. Pinar Demicran can be contacted on her twitter: @pnrizumi


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