Thursday, October 21, 2004
Nobel Peace Prize-nominee and renowned anti-nuclear activist, Dr. Helen Caldicott, gives the planet two decades. “Twenty years at the very most,” says Caldicott, who lectures at the Monterey Institute of International Studies this Friday night. “The planet is in an intensive care unit.”
Despite the fact that the Cold War ended 15 years ago, Caldicott warns that the threat of a nuclear holocaust grows more likely with each passing year.
“I was under the impression that the threat of nuclear war had been averted when the US and Russia made amends in the early nineties; this is not the case. In fact, the current situation is far more dangerous than ever before,” she says.
In an April 16, 2004 Los Angeles Times commentary co-written with former Secretary of State Robert McNamara, Caldicott cites a report by the National Resources Defense Council stating that Russia continues to “aim most of its 8,200 nuclear warheads at the US while the US maintains 7,000 offensive strategic warheads in its arsenal, most of which are targeted on Russian missile silos and command centers.”
Speaking by phone from Chicago, a city surrounded by 14 nuclear power plants, Caldicott says that, “Although people won’t talk about it, or don’t know, we are in more danger now than at the height of the Cold War.”
Sooner or later, Caldicott says, one of three things will precipitate nuclear catastrophe. “Terrorists will attack one of America’s aging nuclear reactors. They are prime targets and it’s only a matter of time.”
Russia’s antiquated and poorly maintained early warning system will malfunction. “In 1995, that system mistook a Norwegian weather satellite for an American nuclear missile,” Caldicott says. “We were moments from total destruction.”
“The Russians are terrified and desperate. I’ve had members of the Russian military begging me to get people to understand the seriousness of this situation and help them defuse it. They are even more vulnerable to terrorist attack than here in the US.”
America’s current nuclear arms program will hasten a new generation arms race with disastrous results. “The US is still busy creating 500 new bombs a year, including neutron bombs,” Caldicott says. “It’s unbelievable. Neutron bombs.”
In her book, The New Nuclear Danger, Caldicott states that US nuclear laboratories are still busy testing and developing new nuclear weapons, including President George Bush’s well-publicized nuclear missile defense system, at a cost of up to $6.5 billion a year. Furthermore, a law enacted in December 2003 allocates more than $38 million for research to develop new “thermonuclear bunker busters” and “mini-nukes.”
It’s a disturbing trend, Caldicott says, but she has a plan to counter it. She wants to see the US and Russia eliminate their nuclear arsenals within five years, believing that other nations with nuclear weapons will either follow suit or could be pressured to do so. With no nuclear weapons, she says, Russia’s aging warning system can be dismantled.
She also wants to see all nuclear reactors closed within five years, stating that conservation and renewable resources such as wind and solar power could offset the resulting loss of nuclear energy.
To these ends, Caldicott has founded the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, toured the world giving lectures and taken out full-page ads in major newspapers, such as The Chicago Tribune, plainly stating the dangers of nuclear power, nuclear weapons and nuclear terrorism. “I doubt very many people in Chicago even realize the danger they’re in with 14 nuclear power plants surrounding their city.”
This whirlwind is only the most recent campaign in a lifetime of activism.
Over the decades, Caldicott has received dozens of awards for her integrity, peacemaking, and humanitarian work, as well as 18 honorary university degrees. She’s met with heads of state, founded and headed Physicians For Social Responsibility and Women’s Action For Nuclear Disarmament (WAND), and published three books.
“I’m 66 years old now,” Caldicott says. “I want to rest. When the Cold War ended and the US and Russia became friends, I thought I could. I was wrong.”