Interview with Helen Caldicott


nuclearpower.jpgThe single most articulate and passionate advocate of citizen action to remedy the nuclear and environmental crises, Dr. Helen Caldicott, has devoted the last 35 years to an international campaign to educate the public about the medical hazards of the nuclear age and the necessary changes in human behavior to stop environmental destruction.

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The following is based on an interview with Helen Caldicott during her visit to Boise. The interview was conducted by Larry Munden & Mark Hanawalt. For brevity speakers will be identified by initials only. Editing was done only for the sake of clarity.

L.M. (to H.C.) You have been involved with the issues surrounding nuclear energy for some time now. What direction do you see things going now with the nuclear energy? Are they going backwards or forwards?

H.C. Backwards! We’re in grave danger. Nuclear power is moribund because of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, then the nuclear industry got itself together and what it’s after is huge government funding.

L.M. That is definitely the case here.

H.C. No private company is going to build a reactor on there own. Wall Street won’t touch it, Standard & Poor’s won’t touch it. It’s a socialized industry. They’re using global warming as an issue and of course it produces global warming in it’s own right.

M.H. I’m going after the Nuclear power plants, with the idea that if I do that, it will help to eliminate nuclear bombs, and nuclear war.

H.C. In America they have special reactors to produce nuclear bombs, special reactors to produce plutonium bombs, so even if you shut down the civilian reactors in the U.S., that won’t effect the fact that America is making a whole new generation of nuclear weapons. and then America is the model for the world and therefore as these reactors are exported around the world by companies such as GE and Westinghouse, these countries will have bomb factories and so I don’t think that stopping the reactors for energy will stop the bombs being made unless America and Russia disarm because most of the nuclear weapons in the world belong to the U.S. and Russia. 97% of the existing weapons are owned by Russia and the U.S. These are the real rogue nations. They are the axis of evil, threatening to blow up the world any day.

L.M. Do you think the threat of deteriorating relations between Russia and the U.S. poses a real threat of nuclear war.

H.C. I don’t think the threat of deteriorating relations is causing more danger. It goes up and down. The threat is that the U.S. has developed the idea that they can win a nuclear war against Russia. Russia is very paranoid about when the U.S. might launch an attack.

As I’ve said in my book, the real danger is George Bush’s military, industrial complex. It is very important to realize how the weapons are on hair trigger alert and every day they make mistakes and get close to launching.

L.M. That’s a scary thought.

H.C. It’s not the political relationship that matters. They kind of know that they can’t blow each other up. It’s the technological setup which depends on humans being infallible, which they’re not

L.M. Given those circumstances is there a political answer?

H.C. It’s the only answer. See, I met with President Reagan who I didn’t think would listen to me, but he and Gorbachov almost agreed to eliminate nuclear weapons in 86.

Now all of the other nations are waiting for America to take the lead. Russia has been watching us for a long time. All that’s necessary is for America to take the lead and say okay lets sign a treaty to abolish nuclear weapons in five years and then the rest of the world would follow. Everyone emulates America. She’s the model

M.H. That may change now. I think we’re messing things up pretty good!

H.C. Well you are, but you’ve got lots of weapons and other people want them. People still think about war the way they always have except that it is annihilation now. We glorify war. Why do nations glorify war when we lock up murderers. The whole society is geared to murder. The Catholic Church has a big role to play in this area if they will.

L.M. I don’t think they are doing that now.

H.C. They’re not. They are more concerned with sex. They should be doing what Jesus would do if he can back, working to save the planet. Jesus never talked about most of the issues that the church seems to be concerned with. It’s about masculine power and that they block women out really gives me the dry rot.

L. M. What is the next best step.

H.C. Well, I’ve got three solutions, one for global warming. I’d produce a road map for a carbon free, nuclear free future. By 2050 you could do it. All you need to do is tax CO2 at $20 to $30 per ton, stop subsidizing nuclear power and it will die and then you cover all the parking lots in America with solar panels and you plug in your hybrids during the day. Every building should have solar panel on them, paid for by the federal government instead of spending a trillion dollars on killing.

M.H. Do you think the American people have the capacity to look at something like that?

C.H. They can, but they have no guts. They don’t have the indignation to approach it. They have sort of been socially engineered to think this is the greatest country on earth in spite of the fact that many of them are very poor and some 47 million don’t have any health insurance. They have no idea how the rest of the world lives so they live in a kind of a vacuum. I was involved in the eighties when I first came here in helping to create a revolution when we did a project to show the medical effects of a nuclear bomb being dropped on New York City and Boston and the Catholic Bishops would wake up in the morning and see the concentric circles on the map and think that Jesus wouldn’t like this. People started saying that nuclear war is bad for our health and in five years beginning with the majority of Americans supporting the idea of nuclear war it had changed to 80% being opposed. That was the second American revolution. I know that you can change Americans. They are good hearted people who don’t really know what is the right thing to do.

M.H. You have made an analogy that the planet is like a wounded patient. My take on it is that the American people are looking on it as if the government is the doctor. I believe that there is need for a grass roots movement.

H.C. It has to be grass roots. The people have to understand that they are the leaders and that the politicians are their representatives. The politicians respond when you have the people behind you, otherwise they respond to the corporations.

M.H. It seems to me that the corporations have become so embedded that the government has become like a large corporation.

H.C. It is a corporate government.

M.H. What do you think of video conferencing? I would like to integrate video conferencing into a grass roots movement.

H.C. You have got to get to millions of people and the only way to do that is through the media, the television. You have to do something that is spectacular enough that they are forced to cover you. Americans have to get very creative and use their imagination. It could be led by the church if they simply had the people to do it. The Catholic Worker movement was started by Dorothy Day wasn’t it? She was a wonderful woman.

L.M. Yes, she was but unfortunately the church is not really supporting many of the current efforts.

H.C. I know, tell me about it! Very unfortunate! The answer lies in education. As Jefferson said “An informed democracy will behave in a responsible fashion.” We have to inform the new generations.

L.M. One of the most significant things that George W. has done was to lift the restrictions on ownership of the media.

H.C. It’s terrifying. You’ve got five corporations who own the majority of it. One of the worst is my compatriot from Australia (Note: i.e. Rupert Murdock) He is the most dangerous man in the world today. In truth, because the newer generations need education and are getting their information from these dreadful television channels, the media is determining the fate of the earth. Somehow we have got to turn that around.


At this point our time had run out and so we thanked Ms. Caldicott for her time and consideration in granting us the interview and went on our way much impressed.

Posted by Larry Munden and Mark Hanawalt, Catholic Workers and activists living at Peter Maurin Activist House in Boise.

Boise Catholic Worker is a group of Lay Catholics who study and live the social teachings of the Catholic Church in their daily lives through the guidelines set down by Catholic Worker Movement founder Dorothy Day. Catholic Workers give comfort to the homeless and suffering as well as promote social justice through education efforts and action. We welcome all faith based volunteers to Boise Catholic Worker.

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