Transcript: Dr. Helen Caldicott's speech at NASA Ames Research Center

April 22, 1999

I suppose I should talk a little bit about -- I want to mention Y2K in a minute, and the nuclear area but I also need to talk about NASA I'm afraid, because -- you know, I know you explore space and that's good and Carl Sagan was a very close friend of mine and I've always been fascinated by the planets myself, but I do object to 72.3 pounds of plutonium 238 being launched over our heads on the Titan IV and the Delta -- was it a Delta? Two damned dangerous rockets -- and one of them had an accident just after they launched Cassini -- I object to that.

And you know, you can do all the calculations, which are all based on probabilities and statistics -- but you don't really know! It's like in medicine -- we can, you know, you can come in with leukemia and I can say, "Well, you've got Hairy Cell Leukemia, which is pretty malignant, um -- your prognosis might be six months. But I might be wrong, you could die in a month. I don't know. I'm not God. And all estimates are based on probabilities -- as we know as scientists -- and we don't really know what's going to happen. And when it comes back and it swings by we still don't know what's going to happen ... if any of the vectors are off by a fraction of a degree we could have an "Apollo 13". Will it burn up? I don't know. You probably don't either. You can estimate, but you don't know how much plutonium could be released.

Well, it's not a lot of plutonium when you think about -- Philip Morrison told me, who was in the Manhattan project, they released about four tons of plutonium to the atmosphere during weapons testing days, and it's still falling out, no it's not so much, although 238 is about 80 times more toxic than 239 because it's got a much shorter half life and it's VERY carcinogenic. But every male in the northern hemisphere has a small amount of plutonium in his gonads and his testicles from fallout days. The incidents of testicular cancer is rising -- for sure.

And what that means to future generations when the sperm are irradiated by alpha particles -- we don't really know, but it might be like the drosophila fruit fly. That is not medically indicated. And I come back again to biology. Alpha particles are HIGHLY mutagenic. Plutonium -- YOU KNOW -- described by Nobel Laureate Dr. Glenn Seaborg who developed it -- as the most toxic substance known. And 238, more than 239.


And I don't care how much you have to explore space! Because know what? We're killing the Earth right now. We're killing it. And I know it's fun to explore space, and science is terribly interesting. But you know we MAY on be the only planet in the universe with life. Well, we found another solar system maybe it's not -- we don't know. But RIGHT NOW, we have something that's INORDINATELY PRECIOUS. Which we're destroying. And shouldn't we be spending the money -- and I'm just being philosophical now, I'm not really challenging you -- but shouldn't we be spending the money fixing the problems here before we do that? And shouldn't we be DAMNED CAREFUL that we're not going to damage the Creation, and the genes of future generations of plants and animals, by doing these experiments?

Then, I'm worried about NASA and its relationship with the Air Force. I'm worried about that, because NASA is mapping the planets for rare minerals now and I know that. And the asteroids, and the moon, and they want to put nuclear reactors up there to maybe mine these rare minerals and bring them back, and who will pay for it? The taxpayers. Who gets the profit? Probably the corporations. And because it takes a lot of money to put nuclear reactors up there, now the Air Force says that America has to DOMINATE SPACE.


Is it five percent of the Earth's population, the American population? We don't like that! And now they're talking about Star Wars, which Clinton has started to fund, which will probably violate the ABM treaty which will make the Russians really cross! You don't want to make the Russians cross because all their bombs are targeted on you! And we may have orbiting hydrogen bombs in space. You know -- that's Edward Teller's dream, the father of the hydrogen bomb. But that's going ahead and being funded now. Great for Universities to do research in it. Probably great for NASA or the Air Force or whatever. But the Air Force -- So the Air Force wants to take its nuclear war into space, not on Earth. Maybe they can do both! That would be exciting.

This is similar to the law of the sea. Elliot Richardson took years and years to negotiate the law of the sea so everyone has access to minerals on the floor of the sea and then America said "No, we want to dominate the sea" and they didn't sign it.

That's arrogance beyond belief! And we don't want to be looking up at OUR STARS and the Southern Cross star maybe and say "Oh, there's an orbiting hydrogen bomb up there!" I mean, I'm being semi-facetious, but you know what I'm talking about. So the juxtaposition and the correlation of NASA with the Air Force is "not on!" I wouldn't trust the Air Force as far as I could kick 'em! NASA has some good motives. Exploration. But not putting nuclear reactors up there to mine the minerals on other planets or the moon or asteroids -- I mean, I think that's a very big philosophical question that the WHOLE EARTH -- all the people of the planet need to be engaged in, not a few people making decisions for all of us. So that's how I feel about that, and I don't want you to launch more exploration things with more plutonium, and I don't know how many more you're going to do in the next ten years but I hear its about ten, I might be off by you know, one or two, and I hear you're going to tone down your plutonium, not have so much, how much you gonna have? It's NOT ON!

People don't like it! IT'S OUR EARTH TOO!

And however much you want to explore, it's OUR earth too and we have to have a say -- PARTICULARLY the physicians because WE care for the people with cancer. And it's not a pretty sight to see someone die of Cancer.

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