Illinois is home to more nuclear reactors than any other state in the country, so the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and Physicians for Social Responsibility-Chicago chose Chicago to host an international two-day summit on "Nuclear Energy and Children's Health: What You Can Do."
Dr. Helen Caldicott, president of the institute, is host of the Oct. 15-16 conference at St. Scholastica Academy, 7416 N. Ridge Blvd., Chicago. The event is open to the public and will be covered online at www.nuclearpolicy.org. Chicago Parent spoke with Caldicott, who is a founder of the institute.
Illinois has 11 nuclear plants located in six areas-Braidwood, Byron, Clinton, Dresden, LaSalle County and the Quad Cities, according to the Energy Information Administration's Web site, www.eia.doe.gov. Q: You're hosting a conference called "Nuclear Energy and Children's Health." What is the relationship? A: Children are 10 to 20 times more susceptible to getting cancer from radiation than are adults. Nuclear power plants ... continuously release radiation into the air and into the water. ... When cells in an organ are exposed to a very high dose of radiation, the radiation can mutate ... the regulatory gene. The cell then sits quietly for ... years, and then can start dividing in an unregulated way. That's a cancer. Now, children, because their cells are actively dividing all the time ... are very susceptible to being damaged by radiation. Q: How can we tell if our children have been exposed to radiation or affected by it? Are there symptoms to watch for? A: No, there aren't. The only way you might suspect they've been exposed to radiation is if they develop a malignancy, brain tumor or other cancer. Q: Are there any preventive measures against radiation exposure parents can take? A: No. The only way [to protect your children] is to move away from the area or to close down the reactors as fast as possible. Q: And, how far away is away? A: I'd say hundreds of miles. Obviously, the closer you live, the more dangerous it is. ... It depends a.) upon the wind direction, b.) upon the prevailing weather conditions at the time, and c.) how the [radioactive gas] plume behaves. ... Then of course, there's always the risk of a meltdown. Many of [Illinois'] reactors are very old, and ... the metal pipes ... have a tendency to crack and then break. If the pipes ... should break, then there could be a meltdown. Q: What do you hope to accomplish through the October conference? A: Just purely education, really. As a physician and a pediatrician, I've set this conference up to specifically inform the people of Chicago about the danger so they can close the reactors down.