Page 10


INTERVIEW Helen Caldicott BY LOUIS DUBOSE DR. HELEN CALDICOTT is an author and one of the co-founders of Physicians for Social Responsibil ity, the Nobel-Prize-Winning organization that conducted an international campaign for nuclear disarmament. On April 11, Dr. Caldicott, as a guest of the Foundation for a Compassionate Society, spoke to a large group in Austin about the hazards of radiation and the threat that a growing nuclear power industry represents. On the following day, Caldicott met with a small group of journalists in the offices of the Austinbased foundation that sponsored her speaking engagement. What follows is a partial transcript of that meeting. Dr. Caldicott will return to Texas on June 2 to speak in El Paso. You said last night that you’d like to speak to Governor Richards about pediatrics and genetics. There was also an image in your speech, you were holding a small . child of a-year-and-a-half or so, and Governor Richards often appeared in public with her granddaughter Lilly in her arms. If you could arrange that interview, what would say, what would you lead off with? Well, I’d speak grandmother to grandmother. Because I’ve got two grandchildren of my own and I’ve never loved anyone as much as I love these grandchildren. Even more than my own babies. So I’d start at that level, as Carter did with Sadat and Begin during the Camp David accords. He got them together, when they both showed him photos of their grandchildren, that’s what, cracked them. That’s how I’d start, I’d just speak woman to woman and then I’d go on and teach her, I suppose, the medical effects of radiation and what radiation could do to her grandbaby. And, how it can cause cancer or leukemia later on and how the food the babies eat must be pristine pure, must not be contaminated. And then I’d go on and talk about the waste site at Sierra Blanca and say that every person has a right to have pure water and clean food, as your granddaughter does. I suppose I’d talk about plutonium, using that as one example, talk about teratogenesis, and mutation in testicles and ovaries of the sperms and eggs and how it causes cancer. And how ubiquitous it is, and its half life and sort of the spectrum of time we’re talking about, which is not just for Lilly, but it’s for evermore. You also talked about the dangers of plutonium, in ingesting it or breathing it. ‘Could you elaborate a little more. There will be a fair bit of plutonium buried at Sierra Blanca, a lot of respirable CARMEN GARCIA Helen Caldicoft size plutonium ‘that blows in the wind because there’s erosion etc., there is a desert and people will be able to inspire it. If it infiltrates through the cavernous cracks in the desert, as was explained, and into the aquifer, and then the water that’s taken to be used at Sierra Blanca, or El Paso or the Mexican city across the border, and the water is chlorinated, the plutonium may well pass through the gut and into the bloodstream. And babies, as I said, under the age of six or eight weeks, readily absorb plutonium through their gut because their gut is very immature. But the most feasible way for plutonium to enter the body is by respiration. Then it gets transferred from the blood and into the lungs by macrophages, white blood cells that come and come and eat it up and then go back into the bronchi and into the lymph glands, and there it’s transferred into the bloodstream, and there it’s handled like iron, and combines with an iron-transporting protein and is laid down in the liver, the spleen, the bone marrow. In the past it’s been found that there’s no dose low enough that doesn’t give lung cancer, or cancer, to all the dogs that they injected it into. No dose low enough. That’s almost like from a Greek myth or legend. I know you’ve only been here for a couple of days, but are you familiar with the South Texas Nuclear Project? It’s an experiment. And I watched it being built. I mean, I didn’t watch it physically but I watched the data….and I saw that the concrete they used was rotten and full of holes and they left machinery and tools in the concrete. It was just obvious from the time that it was being built that those two reactors would be extraordinarily dangerous and it has proven to be and it should be shut down. As all of them should be. But these two are very dangerous, as their record has proven. …And if there is a meltdown, Austin is in the path [of the nuclear plume]. So I would guarantee that if all the Austin citizens were educated about the medical effects of that plant, what would happen to them, that they would develop acute radiation sickness, their hair would literally fall out, within two weeks they would be dead, and dying of infections like people die of AIDS, that plant would be shut down. So I would issue , a challenge to the medical profession and I would say that you must educate the people of Austin about the medical dangers of the South Texas Nuclear plant. Last night Sandra McKenzie [an Austin lawyer] pointed to Hillary Doran, the nuclear industry lobbyist in the audience. Are you encouraged that these people are taking you seriously enough to send one of their big-dollar lobbyists out to tape your presentation? Well, I’ve stirred them up. They know that I stir things up when I turn up. I really THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15