How Nuclear Energy Questions Democracy: A Response to Helen Caldicott

by Isabel Braverman

My aunt used to live in Peekskill, NY. I was always terrified when we went to visit her. Not because she was one of those crazy aunts who pinches your cheeks too hard and asks embarrassing questions, but because she lived near Indian Point—a nuclear power plant.

I knew about Indian Point not only because my aunt lived in the vicinity, but also because my mom was an avid protestor when the nuclear reactors went off in 1981, and she educated me about it.

Every time we crossed the Bear Mountain Bridge and I saw the plant in the distance my mind would run rampant with the idea that at any moment something bad could happen and we would all blow up (I was an over-thinker even when I was little). I would hypothesize places where we would be if such a thing happened and which distances would be far away enough to save us. I asked my mom if we would be safe at home in Pennsylvania and she told me yes, that we would only have minor radiation. After hearing Helen Caldicott’s talk, I’m not so sure if I can believe my mom any more…

I went to see Helen Caldicott, an anti-nuclear energy activist and animated Australian lady, speak on Tuesday night as presented by the Park Center for Independent Media. I heard she was going to talk about fracking, already a depressing subject. What I did not know is that she would shatter my perception of the world and make the oft satirically-used phrase “everything gives you cancer” entirely too true. I can’t even eat Hershey’s Kisses anymore! I looked down at my notebook and, besides Helen’s name, the only other thing I had written was “this is too depressing” which I showed to my friend sitting next to me who nodded in somber agreement. However, it did get better. As Helen said, referencing her friend who got so affected by the trials of nuclear energy that she didn’t get out of bed for two years, you have to live through the depression and the pain. Apparently, this talk was turning into a therapy session.

But it was, and one that I needed even though I didn’t know I did.

She explained the logistics of nuclear power and through all the science talk the thing that stuck out the most was this—”all nuclear power does is boil water. It’s like cutting a pound of butter with a chainsaw.”  What this boils down to is the failure of American democracy, ipso facto American media.

Caldicott said that in order to get the media’s attention you need to do something. And she did. She explained the protest her and some others staged in San Francisco in which they all got naked and stormed the streets yelling “Nudes not Nukes!” Well, that got attention. She told us in a way that a loving yet stern grandmother would that we are ruining our democracy. How could we have let our country come to this point? But it’s not only us. Her catchphrase of the night was “what the hell do these characters think they are doing?” referring to anyone from advocators of fracking and nuclear energy to Rush Limbaugh. In fact, she said Limbaugh should be shut down.

I agreed, but then thought to myself, isn’t what she is doing Limbaugh-esque but for the left? Spouting out radical leftist ideas without any filter. But then I saw the key difference– Helen told us not to listen to her but to instead educate ourselves. Read, learn and educate yourself. I’m still waiting for Limbaugh and company to make such a statement.

She left us with many important lessons– question everything, and never stop learning.

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