[ RadSafe ] Helen Caldicott letter in NYTimes (Karam)

Peter Crane kinderhook46 at yahoo.com
Thu Oct 31 13:05:03 CDT 2013

Helen Caldicott's claim (in a letter, not an op-ed, published in the Oct. 31 New York Times) that Chernobyl has caused a million deaths was certainly absurd, but not much more so than the Oct. 22 op-ed to which she was replying, by David Ropeik. A hormesis advocate who teaches an extension course at the Harvard School of Public Health, Ropeik asserted that the radiation from Fukushima had been shown to be "relatively harmless," and in this respect was similar to the radiation from Chernobyl.  

Given that the induction period for radiation-caused thyroid cancer in children is at least four or five years, as we know from Chernobyl, definitive pronouncements on the health effects of Fukushima are premature. Why rush to judgment, when we will soon have empirical data? As for Chernobyl, Ropeik failed to mention the 7000+ thyroid cancers so far attributable to radiation from the accident. (See the UNSCEAR report of 2008, which found 6000 cancers as of 2005. http://www.unscear.org/unscear/en/chernobyl.html.) That is a substantial and serious health effect.   

Since Ropeik chose not to mention the post-Chernobyl thyroid cancers, we cannot know whether he thinks them inconsequential because few patients are likely to die of the disease. If so, I would respond that fatality rates are not the only measure of whether an illness is serious. Think about malaria and river blindness, for example. In addition, papers presented at the recent American Thyroid Association convention suggest that thyroid cancer shortens life indirectly, through significantly higher rates of cardiovascular death and secondary cancers.

The case for nuclear power ought to be made through a realistic balancing of the costs and benefits of competing energy sources, not by glossing over facts that don't fit one's policy preferences. It's a pity that the readers of the New York Times were only given two utterly erroneous accounts of the health effects of Chernobyl to choose from, when the truth lies between those two extremes.

Peter Crane
Counsel for Special Projects, USNRC (retired)

"I'm not anti-nuclear, I'm anti-hogwash."

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