A friend of mine recently wrote a letter to Catholic Online in response to an opinion piece masquerading as an article. The piece was titled Canadian Catholic News: Nuclear energy called ‘a deeply spiritual issue’. The piece was an extensive rehashing of disinformation that has been spread for many years by Helen Caldicott, a professional anti-nuclear activist whose formal training is as a pediatrician.
Paul’s reaction to the diatribe is personal and emotional, but he has given me permission to reprint it here.
I have read the article you published at Catholic Online entitled “Canadian Catholic News: Nuclear Energy Called a Deeply Spiritual Issue”:
As a devout Catholic and a nuclear power plant worker of some 30 years, I could not agree more. Sadly, however, this disinformation from Helen Caldicott has received far more press time from your news service than any opposing point of view from those who have actually worked in the nuclear power industry all their adult lives. I shall not here debate the individual merits of Ms. Caldicott’s diatribe (for there are none). Rather, I shall provide a brief history of my own experiences and you can judge for yourself the safety and integrity of the greatest and safest form of power production that God has enabled mankind to harness. I hope that you will publish this or other points of view that debunk Ms. Caldicott’s disinformation, but to ensure (if you do not) that those who are Catholic (and even non-Catholics) become aware of the lies of this propaganda you have shamelessly disseminated, I am copying this message to:
I started out as a submarine reactor operator in the 1970s. When we went under the ocean, I was in a sealed metal tube often tens of feet away from a live operating nuclear reactor. The radiation exposure that I received was far less than if I had been exposed to direct sunlight and cosmic radiation on dry land. As for pollution, we released no green house gases and no particulates into Earth’s biosphere as coal-fired, oil-fired and gas-fired power plants do. We departed the sub-base with no streaming of smoke behind us, and we returned in the same fashion, gliding noiselessly as dolphins swam in our wake. Indeed, as the http://www.atomicinsights.com/ web site points out, nuclear power is:
Safe enough to power floating cities with more than 5,000 people living within 1000 feet of the plant. (The US owns and operates ten of these floating cities. We call them nuclear powered aircraft carriers.)
Clean enough to operate inside sealed submarines.
When I exited the US Navy, I first went to work at a Westinghouse pressurized water reactor as an instrumentation technician and instructor, then as a radiation monitoring system engineer. I discovered (actually, none to my surprise) that nuclear power plants release several orders of magnitude LESS radioactivity to the environment than coal-fired power plants of equivalent power output. In fact, when executives wanted to build a coal plant next to our nukes, they found they couldn’t because the radioactivity released by the coal plants would swamp the radiation detectors at the nuke plants.The reason lies in the naturally occurring uranium, thorium and radium of coal. Nuclear power plants have to sequester all their waste, but coal-fired power plants indiscriminately release their waste into Earth’s biosphere. Such pollution results every year in the deaths of tens of thousands of people in the US alone. Figures of deaths from coal-fired power plant pollution in China are upwards of hundreds of thousands. As Catholics, we are called to support the individual right to life from conception to natural death. Condemning nuclear energy means increasing the use of coal energy which kills human life. As Catholics, death is an unsupportable position.
Indeed, every year two million people in third world countries die from burning that darling of green energy production: biomass. The use of nuclear power would obviate those two million deaths per year. By the way, that works out to be 3.8 people dead every minute of every hour of every day of every year all because we won’t replace biomass burning with nuclear energy. The only crime more heinous than that is the murder of the unborn. Indeed, I wonder how many unborn are killed from the mercury pollution released by coal fired power plants – spontaneous abortions or birth defects that could have been preevented if we replaced dirty coal power with clean nuclear power.
I currently work at a General Electric boiling water reactor as a computer specialist. Our plant and the grounds on which it is situated are so clean that wild turkeys, geese, feral cats, skunks, and even deer wander its grounds with no fear. The same cannot be said for coal-fired power plants or garbage to energy plants whose stink of death-dealing pollution rises up in offense against human and God alike. Indeed, wind mills (another green energy darling) kill tens of thousands of birds and bats each year. As for environmental foot-print and the preservation of God’s green Earth, nuclear energy is second to none.
So consider first opposing points of view. Being a Catholic means that I place human life above my own special interests. I have worked for 30 years in nuclear power to do exactly that by doing my rightful part in providing clean, pollution-free energy to those who desperately need it. This means being on 24-hour call, coming into work at 2 am in the morning at a moment’s notice, working 12 hour days during refueling outages, placing personal plans, interests and family aside in deference to nuclear and public safety, etc. I am no hero but one of 700 people on site who do this daily for all you, the members of the general public who expect their lights to come on at the flip of a switch.
Indeed, consider this: not one member of the general public in the United States or Canada have been injured or killed from any radiological event at any US light water reactor or Canadian heavy water reactor in the past 50 years. Yet coal-fired power plants in BOTH countries during the same period of time have killed hundreds of thousands if not millions. So why does Helen Caldicott oppose nuclear power with such ferocity? Could she be financed by fossil fuel interests?
Lastly, consider the recent anti-war movement in response to the War in Iraq. By reprocessing spent nuclear fuel and plutonium from nuclear warheads for use in generating electricity, we make forever unavailable for weapons use the nuclear fuel itself, and instead (as the prophet Isaiah said) turn our swords into plowshares. But as Jesus pointed out: the love of money is the root of all evil. That love (by politician and fossil fuel executive alike) leaves us dependent on fossil fuel, dependent on wars of foreign adventure for mineral slime in lands of Islamic fascism, and dependent on the need to maintain a nuclear weapons arsenal. I leave you with that thought.
How many people died from biomass burning in third world countries in the time it took me to write this letter (about 30 minutes):
30 minutes * 3.8 deaths / minute = 114 deaths.
Are Helen Caldicott’s lies worth 114 deaths? Or even one death?
Paul W. Primavera