As the row over nuclear power grows, Sadie Robinson spoke to scientist and activist Dr Helen Caldicott about the dangers of nuclear power, the powerful interests that back it and how we can win a better world.
The environmentalist George Monbiot has recently spent his time attacking anti-nuclear campaigners. He claims they misrepresent scientific research and lie about the health risks of radiation.
In his Guardian articles, Monbiot has accused scientist Dr Helen Caldicott of exaggerating these risks.
“It’s extremely arrogant, ill-informed and dangerous to talk like that,” said Helen. “I’ve always respected and admired Monbiot’s writings, particularly on global warming. But you must not speak unless you’re well-informed.”
Monbiot has quoted the parts he likes from research and ignored the rest. He now cites pro-nuclear writers like Mark Lynas as credible sources—yet he was attacking Lynas just a few months ago.
Helen has studied nuclear power and the health impact of radiation for 40 years. One of Monbiot’s major claims is that she doesn’t provide references for her assertions.
In fact, her book on nuclear power details numerous studies that show links between radiation and disease.
The world’s worst nuclear accident occurred at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986. An explosion at a nuclear reactor released 400 times more radioactive material into the atmosphere than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War.
There is a row over the number of deaths and diseases after the disaster. Helen describes it as “the biggest cover-up in the history of medicine”.
Some claim there is no evidence that Chernobyl led to other diseases. Helen disagrees. “The figures for cancers and other diseases in Belarus, the Ukraine and Russia are extraordinary,” she said.
“The International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) only talk about the impact of radiation in terms of cancer and leukaemia,” she said.
“But it’s not just cancer. It’s genetic mutations and severe congenital deformities. There are chromosomal aberrations, Down’s syndrome, genetic disease and a high incidence of cardiovascular disease, which is associated with radiation.
“Many are getting cataracts. There’s premature ageing.”
Some argue that despite the dangers of nuclear power, we need it to stop climate change.
“That’s rubbish,” said Helen. “Nuclear contributes substantially to global warming because of the vast industrial infrastructure it relies upon.
“From mining uranium to dealing with waste, there are emissions.
“There are some fairly ignorant environmentalists who think that nuclear power is the answer to climate change. They haven’t read the evidence and they aren’t well informed.”
Monbiot cites IAEA and WHO estimates that relatively few died as a result of Chernobyl.
But as Helen has pointed out, neither organisation is neutral. The IAEA is a pro-nuclear body. It also has the ability to vet WHO activity.
The WHO and the IAEA have an agreement, stating, “Whenever either organisation [the WHO or the IAEA] proposes to initiate a programme or activity on a subject in which the other organisation has or may have a substantial interest, the first party shall consult the other with a view to adjusting the matter by mutual agreement.”
Powerful groups have skewed the debate in favour of nuclear.
“There’s blowback over nuclear power and it’s coming from the nuclear industry,” said Helen. “There are billions of dollars at stake.
“We have to take back our world—it’s run by corporations. They don’t care what happens to the planet as long as they’re making money.
“And nuclear power and nuclear weapons are one and the same industry.”
She stressed the hypocrisy of the industry: “Capitalist governments say they are wedded to the free market. But they hand billions in subsidies to fund nuclear power. Meanwhile welfare for ordinary people is under attack.”
Despite the pro-nuclear propaganda and world leaders’ commitment to it, Helen is optimistic about the future. “I predict the end of nuclear power,” she said.
“The anti-nuclear movement has been pretty quiescent lately, particularly as some ‘environmentalists’ have backed nuclear.
“But I think the movement is growing bigger. I think there will be a turning point, something will trigger it and the people of the world are going to rise up. Look at Egypt.
“We need a mass movement and a revolution.”