Port Hope uranium workers had lower mortality and cancer than rest of Canadian population, says British Medical Journal study

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.)

The gift that keeps on giving. Helen Caldicott, the feature of the 1982 Oscar winning short film If You Love This Planet, has been on an endless anti-nuclear publicity and promotion tour since then. Though IYLTP was about nuclear bombs, Dr. Caldicott found that making outrageous and fact-free claims about nuclear energy was similarly effective for selling books.

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.

9 comments for “Port Hope uranium workers had lower mortality and cancer than rest of Canadian population, says British Medical Journal study

  1. Joffan
    March 14, 2013 at 17:22

    Caldicott is a very strong example that “passionate and sincere” does not equate to correct (or justified).

    Argument by adjective (“dirty, toxic, outdated, greedy”), argument by kidnapping (“what about the children, what about your teticles”), argument by fearmongering (“destruction of the whole northern hemisphere”) – none of them are worth the pixels, paper or breath they are produced with.

  2. James Greenidge
    March 14, 2013 at 19:32

    This is no lady. Ted Bundy was said to be alluringly charming to his victims too. Sorry, I just can’t be ginger or PC toward one hell-bent on literally exterminating an entire industry and tens of thousands of jobs and incurring pollution and respiratory diseases over the land and imperiling our energy and economic security just to hawk her somehow nuke guilt-tinged social crusader ego which hasn’t a wilt of responsibility to keep our lights on. At any debate with her, my fact-laden rebuffs would follow that Sean Connery adage; “…if he pulls a knife, you…” No one would leave that debate with her or Arnie without fully knowing that their spiels were thoroughly trashed.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  3. robert budd
    March 14, 2013 at 20:39

    I wonder how much resonsibility she bears for the very high emissions intensity of Australia’s electricity supply.
    Would she be interested in putting a number to the death, destruction and warming caused by the coal based grid she helped support by fostering anti-nuclear fears?

  4. Jim Baerg
    March 16, 2013 at 16:18

    An interesting point is made here: http://markhumphrys.com/laws.html#no.2

    That the most virulent hatred seems to get directed at the most innocent people. The ‘reasons’ for hatred usually are the most imaginary for the most intense hatred.

    I recently noticed the parallel with opposition to certain technologies. Consider the opposition to vaccination, fluoridation of water, radio technologies such as cell phones, genetic engineering or nuclear power. Any harms from these technologies are minute compared to either the benefits from them or the harms from other technologies that get almost no complaint.

    So while apparent hatred of the technology doesn’t guarentee that the opponents are deluded, it should be treated as a red flag.

  5. James Greenidge
    March 16, 2013 at 22:44

    Jim, what most gets me — REALLY gets to me — is ironically not the slanderous and often devious lies/means-justifies-ends practices of Greenpeace or FOE or other environmentalist groups; you don’t damn vultures because they fly because that’s what birds do. The group that most earns my puking disdain is the green-sympathetic unabashed green-support and colored reporting by the news media. To this DAY I can’t Google any report of any media organ fessing up to their uncritical tacit support of these green groups and having any responsibility for the public health and energy consequences incited by these supported groups’ anti-nuclear fear-mongering policies on a mostly science-clueless jittery public weaned on atom bomb movie clips of nuclear energy. I well remember how all those smug and pious talking heads on WCBS, WNBC, WABC and WPIX TV in NYC patted themselves on the back for saving the lives of everyone on Long Island and NYC and Connecticut ofter their TMI-smearing take-down of Shoreham. The bald-faced bias was disgusting. There was not one non-critical “nuclear consultant” popping up on all those local newscasts during that period and lavishly interviewed these cut-from-the-same-cloth green crusaders of peace and justice whose permanent white hats must never ever be questioned. Zero balanced reporting and zero true public science education about nuclear energy by their so-called “science editors” then — just like what’s happening with Indian Point right now. To getting nuclear energy accepted wholesale by the public is really and sadly a two-front war for the minds and reason of a public whose perception and senses of the world is colored by a nuke-hostile information provider.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  6. Ron Hartlen
    March 17, 2013 at 07:47

    “..restricted to men (n=2645),….exposure was 15.9 working level months (WLM)…. increases in radiation risks… (excess relative risks/100 WLM=0.21, 95% CI…”
    Does all of this mean that for the men, there was an increased risk of 0.21 x [15.9 / 100] = 3.3% but that it’s not statistically significant given the sample size?
    Can someone please clarify?
    I’d like to educate friends and local public about the big message “…Overall, workers had lower mortality and cancer incidence compared with the general Canadian population…”, but would like a solid understanding of the secondary detail.

  7. Jerry Cuttler
    March 17, 2013 at 20:17

    Hi Ron

    Any calculation of risk from a radiation exposure must use the linear no-threshold (LNT) theory of radiation carcinogenesis, which is not a valid theory. So the calculation is wrong. There was no increased risk. Note, there is no theory other than the LNT theory to calculate risk (likelihood of excess cancer deaths).

    It’s nice to know that a lower than expected mortality and cancer incidence was measured. Usually epidemiologists massage the data to show a higher than expected cancer incidence. The approaches (tricks) used are described in the articles, available at: http://www.jpands.org/vol13no1/scott.pdf and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2592992/

    I have written a commentary for the March issue of the CNS Bulletin on Fukushima and beneficial effects of low radiation. You will enjoy it.


  8. Jerry Cuttler
    March 17, 2013 at 20:27


    If you want to read about radiation effects on biological organisms now, have a look at the chapter by Feinendegen et al, available at: http://db.tt/UyrhlBpW in the new book, Therapeutic Nuclear Medicine.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *