Helen Caldicott is a charming lady: passionate, pleasant, and engaging. She is also hopelessly wrong about her anti-nuclear cause, a fact which is so obvious that it is difficult to refrain from expressing frustration and even annoyance when speaking with her. I debated her once, on TVO, and thought I was being gentle in the way I disputed one of her more hyperbolic points. The next day one of my office colleagues who had watched the debate upbraided me for my lack of respect for a cultural icon, the woman who made If You Love This Planet. I mean, that film had won an Oscar! Who was I? I said something like “I’m Steve Aplin, a human being with a brain that functions well enough to distinguish hyperbole from level-headed analysis, and who doesn’t think that participation, decades ago, in an Oscar-winning film gives anyone any special scientific credibility.” (You can listen to an MP3 podcast of the debate here.)
As I said, I thought I was being patient. Another pro nuke in the same debate, Duncan Hawthorne, CEO of Bruce Power, who has spent his career running nuclear reactors and has probably forgotten more about them than Caldicott will ever know, had little patience for Caldicott’s nonsense, and even less for her endless promotion of her new book. He point-blank told her “of all the books in the world, yours is the last one I’d read. It contains no facts.” She asked him to repeat it, so he did.
Helen Caldicott, who actually did not make but was featured in If You Love This Planet, did what any smart person associated with an Oscar-winner does: she milked it for all it was worth. She’s been milking it ever since—she was milking it on the night I debated her. I don’t really mind that; I am milking my debate with her right now as I write this.
What I do mind is that she has gone to places like Port Hope, Ontario, and appeared in public regulatory meetings on how to clean up the leftovers from historical uranium processing operations, and told the locals that they should all move from the area because there is nothing more dangerous on the planet than anything associated with nuclear energy. (In the years after her Oscar moment, she cleverly segued from nuclear weapons, the abolition of which was her passionate cause in If You Love This Planet, to anything that involves the fission of uranium or plutonium, including reactors that make electricity.)
The president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) took exception to Dr. Caldicott’s exploitation of her Hollywood reputation to scare the residents of Port Hope. The CNSC has conducted and reviewed numerous studies about the effects of uranium processing in Port Hope, and concluded that there have been no adverse health effects. Exasperated and annoyed, the CNSC president said in a letter to the editor that Caldicott’s claims are “nothing more than unacceptable fear-mongering.” He referred to a CNSC review of numerous studies of Port Hope, and invited readers to judge for themselves.
Well, now there is a newly published academic study that provides yet more corroboration of the CNSC’s conclusion of no adverse health impacts in Port Hope. Entitled “Mortality (1950–1999) and cancer incidence (1969–1999) of workers in the Port Hope cohort study exposed to a unique combination of radium, uranium and [gamma]-ray doses,” and published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ Open), the study concludes the following:
Overall, workers had lower mortality and cancer incidence compared with the general Canadian population. In analyses restricted to men (n=2645), the person-year weighted mean cumulative RDP exposure was 15.9 working level months (WLM) and the mean cumulative whole-body [gamma]-ray dose was 134.4?millisieverts. We observed small, non-statistically significant increases in radiation risks of mortality and incidence of lung cancer due to RDP exposures (excess relative risks/100 WLM=0.21, 95% CI
You can view the synopsis here.
I don’t expect this will slow down the breezily redoubtable Dr. Caldicott. She has been making too much money and having too much fun crisscrossing, in kerosene-powered airplanes, the planet she challenges the rest of us to love.
I do hope though that others will recognize that, while she is charming and entertaining, her “analyses” are not worth the paper they are written on.