Sayre Speaks: Helen Caldicott’s New Nuclear Dangers

Helen Caldicottby Sayre Sheldon, WAND President Emerita and Founder, October 8, 2014

On September 20, 2014 I went to the City Hall of Newton, MA to hear Dr. Helen Caldicott speak at a program called “Facing Our Nuclear Responsibilities,” wondering what new things I could learn.

The hall was bravely decorated with posters and set up with booths for giving out materials from the twenty sponsoring groups.

The chief sponsors were Newton Dialogues on Peace and War along with the city of Newton which is an active member of Mayors for Peace. The crowd of about a hundred was, as I expected, a fairly elderly but certainly enthusiastic one with many familiar faces.

I sat looking at a blown-up poster of Helen’s original map of what one nuclear bomb could do to a city. When she spoke I was back in the early days of WAND, hearing the absolute conviction and urgency in her voice telling us we had no excuse not to act against the biggest danger humanity had ever faced.

Today, after her list of recent close calls in accidental nuclear weapons use, she alerted us to developments that were seriously affecting nuclear policies. If Putin was putting Russian nuclear weapons on higher alert, was the U.S. going to follow? She dismissed the U.S. public’s response as “manic denial.” By the time she finished, she had convinced us that we were as much at risk from the accidental or deliberate use of nuclear weapons as we were in those far-off, early WAND days.

Equally dangerous, she said, was our continuing reliance on nuclear power. She listed the unfixable problems at Fukushima and pointed out the very real dangers of our own close-by Pilgrim plant.

The speaker following Helen, Diane Turco from the Cape Downwinders, has worked for years to alert us all to the dangers of the ageing Pilgrim plant–now made more acute by the shut-down of any waste storage facilities for spent fuel. At Pilgrim, a Fukushima-style plant, the number of spent-fuel rods stored outside is already three times bigger than the 880 it was designed to hold.

I said goodbye to Helen, telling her how well and almost peaceful she looked after her powerful speech. She answered that she has a good life in Australia with her partner and large family. Yet she was here in the U.S. on a speaking tour, raising money for the book she is writing about Fukushima and taking part in the next day’s huge climate march. And she had just turned her geiger counter for our nuclear dangers up another notch.

Two days later The New York Times published its ground-breaking report of the U.S.100 billion dollar plan for “Ramping Up Our Nuclear Arsenal.” Helen’s list of our new nuclear dangers was taking a giant step forward — backward would be more accurate.

Once again those of us who do this work will increase our efforts to awaken and stir to action a lethargic public. As elections approach along with a major non-proliferation treaty session at the U.N. we have many places to make our voices heard.

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