Interrogation of Helen Caldicott’s Responses

This is supporting material for my article Evidence Meltdown.

By George Monbiot, published on, 5th April 2011.

In all these cases I asked Helen Caldicott for the sources of the claims she had made. Here are her replies, and my responses to her replies.

Helen Caldicott, Quote 1:

“There could be a huge hydrogen explosion, which would rupture the containment vessel, and out of Unit 2 would come huge plumes of radiation, which, if the wind is blowing towards the south, could devastate much of Japan forever.”

HC’s source:

“Read the NY Academy of Sciences Chernobyl report and extrapolate from there”

My response:

a. As my article explains, the Yablukov book has little scientific standing and has not been peer-reviewed.

b. Here is what Professor Robin Grimes, Professor of Materials Physics, Imperial College, London, tells me:

“The word “forever” is clearly nonsense as radioactivity does decay. Given the present temperatures and pressures within the reactors and the decay heat, which is now only a few percent of what it was, the pressure vessels are not going to rupture via a brittle fracture. At worst it will leak slowly. If it did, the levels of contamination would increase locally. More difficult to clean the mess and cost.”

Helen Caldicott, Quote 2:

“people will continue to die from cancer for virtually the rest of time.”

HC’s source:

“This is all in my book and previous book NUCLEAR MADNESS and depends upon the half live of the tran-suranic isotopes and their extraordinary toxicity and food chain bio-magnification. Also Professor Tim Mousseau has been studying the deformities and species reduction in birds etc in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl, I am ccing him also so you can question him”

My response:

Without specific passages and references, it is hard to know what to make of this. But “virtually the rest of time” sounds, at the least, like a stretch. I’m not sure how work on birds answers a claim about people.

Helen Caldicott, Quote 3:

“a millionth of a gram of plutonium, or less, can induce cancer, or will induce cancer.”

HC’s source:

“That is referenced in my book.”

My response:

No it’s not. It’s mentioned three times, but not referenced.

Helen Caldicott, Quote 4.

“One x-ray to the pregnant abdomen doubles the incidence of leukemia in the child.”

HC’s source: “This is the classic work of Dr Alice Stewart in the Oxford study and is referred to in the BEIRV11 report”

My response:

Professor Gerry Thomas, Chair in Molecular Pathology, Department of Surgery & Cancer, Imperial College, London, tells me this:

“There is a confusion between relative risk and actual risk. One obstetric examination may increase the relative risk of Leukaemia and childhood cancer by about 40% but the actual risk of developing these types of conditions in childhood is extremely rare the actual risk is very small. The earlier the foetus is exposed to radiation the more significant damage to development may be – however, as most women do not know they are pregnant for 4 weeks at least, I suspect that a good many accept medical treatment without knowing their are pregnant. If I needed an emergency abdominal scan I would have it on the basis that if it was that serious I may not be around to deliver my baby and therefore both of us would die – I’d rather run the small risk of damage and cope with the consequences. We work on the ALARA principle – as low as reasonably attainable, so avoidable X-rays are not carried out on pregnant women. Interestingly there appears to be less thyroid cancer post Chernobyl for those who were in utero at the time of the accident as opposed to those who were under 1. Could be better DNA repair in the foetus, or less exposure due to the fact that the mother’s thyroid took up the iodine, and those born were exposed to radioiodine in milk.”

Helen Caldicott, Quote 5.

“And over time, nuclear waste will induce epidemics of cancer, leukemia and genetic disease, and random compulsory genetic engineering.”

HC’s source:

“This is basic radiobiology that I learned in 1st year medical school and was initially derived from the classic experiment of Mueller of the effects of radiation on drosophila fruit fly for which he won the Nobel Prize and the radiobiology is explained in my book. I don’t see how you can derive all the basic medical information you need George in 8 hours to write and article for tonight!”

My response:

Professor Gerry Thomas tells me this:

“Absolutely no evidence for this whatsoever – we live in a radioactive world, we are superbly adapted to it. There are areas of the world that are exposed to natural background radiation 10+ times higher than the average (same maximal dose as radiation workers receive). These populations do not show an increase in cancer.”

Helen Caldicott, Quote 6.

GM: “you’re saying you would dismiss the U.N. Scientific Committee as being part of the nuclear industry?” HC: “I could, yes.”

HC’s source:

“Absolutely! In light of the Chernobyl report as the WHO et al have never done the necessary epidemiological studies necessary to make such a statement. The NYAS report has covered much of the medical and scientific investigation which desperately needed to be done. Tim Mousseau participated in this report and I would encourage you to talk to him re your questions. His number is ************. Dr Janette Sherman is the editor talk to her, her email is above.”

My response:

I asked her about UNSCEAR. Strangely, she refers to the WHO. Does she know what UNSCEAR is?

Professor Gerry Thomas tells me:

“I actually was a member of the UNSCEAR committee on the Health effects of the Chernobyl accident and wrote the section on the molecular biology of thyroid cancer. I can assure you that none of us are in the pay of the nuclear industry. I was anti-nuclear until I worked on the after effects of the Chernobyl accident – now I am very pro-nuclear as I realise that we have an unwarranted fear of radiation – probably due to all the rubbish about a nuclear winter we were fed during the cold war.”

