If You Love This Planet, Dr. Helen Caldicott

Linda Gunter on the culture, politics and grave dangers of nuclear power in France and worldwide


On the program this week, Linda Gunter from Beyond Nuclear joins
Dr. Caldicott for an in-depth discussion about the culture, politics and grave dangers of nuclear power. Today’s exploration focuses on nuclear energy in France and the rest of Europe, but also looks at the situation in the U.S. Gunter specializes in media and development, the nuclear fuel chain, human rights and the myths surrounding the French nuclear power program. In
2001, she and her husband Paul Gunter co-authored the landmark report, Licensed to Kill: How the nuclear power industry destroys endangered marine wildlife and ocean habitat to save money, exposing the high toll taken on animal life due to the routine operation of coastal nuclear reactors.

Linda Gunter

Linda Gunter

Dr. Caldicott first asks Gunter to comment on the oft-repeated notion that since France receives 80% of its electricity from nuclear power, it must be a safe form of energy. In responding, Gunter discusses the huge amount of nuclear waste generated by the French plants, the country’s lack of energy independence, the problems with the hundreds of uranium mines that supply Frances, and how one company, Areva, owns 90% of the 57 French plants. In all of the U.S., there are a total of 104 nuclear reactors, so the concentration of nuclear plants in France, and the expanded potential for catastrophe, is quite pronounced. Gunter recounts her trip to abandoned uranium mine sites in France last year, and the shocking conditions she encountered. She explains how biased all science around nuclear power is in France because of the collaboration between government and Areva. She mentions an independent French laboratory that has helped prove the hazards of nuclear tailings from French plants “recycled” for parking lots in France. This same laboratory will be doing an objective study of the health effects of nuclear power in France, endorsed by Beyond Nuclear. Gunter notes how the Left in Europe, surprisingly, is pro-nuclear power and quite uninformed about the true dangers of radiation.

Gunter and Dr. Caldicott next discuss the state of European media and the nuclear power issue. Gunter refers to a book, How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth, by Hervé Kempf, environmental editor of Le Monde. Read an excerpt here. Gunter then describes the various locations around the world where the French nuclear high-level waste is secretly dumped, before talking about the nuclear-weapons-proliferation risk of nuclear reactors, which contain the building blocks of a nuclear weapon. Read the 2005 article France’s Nuclear Waste Heads to Russia. See the Beyond Nuclear page about French nuclear power which has several links. Also read Beyond Nuclear’s new pamphlet, Nuclear Power in France: setting the record straight. Read the November 19 article Nuclear Power’s Megafraud, about the lies propounded by the president of Westinghouse Electric to build support for building new U.S. reactors. Westinghouse also plays a role in the French nuclear power industry.

Gunter elucidates the high incidence of disease near certain waste reprocess-ing sites on the French coast. Gunter mentions a study by Dr. Jean-Francois Viel of leukemia clusters among youth, which the French government denied. See Childhood leukemia incidence in the vicinity of La Hague nuclear-waste reprocessing facility (France) (free preview; pay to read the full study). She explains the aggressive and underhanded tactics used if anyone challenges the nuclear conglomerate in France. Gunter talks about how the radioactive waste at La Hague affects the oceans and food chains. See the Wikipedia entry on La Hague. Read the November 20 article Report Says Nuclear Plants Are Poisoning Our Water about the startling increasing in radioactive elements in Canadian water. And see the new Sierra Club report, Tritium on Tap: Keep Radioactive Tritium Out of Our Drinking Water.

Gunter refers to the KiKK study on cancer and leukemia incidence among children living near German nuclear plants. This investigation was led by
Dr. Winfrid Eisenberg, Dr. Caldicott’s guest on October 19. Gunter and Dr. Caldicott next consider the fallout from Chernobyl which has affected most of Europe, and the French government’s bald-faced lie that the fallout stopped at the French border. As Dr. Caldicott notes, one accident at Chernobyl contaminated a whole continent. Gunter and Dr. Caldicott probe the level of ignorance of nuclear dangers in Europe and the U.S., and what it will take to reach the public with accurate information. Dr. Caldicott notes that if there was one nuclear reactor accident in the US, it could contaminate the whole of America, particularly with certain wind conditions. She also says that if the second World War were fought in Europe today, it would make the entire continent completely uninhabitable because of the large number of nuclear reactors, each of which would melt down when bombed. And Dr. Caldicott states that a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia would melt down all of the world’s 440 nuclear power reactors, which, aside from the decisive destruction from a nuclear winter, would make the entire planet unfit for life.

Chernobyl fallout map (nuclearfreeplanet.org)

Chernobyl fallout map (nuclearfreeplanet.org)

Dr. Caldicott and Gunter look at the psychology around possessing nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and whether the problem is gender-based or not. Gunter is asked about the particular problems associated with boiling-water nuclear power plants, of which there are 32 in the U.S. These reactors are particularly vulnerable to terrorist attack, and Gunter explains why. In discussing the amount of radioactive waste in the boiling-water plants’ fuel pools, Dr. Caldicott refers to her book, Nuclear Power Is Not The Answer, in which she refers to a study led by Professor Frank von Hippel of Princeton University. Prof. von Hipple described the enormous risk of a meltdown in boiling water reactors, which would create a disaster far more catastrophic than Chernobyl, and how these plants are especially vulnerable to terrorists. Read the article, High-density storage of nuclear waste heightens terrorism risks. Read Prof. von Hippel’s report written with Robert Alvarez et al., Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States. All coastal nuclear power plants and some situated on major rivers will be quite vulnerable to a projected sea-level rise of up to 30 feet from global warming, not to mention an increase in extreme weather occurrences. Read Nuclear Power Can’t Be a Solution to Global Warming Precisely because of Global Warming. See a photo of California’s San Onofre plant which would easily be flooded by a 30-foot sea-level rise, risking a meltdown that would imperil San Diego and Los Angeles.

Gunter discusses why the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty cannot really safeguard against nuclear weapons proliferation as long as they promote nuclear power technology. Gunter says that the nuclear nations, led by the US, must disarm their nuclear weapons. The U.S. and Russia have 95% of the world’s arsenal, with 26,000 bombs. She and Dr. Caldicott talk about the continuing hair-trigger alert status of U.S. and Russian weapons (which also applies to India and Pakistan). Dr. Caldicott points to President Obama’s statement that he really needs public support to achieve his stated commitment to nuclear disarmament. She says that a new movement for nuclear disarmament, particularly in the U.S., must be generated now. Gunter reminds listeners that they can find a great deal of supplementary information relevant to today’s program on the Beyond Nuclear website. After the interview with Gunter, Dr. Caldicott reads from her newly revised and updated book, If You Love This Planet (W.W. Norton, September 2009) about radioactive waste, a major pollutant around the globe.

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