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BOOKS & THE CULTURE The Nuclear Family A Growing Industry Continues to Grow BY LOUIS DUBOSE NUCLEAR MADNESS: What You Can Do. By Helen Caldicott M.D. 233 pp. New York: W.W. Norton. $22.00. IN AN INTERVIEW published last year in Carole Gallager’s excellent American Ground Zero, Dr. John Gofman, a preeminent nuclear scientist and physician who in protest abandoned the lucrative practice of government weapons research to pursue honest science, seemed to be putting the arms race behind us. But Gofman’ s farewell to arms was not meant to reassure. The real threat now, Gofman suggests, is the electric utility industry. In 1978, Australian pediatrician Helen Caldicott, then working at Boston Children’s Hospital Medical Center, published Nuclear Madness: What You Can Do! which at 110 pages of text was as much an extended pamphlet as it was a book. At that length, the book, published by a small publishing house seemed to focus on the military doctrine of mutually assured dethe public focused on, because nuclear war seemed so much more a possibility then than it does now. But was not so much anti-war book as it was an anti-nuclear book. As is Nuclear Madness public focus has shifted from the threat of war to the threat of deadly nuclear degradation from the spoils of the Cold War and, in particular, the nuclear power industry, perhaps that is because some of what Dr. Caldicott foreshadowed in 1978 has come to passfirst in the 1979 nuclear disaster at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, then in 1986, in what was then the Soviet Union, when a primitive Russian power plant at Chernobyl exploded. \(Both incidents, Caldicott writes, were fueled by human error and 15 similar plants are still in operation in the former Caldicott’s book is a nuclear primer, which begins with the very basics, a chapter on radiation that explains in clear and not overly scientific language what radia tion is, how it is measured and the known consequences of exposure. The chapter also introduces a question that is asked or implied repeatedly in the book: If these products are so dangerous, why is this nation committed to an energy policy that results in their production and international proliferation? Because, as Caldicott reminds us, nuclear energy plants produce not only electricity, but huge quantities of nuclear waste: from the highly radioactive spent fuel cores, most of which are stored in plant cooling pools now, to irradiated pipes and concrete, which at the end of each plant’s life will have to be stored somewhere \(like Sierra Blanca, the proNot only do nuclear plants produce waste, but “breeder” reactors produce the very product that fuels them, plutonium, one of the most dangerous and most carcinogenic substances known. France and Germany have abandoned their breeder projects, Britain plans to close its fastbreeder prototype this year, but under George Bush, the United States had set out to build a new generation of breeder reactors over 30 years. “President Clinton,” Caldicott writes, “has since cut all funds for the development of these breeders, but pri. vate funding from the nuclear industry, or a new Republican president in 1996, could regenerate these plans.” Japan has embarked an ambitious breeder program. \(Discouraged by government regulation and declining domestic demand, the nuclear industry, like the tobacco industry, has gone abroad, to Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, the Philippines, South Korea, Mexico, Spain and Yugoslaviathough, thus far not with breeder reactors. Caldicott even documents the revolting spectacle of Edward Teller’s return to his native Hungary as a The book is also something of a nuclear inventory, an attempt at accounting what is out there in power plants, weapons and toxic radioactive waste. Nuclear power, Caldicott writes, using an appropriate medical metaphor, has metastasized around the globe, with a total of 422 nu clear plants operating worldwide and 45 under construction. Locating the waste created in the first half-century of the nuclear age is more difficult and even more disturbing; whether it is the solid, highly radioactive waste that went right into the ground at Sheffield, Illinois; Maxey Flats, Kentucky; Barnwell, South Carolina; Rocky Flats, Colorado; and Hanford, Washingtonoran estimated 1,696 pounds of plutonium buried at six shallow sites in the United States: Hanford, Idaho National Engineering Laboratory; Lawrence Livermore and Sandia Labs; Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Savannah River site. Then, there are the 16 marine reactors former Soviet officials dumped into the Kara and Barents Seas, two reactors in the Sea of Japan and 17,000 containers of high-level nuclear waste discarded in shallow seas north of Japan. And the 770 pounds of plutonium in 11 U.S. waste sites, buried before 1970 when plutonium-contaminated waste was packaged only in cardboard boxes and 55-gallon drums, is enough to build 70 bombs. It will remain dangerously radioactive for at least half-a-million years. Chapters on Three Mile Island and Chernobyl provide insight into why the two plants failed and some explanation of the medical consequences of those failures, which, because of latency periods for cancers, will take years \(or perhaps several derstood. And residents of Texas will find little comfort in a short section on the Pantex plant outside Amarillo, even though one “lovely local catholic priest, Bishop Mathaison [sic], spoke out forcefully against this satanic structure.” Most of what is reported on Pantex, however, has already appeared in the Texas press, though the spin doctors promoting the proposed Sierra Blanca lowlevel waste site are unlikely to be to favorably disposed to Caldicott’s characterization of Texas as a “host dump state.” And, Caldicott suggests, Texas is not “required” to enter into a compact, as it is planning with Maine and Vermont, but can store its own waste. The Governor’s office and nuclear lobbyists Sarah Weddington, Mike THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17