Nuclear Power

NPRI's Helen Caldicott links nuclear power to global warming

As Congress continues to debate the issue of nuclear waste repositories, industry is pushing nuclear power as an excellent source of clean, safe energy. During today's OnPoint, Nuclear Policy Research Institute founder Helen Caldicott discusses her new book, "Nuclear Power is not the Answer." Caldicott explains the link between nuclear power production and global warming and discusses what she calls a propaganda campaign by industry and the Bush administration to push nuclear power. Caldicott also criticizes environmentalists who support nuclear power as a clean and safe source of energy.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Helen Caldicott, founder of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute and author of the new book, "Nuclear Power is Not the Answer." Helen, thanks for joining me.

Helen Caldicott: Thank you, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Your new book takes a hard look at nuclear power and pretty much paints a dismal picture of what would happen if the US were to take on nuclear power as a major source of energy. Explain to us why you think nuclear energy will not help the global warming issue and, in fact, make it even worse?

Helen Caldicott: Yes, it contributes to it in a substantial fashion because a nuclear power plant doesn't stand alone. It has to be fueled. So you have to dig up millions of tons of uranium ore and crush it and enrich it. And you use a lot of fossil fuel doing that. In America they use two huge coal-fired plants to enrich uranium. So the fossil fuel emitted from that process, then you build a reactor, more fossil fuel. Then you have to decommission the reactor in 30 or 40 years, which is a radioactive mausoleum, by remote control using robots, more fossil fuel. And keep the waste, the highly radioactive hot waste, cool for decades, transport it to God knows where, we don't know yet, thousands of miles, all using fossil fuels. So at the moment a nuclear power plant produces one third the amount of carbon dioxide as a similar sized gas-fired plant. But as the amount of quality high-concentration uranium ore in the earth declines over the next decade or two, a nuclear power plant will produce the same amount of CO2 as a gas-fired plant. So you may as well just use the gas and not nuclear, because then you don't get any radioactive waste, which will, over time, induce epidemics of cancer, leukemia, and genetic disease in all future generations.

Monica Trauzzi: You use the word propaganda quite a bit in the book. Basically, saying that there's a huge propaganda campaign between the nuclear power industry and the Bush administration. If nuclear was unsafe, unhealthy, economically unsound, why would it have international backing from countries like China and Japan and the European Union?

Helen Caldicott: Well, you know I've taken a long time as a physician, and I was on the faculty at Harvard, my specialty is cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease, to learn about the medical consequences of nuclear power. And it's not well known. It used to be after Chernobyl, but it's not now. So politicians make decisions because the oil or nuclear companies convince them it's a good idea and put some money in their back pockets without understanding the biological, pathological effects of radiation. But I did speak recently at Harvard, at Children's Hospital where I used to work on the faculty, and they were about a hundred of the top pediatricians in the world. And I walked them through the medical effects, right through to nuclear waste, and they were absolutely dumbfounded. More emotional than I've ever seen them before, saying, "But what are we going to do about this?" So it's a specialty area that most people don't actually deeply understand. And less than three percent of politicians are scientifically literate, so they don't really understand it.

Monica Trauzzi: We recently had Christie Todd Whitman on the show, and she just founded CASEnergy with Greenpeace founder, Patrick Moore. CASE stands for "clean and safe." Basically, they're contending that nuclear energy is environmentally safe and secure, and it's safe for humans. Are they wrong? And are they part of this propaganda wave that you ...

Helen Caldicott: They are. Patrick Moore, I had it in my conference called "Nuclear Power and Global Warming." He's paid for by the nuclear industry. I don't know about Christie, but I know that he is. So that I'm an independent physician ...

Monica Trauzzi: But he is a well-known environmentalist.