Helen Caldicott, Quote 7:

“the incubation time for cancer is any time from two to 60 years.”

HC’s source:

“This is basic medical knowledge derived from the American Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission who studies the Hibakusha of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from which we, the medical profession have derived the basic data we use for patient doses”

My response:

Professor Gerry Thomas tells me:

“Cancer is not an infectious disease so it does not have an incubation time. As we cannot definitely say what has caused a cancer (there is no radiation profile that would stand up in court) we cannot prove what the latency is for radiation induced cancer. All we can say is that different cancer types seem to present themselves in the population at different times – leukaemias seem to have a shorter latency, but thyroid cancer in the young can appear within 4 years. We simply do not know the life-time risk without doing the Lifespan studies such as those instigated after the atomic bombs in Japan. Even here the increased incidence of cancer in the population is around 1%. I suspect that more Japanese have developed lung cancer as a result of smoking than all the radiation induced cancers put together.”

Helen Caldicott, Quote 8:

“Forty percent of the European land mass is still radioactive.”

HC’s source:

“This is in the NYAS report.”

My response:

Two things bother me about this: first her reliance on this flawed work for so many of her claims, secondly the non-specific nature of the reference. This is a 343-page report. If she has read it, why not provide a page number?

Professor Robin Grimes says:

“If that includes granite then yes. Granite has thorium and uranium in it. In Cornwall for example the average background dose is more than twice that in London. Does that make London more healthy?”

Helen Caldicott, Quote 9:

“Turkish food is extremely radioactive.”

HC’s source:

“this also is in the report”

My response:

Oh no it isn’t. Here’s what the NYAS report says: “TURKEY. Some 45,000 tons of tea was contaminated with Chernobyl radioactivity in 1986–1987, and more than a third of the 1986 harvest could not be used (WISE, 1988c).”

That says nothing about Turkish food, today.

Helen Caldicott, Quote 10.

“GM: if she’s honestly saying that the World Health Organization is now part of the conspiracy and the cover-up, as well, then the mind boggles.” HC: “Yeah, I am.”

HC’s source: “Yes the mind has been boggling for some time, this to my mind is the greatest conspiritorial coverup in the history of medicine.”

My response:

Er, right.

[Helen did not provide a source for Quote 11]

Helen Caldicott, Quote 12.

“These unregulated isotopes include the noble gases krypton, xenon and argon, which are fat-soluble and if inhaled by persons living near a nuclear reactor, are absorbed through the lungs, migrating to the fatty tissues of the body, including the abdominal fat pad and upper thighs, near the reproductive organs. These radioactive elements, which emit high-energy gamma radiation, can mutate the genes in the eggs and sperm and cause genetic disease.”

HC’s source:

“This is also described in my book, we use Xenon to trace abnormal fatty tissue in the body, George I simply don’t have time to look up all the references for these statements, you really need a lecture in basic medicine”

My response:

Her book actually says (page 55): “There have never been any epidemiological studies performed on the effects of exposure to the noble gases xenon and krypton.” In other words, it flatly contradicts her own claim.

Helen Caldicott, Quote 13:

“Tritium is a soft energy beta emitter, more mutagenic than gamma radiation, that incorporates directly into the DNA molecule of the gene.”

HC’s source:

“There is a huge literature on tritium in the Journal of Health Physics extensively referenced in Nuclear Power is not the Answer”

My response:

Helen says something similar in her book, viz:

“Because tritium is a soft energy beta emitter, meaning that it does not penetrate very far, all the radiation it gives off is readily absorbed by the surrounding cells, hence it is biologically very mutagenic.” (Page 57)

But no reference is given for this statement.

The subsequent statement “it is incorporated into molecules, including DNA within bodily cells” is also unreferenced.

She does give references for part of the discussion of tritium that follows (Page 57), but as these were published in 1978, 1979 and 1982, it will take me a while to find them and check them out. I’ll do so next time I’m in the library. Only one of them refers to the Journal of Health Physics, so I don’t know what she means when she says “There is a huge literature on tritium in the Journal of Health Physics extensively referenced in Nuclear Power is not the Answer”.

Helen Caldicott, Quote 14:

“Cancers will inevitably increase in frequency in exposed populations, as will genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis in their descendents.”

HC’s source:

“George please learn the basic elements of genetics!”

Professor Gerry Thomas tells me:

“Cancers will not inevitably increase – depends on the isotope involved, and the actual exposure to the population. Reality check – Chernobyl resulted in 136 hospitalisations for acute radiation sickness, 28 of these died. There have been 5000 extra thyroid cancers, of which 1% may die of their disease over their lifetimes (I.e. 50 – and that is probably an overestimate. End of story – no other scientifically validated further effects. No inherited defects seen in a population that was exposed as children (many of those exposed as children have already had children themselves, and I have personally met some of these). It is interesting how few second cancers result in the population treated with radiotherapy (and/or chemotherapy, which in many respects has a similar biological effect – induction of DNA damage) – even in a population that may have been enriched for those with germline defects that predisposes to cancer. This suggests to me that as a species we have superbly honed defences for this type of insult.”