Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Tracking the Caldicott Talking Points

Those pesky Helen Caldicott talking points have shown up again, this time in a letter to the editor in the Arizona Republic, so I feel duty bound to provide a link to our original reponse to Caldicott, as well as an analysis from an Australian blogger.

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Matthew66 said...

I believe the letter writer is wrong on two counts. Firstly, nuclear power plants have not been constructed for twenty-five years because of the lack of demand for additional baseload electricity, because of the uncertainty of the regulatory approval process, and a lack of government and community support. These are changing now with increased electricity demand, with government support to demonstrate the regulatory approval process and communities clamoring to host a nuclear reactor.

Secondly, I do not believe geneticists would support Dr. Caldicott's claim that a change in the DNA sequence of a single cell could cause a mutation resulting in an adverse change to a species (implied if not stated by the letter writer). Living things are constantly evolving, bad mutations are killed off by an organism's immune system. Organisms that suffer really bad mutations usually die before reproducing. One cell does not cause a species to mutate, a change is needed in a population to effect a change to a species. Or at least that was what I learned in History 101 at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. If there are geneticists out there that can enlighten us as to the latest thinking on this issue I'd really appreciate it.

Stewart Peterson said...

I'm not a geneticist, but AFAIK you're right.
1. One cell can't cause a mutation. Every cell has its own copy of DNA, and mutations occur on a genetic, not anatomical, level.

2. The likelihood of one cancerous cell becoming a tumor in its lifespan--measured in weeks--is practically zero, if not zero. There needs to be a relatively large number of cells affected. One particle or ray hitting one cell is not going to cause cancer or mutations.

3. The number of types of mutations that radiation could cause is incredibly large. The likelihood of an irrelevant mutation--left-handedness or hair color, for example--is much greater than an adverse effect.

4. We get a lot more radiation from nature than from nuclear power plants, so if these things aren't happening in nature they won't happen with nuclear power plants. People have significant amounts of C-14 in their bodies and these types of things don't happen.

5. Radiation has absolutely no effect--cancers, mutations, green vomit, etc.--until around 10,000 millirem.