Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer by Helen Caldicott
Review by Caroline Phillips, Fairewinds Administrator
A trained physician with four decades of anti-nuclear activism under her belt, Dr. Helen Caldicott is well versed and knowledgeable when it comes to the costs and consequences of nuclear power. In her book titled, Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer, Dr. Caldicott discusses the nuclear industry and the government’s failure to respond correctly in the face of nuclear tragedy as first demonstrated in the meltdown at Three Mile Island (TMI) that began March 28, 1979.
Dr. Caldicott quotes an admission at the time of the TMI disaster by Joseph Hendrie, former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), “ We are operating almost totally in the blind, [Governor Thornburgh’s] information is ambiguous, mine is nonexistent and - I don’t know- it’s like a couple of blind men staggering around making decisions (p. 67).”
It is noted that we know large amounts of radioactivity escaped from TMI, however, the nuclear industry and the government failed to collect release estimates of specific toxic isotopes. This means that to this day, there is no available information as to what specifically was released nor the quantity of how much radiation was released. Dr. Caldicott points out that the gamma radiation monitor on the auxiliary building where all the radiation escaped was not designed to measure high concentrations of radiation and maxed out in the earliest stages of meltdown. “Measurements of noble gas were not commenced until April 5, some eight days after the meltdown first began,” Dr. Caldicott writes. “No alpha or beta radiation was ever measured. It is known that radioactive emissions from Three Mile Island traveled long distances. For instance, Xenon 133 was measured in Albany, NY, at the end of March and early April 1979, 375 km from the reactor (p.66).”
Because the reactor fuel in the TMI reactor melted, we know that certain elements that were never mentioned by the nuclear industry and others responsible were released into the environment including highly toxic plutonium, strontium, and americium. Nuclear Power is Not the Answer uncovers destructive actions by the nuclear industry like the release of 172,000 cubic feet of high level radioactive water into the Susquehanna River without NRC permission a mere three days after the meltdown at TMI.
Dr. Caldicott recounts her own story of being present in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a week after the disaster to explain the effects of radiation to thousands of frightened residents in the gymnasium of a high school. It was there that she was informed that local physicians had fled with their families, leaving hospitalized patients behind to fend for themselves. Hundreds of people reported a variety of symptoms associated with acute radiation sickness including nose bleeds, hair loss, skin rashes, nausea, and diarrhea - these same symptoms were experienced ten years later by residents of Pripet, the neighboring town to Chernobyl.
The book also includes a chilling anecdote of an FDA report condemning milk in that dairy-rich area of Pennsylvania. The FDA found cesium 137 in milk produced from as far as 150 miles north during and after the TMI meltdown. The Hershey Chocolate factory is located only 13 miles from Three Mile Island, and a memo dated April 11, just after the disaster, to W. J. Crook, of Hershey’s Science and Technology Dept. by C.J. Crowell, the Quality Assurance Manager of Hershey’s, states that “no detectable radiation has been found since a few days after the accident.” This statement is obviously inconsistent with the FDA’s findings. Hershey turned that milk into chocolate anyway.
Dr. Caldicott mentions the important research of Friend of Fairewinds Dr. Steve Wing, who conducted a thorough study relating accident dose estimates to the increased incidence of cancer. Dr. Wing’s research also led to his work in the Three Mile Island Class Action Case. Along with Fairewinds’ Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen, Dr. Steve Wing represented approximately 2,000 residents claiming that the radioactive release from the meltdown had been much larger than what was officially proclaimed by the nuclear industry and government officials. After several dismissals and appeals, it was clear that the industry’s image and liability were more important than the accuracy of data and protection of citizens.
It should be noted that there were two reactors at TMI, one is still in operation generating electricity today and was granted a license extension in 2009 that means it could be operating until 2034.
We’ve focused on the Three Mile Island meltdown, but Dr. Caldicott’s work covers Yucca Mountain, Chernobyl, nuclear weapons proliferation, the exorbitant financial cost of nuclear power and more. Dr. Helen Caldicott’s book, "Nuclear Power is Not the Answer", reveals the truth and confirms what we all are learning – nuclear power has unreasonable risks for life, as we know it.