Helen Caldicott: Well, yeah, but he's changed, hasn't he? He works for the nuclear industry, so he's not unbiased. He's totally biased. He's employed by them to push nuclear power and he's wrong! He's absolutely wrong. But I invite you to read my book and question everything I say, be skeptical, look at all the references, discuss, argue, but I tell you what, out of that discussion and debate will come the truth. And you'll come down totally opposed to nuclear power, from a medical perspective, let alone greenhouse warming or the expense. It's actually a socialized industry. They can't exist without massive government profits. It's the only electricity production that's socialized.

Monica Trauzzi: Scientist Tim Flannery was also on our show a few months ago.

Helen Caldicott: Oh, he was, was he?

Monica Trauzzi: Yes.

Helen Caldicott: Right.

Monica Trauzzi: And he was discussing his book, "The Weather Makers." And he was really concerned about the devastating effects that could happen to the earth as a result of global warming. And he was recently quoted as saying that nuclear could help with global warming, diminish the effects of global warming.

Helen Caldicott: OK, so he's absolutely right about global warming. He's wrong on nuclear. He's funded by a man, to the tune of $1 million, to advertise his book in Australia, because he's Australian like me. And that man supports the Liberal Party, which is our Tory Party that supports nuclear power. So Tim Flannery, like Patrick Moore, is not an independent witness.

Monica Trauzzi: So do you question his commitment to the environment and the commitment of all the other environmentalists who are backing nuclear?

Helen Caldicott: Yes, certainly I do if he backs nuclear. He's absolutely right on global warming, as is James Lovelock, who supported nuclear power for 20 years, but they're totally wrong on nuclear power.

Monica Trauzzi: Can you explain how there can be such a disparity between your contention that nuclear power plants will produce the same amount of emissions as standard power plants, and what the industry is seeing which is, hey, it's absolutely clean and safe and secure?

Helen Caldicott: The industry lies. You know, when I used to debate with generals from the Pentagon about the medical effects of nuclear war, they don't lie. They know a bomb dropping on Washington would vaporize hundreds of thousands of people and burn millions. But the nuclear industry I've been debating for 35 years and they lie. And it's hard to deal with people who lie. In medicine, if I lied about my patients or my treatment I would be deregistered. It's inappropriate to lie about science. Now there's only one decent study to look at the whole nuclear fuel chain from beginning to end, and that's the one I've quoted in my book. The nuclear industry pick and choose what suits them for their propaganda. It's very important to have the facts, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Senator Domenici just released a proposal that tries to speed up the completion of Yucca Mountain. What's your reaction to this latest proposal?

Helen Caldicott: Well, Senator Domenici is totally pro-nuclear. I've watched his progress for years and years. Yucca Mountain is made of pumice. It's very permeable. It's transected by 32 earthquake faults. It's 65 miles north of Las Vegas. It sits on top of the aquifer. It has been discredited by various scientific studies, and I have a whole chapter on Yucca Mountain in my book. And to transport all the waste, 50,000 tons from across the country, requires 1500 shipments per year for the next 30 years. And that's called the Mobile Chernobyl bill, because it I was a terrorist and I wanted to damage Chicago substantially, I'd just hit one of those casks full of high-level radioactive waste with a shoulder-held missile. And I could make much of Chicago uninhabitable. So in an age of terrorism, terrorists don't need nuclear weapons, Monica. There are 103 nuclear power plants deployed around the country. I could melt a reactor down in a day. In fact, the terrorists who flew into the World Trade Towers had the Indian Point reactors as part of their plan. They didn't use them, but they could have. And they're 35 miles north of Manhattan, and that could mean the end of the financial capital of the world, if they really wanted to do that.

Monica Trauzzi: You are, right now, on a 12 city book tour promoting the new book. Have you sort of tried to time that around the midterm elections at all?

Helen Caldicott: It was just serendipity. It just happened. I finished the book and so I do the tour now. No, it had no relationship, consciously, with the midterm elections at all. But they're interesting aren't they?

