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Three, they're talking about fast reactors. Now what they would plan to do is all implicit in a plan called Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, being mooted by the Department of Energy, which is incredibly dangerous.
They plan to make uranium fuel rods, export these to other countries, then re-import the intensely radioactive waste from those countries encased in the fuel rods, and melt them down in concentrated nitric acid. This is called reprocessing. From that witches' cauldron of radioactive liquids is removed plutonium 239, which has a half life of 24,000 years and is a fuel for nuclear weapons.
These fast reactors are cooled with liquid sodium, an extraordinarily dangerous material. If there's a crack in the pipe, liquid sodium exposed to air either burns or explodes. You lose your coolant. Ten pounds of plutonium is critical mass. There would be a massive meltdown, but not just that a huge, huge nuclear explosion, scattering 10 to 15 tons of plutonium to the four winds. It's worse than any science fiction book ever written, because hypothetically 1 or 2 pounds evenly distributed throughout the world could kill most people on Earth with lung cancer.
So if nuclear power is not the answer, then what is the answer for the future of our energy?
Caldicott: My institute, the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, held a conference in Washington, D.C., called
All our electricity can now be generated by renewables, in which Silicon Valley is investing. This could occur by 2040 actually, and if you eliminate massive government subsidies for nuclear power, it dies of its own accord. Here we have a blueprint for all electricity production for the United States, which currently produces 25 percent of the global (carbon dioxide), without any CO2 or nuclear power.
How likely do you think it is that a study like this would get traction politically?
Caldicott: The current administration is running out of steam, so to speak. Almost certainly a Democrat will be elected president. The Democratic Congress now is totally open to this road map. I've visited Barbara Boxer. Her
Do you think nuclear power has a green face right now, that people have forgotten about things that may have been more in the public's mind, say, 20 years ago?
Caldicott: You mean meltdown? I think subliminally everyone is deeply concerned, that they all know a terrorist could melt a nuclear power plant down...They don't know that nuclear power plants continually emit radioactive material into the air and water.
What people need to know is if the Second World War was fought today, Europe would be uninhabitable for the rest of time, because all the reactors on the European landmass would have melted down because they would have been attacked...In fact,
You've spoken about your work as being a sort of physician for the planet.
Caldicott: I was on the faculty at the Harvard Medical School in the cystic fibrosis clinic and I miss medicine terribly, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that I'm practicing global preventive medicine. Because the waste from nuclear power will induce epidemics and malignancies in children for the rest of time--congenital deformities and genetic disease.
What motivates you?
Caldicott: I took the Hippocratic oath. My vocation is medicine. I'm obliged therefore to practice it; that's why I was born, to practice medicine and save lives. Period.
Some people have accused you of alarmism or inflating the dangers.
Caldicott: I would say that I can't speak enough to inflate the dangers. In fact, I under-inflate the dangers. I spoke recently to my alma mater at Harvard Medical School to the best pediatricians in the world, and they were absolutely astonished and alarmed. There is no debate about the medical consequences.
The people who would call me alarmist are nuclear engineers, physicists or businessmen who know nothing about medicine. Once you know about biology and genetics and medicine, there's absolutely no debate. Our job as doctors is to teach those people and the general public what those dangers are, as we taught them in the past.
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