Caldicott speaks of toxic nuclear legacy

Helen Caldicott in SaskatoonVirginia Scissons, Prairie Messenger, 14 November 2012

“The only way evil flourishes is for good people to do nothing,” Dr. Helen Caldicott quoted Edmund Burke when speaking to audiences at the Royal University Hospital and Third Avenue United Church, Saskatoon [ Saskatchewan, Canada ], on Nov. 1st.

Following an opening prayer by Elders Maria and Walter Linklater, Elder Pat Campbell from Patuanak, Sask., spoke about the devastating effects the uranium mining industry is having on the people, animals and environment in northern communities.

The greatest changes have taken place in the past 25 years, he said. As a youth, said Campbell, he loved the spring time and particularly listening to the songs of the returning birds. Now there is silence. The deformities which the wildlife and fish are displaying are horrifying, he said, and we can no longer drink the water from the lake. Our young people and our old people are dying of cancer.

Geron Paul, a northern youth, said that he would not stop speaking out against the burying of radioactive fuel rods in the north until Saskatchewan put a ban on such burials as well as on the transportation of nuclear waste in the province, as has Manitoba. “They offer us money to bury nuclear waste,” he said, “but we can’t eat money.”

Caldicott began her talk where Paul left off. We are doing the same thing in Australia, she said. We also have vast deposits of uranium and are burying our nuclear waste in part of the country which is inhabited by the Aborigines. “It is tragic and extremely racist.” She warned that there is no known safe way to store these extremely radioactive materials, no matter what they tell you.

Caldicott then referred to her previous presentation at the Royal University Hospital. The posters announcing her talk in the SaskTel Theatre had been taken down, she said. She found it unbelievable that there is a Cameco Walk Way in a hospital which has a Cancer Clinic with many patients visible in the hallways.

The research is there, she said, and uranium mining and the whole of the nuclear industry is clearly responsible for the tremendous increase in the number of cancer patients and subsequent cancer-related deaths. Cancer has become epidemic, she said, and we must shut down the mines for the sake of our children, grandchildren and future generations. Isotopes for the treatment of cancer can be created by the cyclotron; uranium is not needed.

Caldicott went on to explain how uranium particles affect the human person. Referring to Uranium 238 and Uranium 235, she outlined the effects that x-rays, beta particles, alpha particles, radium and neutrons can have on us. Each dose of radiation we receive, whether it is from an x-ray for a dental procedure, going through a security check at an airport, or inhaling alpha particles while working in a mine, dose is cumulative, and with it comes the possibility of inducing cancer, the multiplication of unwanted cells. The incubation period of a single radiated cell which has been struck by a uranium particle is from five to 70 years — a long time, unlike a cold or the measles, she said.

Uranium particles are responsible for the mutations of genes; such mutations have resulted in the births of deformed human beings and wildlife. Caldicott cited as an example the terrible birth defects suffered by the babies of Iraq. The parents of these children were exposed to radiation during the bombing of Iraq in the early 2000s. If massive gene mutations occur, the course of evolution will be altered, said Caldicott.

Uranium has 200 “daughters” — that is, various forms of radiation which are emitted by uranium as it decays, said Caldicott. Some of these “daughters” are highly carcinogenic, even moreso than uranium, and have extremely long half-lives, as does uranium itself. In other words, upon their release into the atmosphere, explained Caldicott, once they are out there, they are there to stay for millions of years. The process is irreversible. Various “daughters” are known to attack specific organs in the human body, and there now exists a huge volume of research on this subject.

Quoting Einstein, Caldicott said that “nuclear reactors are a very expensive way to boil water.” Also, she explained, it takes a tremendous amount of fossil fuel to run a nuclear reactor. She spoke at some length about Fukushima and the media “blackout” of the ongoing recovery. “It is a disaster,” she said. Half of Japan is now contaminated, as is the Pacific Ocean. Thirty-five thousand children under the age of 18 have been diagnosed with thyroid tumours. In time, many of these tumours will become malignant.

Sixteen nuclear reactors in the eastern United States were in the path of Hurricane Sandy. One of those nuclear reactors came very close to a meltdown when there was no electricity and its generators had to be relied upon to produce electricity. Two of its three generators also went down. Had the third one gone down, the results would have been catastrophic, said Caldicott.

Canadian uranium was in the bombs which were dropped on Japan in 1945, Caldicott pointed out, and Canadian uranium is being used in the production of nuclear bombs and other weapons of war in the United States. By the 1960s, there were 67,000 nuclear bombs in the world. This number was reduced to 23,000 in the 1980s. However, even though the Cold War has ended, there still exists the situation in the world of a bomb being pointed at every major city. If one bomb was to be released, either accidentally or on purpose, or by a brilliant hacker, another one would also be released by the opposite side, and the unthinkable would happen, the death of our planet.

Caldicott questioned the nature of the relationship between the University of Saskatchewan and the unranium mining company, Cameco. An university is to be an independent body focused on objective research and teaching, and should not be intimately connected to any industry, let alone such a controversial and dangerous industry as Cameco, said Caldicott. She also found it “unconscionable” that the Saskatchewan Government would give millions of dollars to the University of Saskatchewan to look into the production of small nuclear reactors after the people of Saskatchewan have said a resounding “no” to having nuclear reactors in the province.

Caldicott concluded her talk by saying that she has come to Saskatoon for the purpose of shutting down the uranium mining industry for the sake of future generations and she begged the audience to join her.

3 thoughts on “Caldicott speaks of toxic nuclear legacy”

    1. Your comment regarding bananas having about the same radio active value as uranium is very misleading in the fact that the uranium is used to produce nuclear energy and the waste of that is not harmless as bananas…in a nut shell…there’s so much more but the average person will get the idea, and hopefully will get more complete and accurate information and not buy into the uranium and radiation are harmless banter….

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