There are times when a discussion turns from somewhat painful to entertaining theater. This conversation between George Monbiot and Helen Caldicott, featured on the March 31, 2011 edition of Democracy Now! entered that realm.
Update: (Posted at 0500 on April 1, 2011) After some overnight thought, I realized that I needed to add some more information to this post to give some context to the above video. Though long time Atomic Insights readers will recognize that I think that Dr. Caldicott is completely wrong and a bit unbalanced, new readers might be tempted to wonder who is right in debate posted.
Here are a few things to consider. Dr. Caldicott kept referring to a “study” that was published by the New York Academy of Science that supposedly documents previously unknown studies that were translated from Slavic language journals. The document that she is referring to is actually a book that was compiled by a Greenpeace activist and then published by the book publishing arm of the New York Academy of Science. I wrote about this farce in September 2010.
Ted Rockwell, a member of the New York Academy of Science, wrote a lengthy letter to the editor of Nuclear News after that American Nuclear Society publication had published a notice mentioning the availability of the book. The editor of Nuclear News, probably not understanding the background of the book, most likely accepted it as just another book published by a fellow professional society.
Ted explained that the book was not an NYAS work, that it actively denied the scientific method, and that it was initiated and edited by Greenpeace activists. I got permission and republished Ted’s letter with some commentary on Atomic Insights in November 2010. By that time, I had determined that the book was the opening salvo in a planned campaign to make a big deal about the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident.
If you watched the above video, you will hear Amy Goodman mentioning the fact that the anniversary is just 3 weeks away. The Chernobyl accident occurred on April 26, 1986.
One final note that should help explain just how unscientific Dr. Caldicott has become – if she ever was very scientific. The book to which she constantly refers, as full of nonsense as it is, stretches really far in order to calculate a scary sounding number of 985,000 deaths from Chernobyl related cancers. Apparently, even that number is not scary sounding enough for Dr. Caldicott, so she has, without any basis at all, more than doubled it to her most recent claim of more that 2 million deaths. Her loudly proclaimed source, published just last summer, has a number that is less than half of that.
Based on the demonstrated trend, I fully expect that next year, Dr. Caldicott will be emphatically interrupting people like George Monbiot and proclaiming that the real death toll is more than 4 million. If she lives very long, the exponential rise in her imaginary death tolls may eventually result in a claim that we are all dead already, that life on earth has already disappeared, and that she is the last remaining person on a planet simulated on a Star Trek-like holodeck.
For the record, the study that George Monbiot correctly cited as being from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) has been recently updated. That study, conducted with a cooperative effort by some of the world’s leading radiation effects scientists, states that 28 workers died during the accident response and that 19 additional workers died in the period from 1986-2004, some from causes not necessarily related to radiation exposure at Chernobyl.
There has been a noticeable increase in the rate of thyroid cancer, particularly among children from the area who were born between 1976-1986. Those children met two criteria that put them at high risk – they were alive and less than 10 years old at the time of the accident when the I-131 that was released by the accident was fresh and able to accumulate in milk, fresh vegetables and drinking water at a high enough concentration to cause damage to receptive thyroid glands.
Two actions that could have been taken, but were not taken, to protect those children would have been earlier evacuation orders and orders to avoid the specific products that are known to carry I-131 for the first 40-80 days after an accident. (I-131 decays away with an 8 day half life – it is down to about 3% of its initial value after 5 half lives and has essentially disappeared completely by the completion of 10 half lives – 80 days.)
The bottom line here is that George Monbiot was quoting real science while Helen Caldicott was spouting nonsense. If it is really possible, as she claimed, for a non practicing doctor who is found to be lying to be decertified, perhaps it is finally time for whatever organization that still accepts her pediatrician credentials to take that action. The woman’s elevator stops a few floors shy of the top deck.