Anti-Nuclear Activist Caldicott Visits Vermont

04/01/10 7:34AM By Susan Keese
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Photo: Greg Barrett

(Host) Australian physician-activist Helen Caldicott was in Vermont and Hanover, New Hampshire this week, delivering her antinuclear message.

The 71-year old co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility spoke at Dartmouth College Wednesday.

VPR's Susan Keese has a report.

(Keese) Caldicott made no bones about her reason for being in the area: to encourage the shutdown of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

Standing at a blackboard, she gave a primer on the various radioactive byproducts of uranium. She said dangerous isotopes inevitably escape into the environment when handled for any purpose.

Caldicott also described how radioactive materials interact with the human body to cause cancers and genetic mutations.

(Caldicott) "We've known for a long time that radiation causes cancer. You need to know that no dose is safe. Each dose is cumulative."

(Keese) Caldicott railed against all forms of radioactivity, from nuclear missiles to unnecessary cat scans, to X-ray scanners used for airport security.

But she reserved her harshest criticism for the nuclear power industry. She said the leaks of radioactive tritium into groundwater and soil at the Vernon nuclear facility have occurred at many plants around the country.

She explained that tritium, a cancer causing isotope of hydrogen incorporated into water, is almost impossible to contain.

(Caldicott) "You can't operate a reactor without tritium escaping continuously. Up to one-third of the reactors in your country have tritium in the groundwater, and it‘s continuously being released through the vent. And if there's a fog, like there is today, and you're immersed in the fog, the tritiated water goes right through your skin."

(Keese) Caldicott praised the recent Senate vote against renewing Vermont Yankee's license for another 20 years when its current license expires.

(Caldicott) "You're going to show the country what to do by closing down Vermont Yankee. And that will give hope and courage to all other states. And you will set yourselves up by being the truly green state."

(Keese) During her three-day tour of the area, Caldicott also spoke in Montpelier before the House Natural Resources Committee.

Burlington Republican representative Kurt Wright left after Caldicott called former Vice President Dick Cheney a sociopath.

(Wright) "I think she has some valid and interesting points of view that are certainly worth considering and she's a very intelligent woman, but I think she loses some credibility with some of the tactics that she chooses to use."

(Keese) Caldicott said her conviction and the far-reaching consequences keep her going.

For VPR news, I'm Susan Keese.

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