Reactors to China promote 2 myths One is that U.S. cares about human rights there

other's on global warming

December 07, 1997|By HELEN CALDICOTT

DURING and since the recent visit to Washington by Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin, two myths have been promulgated by the Clinton administration: that the United States cares about human rights in China, and that the $60 billion sale of about 50 nuclear reactors to China would help to alleviate global warming.

Let us deal with the first myth.

If President Clinton and his guests at the dinner given to honor Jiang were in any way concerned about human rights, Westinghouse, GE and the other nuclear reactor companies would be forced to abstain from their profit-making agenda and address the medical, biological and genetic ramifications of selling nuclear power to China.

These are the firms that for months lobbied Congress and the White House for this deal, which was approved and consummated during Jiang's visit.

Nuclear power creates massive quantities of radioactive isotopes, which are classified as nuclear waste.

Among these materials is strontium 90, which remains radioactive for 600 years and concentrates in the food chain. Like other isotopes, it is tasteless, odorless and invisible.

It acts like calcium in the human body, where it enters bone and lactating breast. It is a potent carcinogen, causing bone cancer and/or leukemia and probably breast cancer.

Another byproduct of the nuclear energy process is cesium 137. It, too, remains radioactive for 600 years, concentrating in the food chain and in human muscle, where it can induce rare, extremely malignant muscle cancers called sarcomas.

Last but not least is plutonium, which is so carcinogenic that, hypothetically, 1 pound evenly distributed could cause cancer in every person on Earth.

Plutonium has a radioactive life of half a million years. It enters the body through the lung, where it is known to cause cancer.

It mimics iron in the body. Hence it migrates to the bone, where it can induce bone cancer or leukemia, or to the liver, causing liver cancer; and it crosses the placenta into the embryo, where, like the drug thalidomide, it can cause gross birth deformities.

Finally, it has a predilection for the testicles, thus inducing genetic mutations in humans and other animals that are passed from generation to generation for the rest of time.

Meanwhile, the plutonium itself lives on to enter testicle after testicle, lung after lung, liver after liver for the rest of time as well.

Children are 10 to 20 times more susceptible to the carcinogenic effects of radiation than are adults.

It is estimated that nuclear power by 2000 will have generated 1,139 tons of plutonium, whereas weapons will have contributed 250 tons in the same period.

Repressive regimes come and go, but nothing matches the extraordinary abuse of the random, compulsory genetic engineering implicit in American business' nuclear deal with China, which will condemn untold generations of humans and animals to cancer and genetic diseases.

As for the second myth that nuclear power is the answer to global warming: A Friends of the Earth study showed that a nuclear power plant must operate for 18 years before realizing one net calorie of energy. This is because of the amount of fossil fuel used in the manufacture and construction of the reactor and in the mining of the uranium, the milling and enriching of the uranium and the fabrication of the fuel rods.

This calculation does not include transport and storage of radioactive waste or decommissioning the reactor. So nuclear power contributes to global warming and, massively, to the global burden of man-made radioactivity.

Nuclear reactor manufacturers must be forced to desist from their push to export nuclear power.

If the American people have decided that no new reactors will be built in this country, the same argument must be applied to China, Indonesia and the former Eastern Bloc countries that are being persuaded by the U.S. nuclear industry that nuclear power is the answer to their energy dreams.

Helen Caldicott, a pediatrician on Long Island, N.Y., is the president of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Pub Date: 12/07/97

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