Monica Trauzzi: They are. I wanted to talk about the alternatives a bit, because you mentioned wind and solar power as two big alternatives to nuclear power. In theory, wind power could help the US quite a bit, but the wind industry has been facing quite a few problems. Cape Wind is an example. It's just hard to build windmills. People don't necessarily want the obstruction of view. So if it's just hard to even build the windmills, how can the US tap into this alternative energy form?

Helen Caldicott: It's easy. Farmers in the Midwest now are making more money on their wind farms than they are from growing food, but they can do both, have the cows underneath the windmills. There's enough wind west of the Mississippi to supply the old country with electricity several times over. It's now becoming incredibly popular. And in today's New York Times, front cover of the Business Section, is a large article about in India how they're getting into wind power in a major way. My institute is putting together a roadmap for a renewable energy future with no carbon dioxide and no nuclear. It has a nine-month gestation, and it will consist of an array of solar, wind, tile, geothermal cogeneration, and conservation. And Americans can save 28 percent of the electricity they currently use by turning off their computers, their VCRs, their electric lights and the like. So actually, the prescription for survival is at hand for a planet that is in the intensive care unit and acutely, critically ill from global warming. We can fix it if we get the politicians on board to subsidize a solar panel in every house, a solar hot water system, insulate the houses. The money is there. They've just been nearly $600 billion on the Iraqi war. And they're in there why? For the oil, which we have to stop burning because that's going to cause the consequences of global warming, as illustrated in Al Gore's film.

Monica Trauzzi: "An Inconvenient Truth."

Helen Caldicott: Correct.

Monica Trauzzi: The Nuclear Energy Institute has started a new ad campaign, which basically talks about how nuclear energy helps support the environment and helps promote energy security. What's your reaction to the latest ad campaign? It's basically all over the nation, all over TV and print.

Helen Caldicott: I know. They've been doing it for a couple of years, to the tune of $200 million. I wish I had that sort of money. I mean that makes me cross. And you open the New Yorker or Scientific American, beautiful full-page ads, color, children using their computer, saying they need electricity and the like, full of fallacious lies. They are attacking me at the moment, the Nuclear Energy Institute, on their Web page. They're going through my book, chapter by chapter, criticizing it. Do you know what? That's like being on Nixon's blacklist. That means I'm being influential, that I'm worrying them, and that's very good, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: Are you afraid at all that their ad campaign will affect what you're trying to do?

Helen Caldicott: They've been doing it for two years, they already have affected the majority of the population who say, well, I think nuclear is the right thing. But you know what? If there's a meltdown in this country, and it's not if, but when, there's a sort of thing called body knowledge or wisdom, and people know that radiation is incredibly dangerous. And I've got a study describing a meltdown at Indian Point and what the people living there would experience, and in Manhattan. They'd never escape and there'd be 700,000 people dying acutely of cancer over the long-term. Now I've forgotten my question. You're going to have to go back. What was the question again?

Monica Trauzzi: Just if their efforts are going to impede you from what you're trying to do?

Helen Caldicott: Yes, so people already think nuclear power is a good idea, but if there's a meltdown they know. And I was in Harrisburg one week after the accident at Three Mile Island. Do you know what my colleagues did, the doctors? They fled, taking their families with them, leaving their patients in the hospitals to fend for themselves. People know, fundamentally, Monica, it's OK if there is no threat, but as soon as there's a major threat, and we were within minutes of a Chernobyl-type meltdown in Sweden one month ago, when they had a major accident. The first meltdown that occurs, in Europe or the United States, will mean and signal the end of nuclear power, and it will be just a disastrous catastrophe medically speaking. So, you know, I'm on the right track. I'm accurate. My colleagues totally agree with me. The nuclear power industry is wrong and it's time they folded up their tents, went home and transferred that massive amount of money that they get subsidized for into renewables and a prescription for survival.

Monica Trauzzi: We'll end it on that note, Helen. Thanks for joining me.

Helen Caldicott: Thank you, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.

[End of Audio]



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