Categorized | A Conversation With

Helen Caldicott

Posted on 23 March 2011


By Claire Walla

Nobel Peace Prize nominee and former East Hampton resident Dr. Helen Caldicott explains why the threat of nuclear radiation might not be as far off as it seems.

Q: Having lived in East Hampton, I know you’re familiar with the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in Connecticut, which is just across the water from the East End.

Yes, I helped to start STAR—Standing for Truth About Radiation—when I lived in East Hampton. I couldn’t believe that I had bought a house, and when I looked across the Sound, there was Millstone. I couldn’t believe I had been so stupid. Millstone’s very dangerous and it should be shut down. Millstone continually releases radioactive elements into the air and water as it operates.

Q: I don’t think we’re in danger of a massive tsunami coming to the East End, but what are some other events that could cause problems at the reactor site?

If the electricity supply is lost because of cascading events — which have happened in New York on several occasions — then you won’t be able to cool the reactors.

Now all reactors have emergency generators, which were virtually drowned during the tsunami [in Japan]. But, when they test them, often they don’t work, and they’re not tested very often. So, if you lose the power, that could proceed to a meltdown. A computer error could in fact produce a meltdown. That’s what happened at Three Mile Island. A human error could induce it. A plane going into a reactor… and you should know that the terrorists had planned to go into the two Indian Point reactors 35 miles from Manhattan — they thought they were protected by missile defense, so they went into the World Trade Towers instead. That could induce a meltdown.

Q: Being just outside the 10-mile radius of the reactor site, how much contamination do you think we might be receiving now?

I was very skeptical of produce grown on Long Island, although I loved it, because the reactors release radiation continuously. They’re called ‘routine releases,’ as if that’s ok — but it’s not. And sometimes they release much more than they intend, or they release more on purpose and when the wind is blowing from north to south you get it on Long Island, and the lovely Sag Harbor. The 10-mile radius means absolutely nothing.

If you inhale a microgram of plutonium, which is one million to the gram, that almost certainly will induce cancer. Not immediately —incubation time for a cold is two days, but for cancer it’s five to 60 years. If you inhale some radioactive iodine it will go straight to your thyroid gland and iodine is released from reactors operating normally, or abnormally, and years later you can develop a lump in your thyroid and that leads to thyroid cancer. It’s the stuff that gets inside your body that’s so dangerous, internal emitters. Not the external radiation you measure, that really has nothing to do with anything. It’s what you inhale and ingest in your food.

Q: One of the things I think is really interesting, reading about what’s happening in Japan and now looking at Millstone, is that there seems to be a level that people on behalf of the nuclear power plant will say is a tolerable amount of radiation one can be exposed to. What is the tolerable number, in your opinion?

There’s no radiation that’s safe. Each dose you receive adds to your risk of getting cancer. It’s cumulative. At the moment, the medical profession is the greatest irradiator of the public. But, nuclear power is going to add to that for sure over time. And if Millstone melted down, well, you can kiss goodbye to the beautiful, beautiful Long Island.

Q: What do you recommend people do to prepare themselves, should something happen at the plant?

You don’t have to prepare yourself. There’s nothing you can do. You will be subject to very high levels of radiation. You’ll die within two weeks of acute radiation illness, which kills the rapidly dividing cells of the body, so you will become bald, you will develop the most severe nausea, vomiting an diarrhea, and you will die of massive hemorrhage or infection.
And hundreds of thousands would develop that syndrome, as they did after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in Manhattan if the wind blew towards New York. Five years later there would be an epidemic of leukemia. And 15 years to 60 years later an epidemic of cancer. So, the picture is not medically pretty.

Q: If there’s no way to prepare for a melt down, what can people do now?

Don’t just stick to computers doing Facebook. That’s going to change nothing.
You have to use your bodies, and your brains, and your emotions and you know you have to take over Congress. It’s your building and they’re your representatives. Use the power of democracy like the wonderful people in Wisconsin are doing, like the people in Egypt did.
I tell you — now that this is happening — I would predict that Fukushima would represent the end of the nuclear power industry.

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3 Responses to “Helen Caldicott”

  1. rachel jovi says:

    I appreciate Dr. Caldicott’s sanity, in a world that has increasingly become more insane. Her voice needs to be heard, which unfortunately is unlikely, for a myriad of reasons, the least of being that she is a woman. continue to speak the truth dear Dr. Caldicott, and know that many people agree with you and support your efforts.
    kindly, rachel jovi

  2. glynne Hiller says:

    Dr. Caldicott’s piece in the SH Express strikes a gong that must resonate with all thinking people. As a nominee for a Nobel peace prize she tells us clearly,calmly. of the radiation possibilities that will strike if the Millstone Nuclear power-plant in not shut down. This plant across the water from the East End –is just outside the radius of the reactor site. We should be planning massive protests to shut it down. Consider this:If you inhale a single microgram of plutonium(one millionth of a gram!)it will certainly induce cancer. Why are we stupidly doing nothing to prevent another nuclear disaster? Millstone is right now releasing radioactive elements into our air and water. Let’s start the battle against greed–for the human right to breathe clean air and drink unpoisened warer.

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