THE REACTORS at the Hanford nuclear site in Eastern Washington have sat idle since the early 1970s. But it still remains the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States. This Sunday, April 15, Occupy Portland is planning a field trip to the nearby town of Richland to tell the community about its dangerous neighbor, as well as draw national attention to the government's drawn-out cleanup. Dubbed Occupy Hanford, the campaign even caught the attention of a nuclear activism icon, Dr. Helen Caldicott.
From fighting French nuclear tests to co-founding the Nobel Prize-winning Physicians for Social Responsibility, Caldicott has become a legend. The 73-year-old is making the trip out to Richland, looking to share her 40 years of expertise. Calling Occupy a "hope for the future," Caldicott answered a few of our questions. Stay tuned for the Mercury's coverage of Occupy Hanford next week.
MERCURY: You've been involved in analyzing several nuclear waste sites. What makes Hanford stand out?
DR. HELEN CALDICOTT: Hanford is a catastrophe beyond repair, despite the government's efforts to clean it up. There is no way to clean it up now. Pollutants are flowing into the Columbia River, the most radioactive river in the world, as we speak. The underground tanks are a ticking time bomb.
If it's such a lost cause, why visit the nearby community?
I'm going to Richland to educate those living so close to the site. It's imperative that food grown around Hanford is tested for radiation and that victims of cancer in the community are tested to see if Hanford is to blame.
And if it is?
Then these towns should be evacuated immediately. That's the best we can do. It's too late.
Why do you think it's gotten to this point? Why has this huge nuclear waste site been out of the public eye?
It's the media's responsibility and they clearly aren't doing enough. I think that our nation's media is run by a lot of younger people who are not taught about our world's nuclear history in school. They didn't grow up with it like I did. They don't realize how dangerous it is.
How has teaming up with Occupy Portland, run mostly by young people, inspired your activism?
Oh, it's amazing. Occupy is such a huge catalyst in this discussion, much bigger than movements I've been a part of in the past. The Occupy movement is one thing that gives me hope for the future of the world.
Your Richland visit is one of the last stops on your seven-week speaking tour. What keeps you going?
I'm tired! But I do it because I must. It's my form of preventative medicine. I've seen too many children and adults die because of radiation. I call myself a conservative, because I like to conserve life.
A lot of the folks living near Hanford may not be convinced by what you have to say. How can you get them on board?
They will be concerned if they hear what's going on—and what has been going on there for decades. People are fundamentally very good about wanting to be involved in an educated democracy. And I'm talking to their doctors. If their doctors are concerned, they'll be concerned. There's no argument, really. We all understand that our health and society is at risk.