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Bust Wind Not Atoms

Helen Caldicott's ongoing war on nukes

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Dr. Helen Caldicott has never been one to mince words. The 69-year-old physician and anti-nuclear activist has directed her considerable energies against the hazards of nuclear power for years. Now, in a new book, Nuclear Power is Not The Answer, she consolidates many of those arguments, including several relating to global climate change.

On tour from her native Australia, her visit to Idaho next week is well-timed. With a private nuclear power plant proposed for Elmore County, Caldicott will be the first international voice to caution against the move.

The push for a nuclear Idaho comes from several corners. The first was in the quixotic proposal by Virginia businessman Don Gillespie, who has proposed the nuclear power generator for the Mountain Home area. Although his proposal is clearly in its infancy and his financing is shaky at best, he nonetheless has a background in nuclear energy and has traveled to Boise to pitch his project at a recent conference.

Now Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has weighed in, telling another gathering that he believes that Idaho's energy future belongs with nuclear, rather than solar, wind or geothermal power.

In her book, Caldicott takes direct aim at those, like Otter, who are attracted to nuclear power as a potential solution for the country's energy needs. BW spoke with her while on her book tour in Boston.

BW: How about a quick rundown on the hazards of nuclear power.

Helen Caldicott: You have to fuel the reactor, which is a huge process that is very energy consuming. It's part of the problem of global warming, not the solution. It's extraordinarily expensive. And it's heavily subsidized. It's not clean and green.

With global warming occurring, it's quite possible that rivers and lakes will fall, there won't be enough water to cool the reactor, and they'll melt down.

Some of the newer nuclear reactor proposals, like the one slated for Idaho, say they'll be using newer reactor technology.

Most of the new reactors are the same design as the old ones. There's nothing new about them. The nuclear industry is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a public-relations campaign. It's really quite wicked.

The nuclear industry is a carcinogenic industry. It generates nuclear power for maybe 20 or 30 years, but the carcinogenic effects of radiation last for far longer. It must be banned from a medical standpoint.

Do you ever weary of being a lone crusader against an industry like this?

I'm like the little Dutch boy with my finger in the dike. But all I have to do to convince people is teach them about the medical effects of radiation. There's no argument from a medical perspective. Absolutely none. This isn't taught in the medical schools. But we know what radiation does.

In your book Nuclear Power is Not The Answer, you detail about solutions that might fill energy demands in lieu of coal.

It's a very careful, indexed study, the first of its kind.

We look at wind: It's far cheaper now than coal. It's cheaper than nuclear. There's enough solar power out there to fuel our needs. If there could be enough solar panels on parking garages in America, it would provide us with all the power we'd need. This is all state-of-the-art. It's not being developed; it's been developed.

Biomass is another solution, just not with corn. Corn [needs] so much fossil fuel for fertilizer and for harvesting. But there's many other ways to produce biomass.

And there's conservation, or intensive energy efficiency. Americans can save 20 percent of the energy they currently use. People should be hanging up their clothes in the sun or by a furnace, not using those blasted dryers that waste energy. Every house should have a solar hot water system. And the government should be paying for the whole thing. They spend trillions of dollars for the Pentagon and for their wars.

To say nothing of the pollution a reactor creates, you say.

You're at risk of polluting people near the reactor. The whole of Europe is radioactive from Chernobyl. I don't buy European food. You don't know what's radioactive and what's not.

You seem to be traveling quite a lot. Do you ever get to spend time at home?

I will soon. I've got two new books to write, and I've got a lovely vegetable garden. One is an update of If You Love This Planet that I wrote in 1992. The next one is going to be called Why Men Kill. I'm going to dedicate that one to Donald Rumsfeld. It is men that kill. Why do men always kill? Why is god on the side of people who kill? I had to look at the sociology of this. Why do women sit by and let men kill? Why do men rape women? There's a lot to explore.

That's an interesting topic, especially now that we're seeing more women in the military.

Gloria Steinem got women into the military. It's totally inappropriate. A lot of those women have been sexually harassed and raped. It's not a good place for women. It is, on the whole, generally men that kill. And it's men that organize the killing, like [Vice President Dick] Cheney and Rumsfeld.

What do you think of former Vice President Al Gore winning the Nobel Prize?

He richly deserves it.

Of course, now people seem to want him to run for president again.

I don't think he will. I think he knows politics inside and out, and it's a cruel game. One of the wonderful things about Al now is that he can say exactly what he feels.

What would you say to him if you met?

He's a little bit pro-nuclear power. He's from Tennessee. I would teach him about the medical dangers of nuclear power and hope to change his mind. I'd give him the road map. He understands all the problems. I've got the solutions to the problem. We'd be complementary.

Sounds like you ought to meet.

We do. Can you set it up?

Helen Caldicott's talk is October 23 at 7 p.m. in the Boise State Student Union Building, free, bsuevents.com.