Helen Caldicott

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Helen Caldicott
Helen Caldicott, 2007 (cropped).jpg
Helen Caldicott in 2007
Born (1938-08-07) 7 August 1938 (age 82)
Melbourne, Australia
OccupationPhysician, activist
Spouse(s)William Caldicott
ChildrenPhilip, Penny, William Jr
WebsiteHelen Caldicott's official website

Helen Mary Caldicott (born 7 August 1938) is an Australian physician, author, and anti-nuclear advocate who has founded several associations dedicated to opposing the use of nuclear power, depleted uranium munitions, nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons proliferation, and military action in general.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Caldicott became a leader in the anti-nuclear movement in the United States through her role in reviving the organization Physicians for Social Responsibility and her role along with Randall Forsberg as one of the leaders of the Nuclear Freeze Movement. She has continued to publicise her concerns, dividing her time between the United States and Australia and lecturing on nuclear energy, weapons and power, notably on the Fukushima nuclear meltdown.[citation needed]

Early life and education[edit]

Helen Caldicott was born on 7 August 1938, in Melbourne, Australia, the daughter of factory manager Philip Broinowski and Mary Mona Enyd (Coffey) Broinowski, an interior designer. She attended public school except for four years at Fintona Girls' School at Balwyn, a private secondary school. When she was 17, she enrolled at the University of Adelaide medical school and graduated in 1961 with a MB, BS degree (the equivalent of an American M.D.). In 1962, she married William Caldicott, a paediatric radiologist who has since worked with her in her campaigns. They have three children, Philip, Penny, and William Jr.[1]

Caldicott and her husband moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1966 and she entered a three-year fellowship in nutrition at Harvard Medical School. Returning to Adelaide in 1969, she accepted a position in the renal unit of Queen Elizabeth Hospital. In the early 1970s, she completed a year's residency and a two-year internship in paediatrics at the Adelaide Childrens Hospital to qualify as a paediatric physician so she could legitimately establish the first Australian clinic for cystic fibrosis at the Adelaide Childrens Hospital. The clinic now has the best survival rates in Australia. In 1977, she joined the staff of the Children's Hospital Medical Center in Boston as an instructor in pediatrics. She taught paediatrics at the Harvard Medical School from 1977 to 1980.[1]

Anti-nuclear activism[edit]

Early activity[edit]

Caldicott at the San Francisco Public Library

Caldicott's interest in the dangers of nuclear energy was sparked when she read the 1957 Nevil Shute novel On the Beach, about a nuclear holocaust set in Australia.[2] In the 1970s, she gained prominence in Australia, New Zealand and North America, speaking on the health hazards of radiation from the perspective of paediatrics.

Her early achievements included convincing Australia to sue France over its atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific in 1971 and 1972, which brought the practice to an end. She also informed Australian trade unions about the medical and military dangers of uranium mining which led to the 3 year banning of the mining and export of uranium.[3]

After visiting the Soviet Union in 1979 with an AFSC delegation and upon learning the impending US deployment of cruise missiles (which would end arms control) and Pershing II missiles that could hit Moscow from Europe in 3 minutes,[4] Caldicott left her medical career to concentrate on calling the world's attention to what she referred to as the "insanity" of the nuclear arms race and the growing reliance on nuclear power. In 1980, she founded the Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament (WAND) in the United States, which was later renamed Women's Action for New Directions. It is a group dedicated to reducing or redirecting government spending away from nuclear energy and nuclear weapons towards what the group perceives as unmet social issues.[5]

During her time in the United States from 1977 to 1986, Caldicott was the founding president from 1978 to 1983 of Physicians for Social Responsibility (founded in 1961 and dormant from 1970 to 1978), and she helped to recruit 23,000 doctors committed to educating the public and their colleagues on the dangers of nuclear energy. She also worked abroad to establish similar national groups that focused on education about the medical dangers of nuclear energy, nuclear weapons and nuclear war. As well as servicing the US chapters and continually recruiting new members she travelled extensively overseas initiating similar organisations in Britain, Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, India, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia. While visiting the Soviet Union and Moscow in 1979 she attempted to initiate a similar organisation in that nation, however she did not have access to the appropriate people in power. In 1985 the umbrella group of physicians that Caldicott had helped to create International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


In 1994 Caldicott published a revised edition of her 1978 book Nuclear Madness: What You Can Do, a book describing the medical implications of nuclear power. The book was criticized by Ian Fells of Newcastle University, who wrote that "She damages her own case by providing an account that is anything but objective. As far as she is concerned the nuclear industry and its supporters are evil."[6]

In 1995 Caldicott returned to the US where she lectured for the New School of Social Research on the Media, Global Politics, and the Environment. She also hosted a weekly radio show on WBAI (Pacifica) and became the Founding President of the STAR (Standing for Truth About Radiation) Foundation.


Her sixth book, The New Nuclear Danger: George W. Bush’s Military Industrial Complex, was published in 2001. While touring with that book, she founded the Nuclear Policy Research Institute (NPRI), headquartered in Washington, D.C. NPRI facilitated an ongoing public education campaign in the mainstream media about the dangers of nuclear energy, including weapons and power programs and policies. It was led by both Caldicott and Executive Director Julie R. Enszer. NPRI attempted to create a consensus to end all uses of nuclear energy by means of public education campaigns, establishing a presence in the mainstream media, and sponsoring high-profile symposia. NPRI has now morphed into Beyond Nuclear.

In 2008 Caldicott founded the Helen Caldicott Foundation for a Nuclear Free Future which, for over four years, produced a weekly radio commentary, "If You Love This Planet".[7]

In an editorial article in 2009 she urged Barack Obama to work towards a world without nuclear weapons. She pointed out that while George H.W. Bush had withdrawn some Tactical Nuclear Weapon from Europe, Bill Clinton had failed to negotiate the elimination of strategic nuclear weapons.[8]


In April 2011, Caldicott was involved in a public argument in The Guardian with British journalist George Monbiot. Monbiot expressed great concern at what he saw as a failure by Caldicott to provide adequate justification for many of her arguments. Regarding Caldicott's book Nuclear Power is Not The Answer, he wrote: "The scarcity of references to scientific papers and the abundance of unsourced claims it contains amaze me."[9][10] Caldicott replied: "As we have seen, he and other nuclear industry apologists sow confusion about radiation risks and, in my view, in much the same way that the tobacco industry did in previous decades about the risks of smoking.".[11] During her debate with George Monbiot she did suggest that he read her book, suggesting that she considers herself to be an authority on nuclear issues. However, the book has been accused of misrepresenting the contents of references.[12]

In 2014, Physicians for Social Responsibility hosted a lecture on "Fukushima's Ongoing Impact" by Caldicott in Seattle, Washington.[13]

Caldicott is critical of Donald Trump. She expressed the view that he never reads books and knows nothing about global or USA politics.[14]

After founding The Helen Caldicott Foundation for a Nuclear Free Future, she organised two symposia at the New York Academy of Medicine. The first, in 2013, on the medical and ecological consequences of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, led to the publication of Crisis Without End by the New Press; and another two years later on the threat of nuclear annihilation which was followed by the book Sleepwalking to Armageddon - The New Press 2017.

Australian politics[edit]

In Australia's 1990 federal election Caldicott unsuccessfully contested the House of Representatives New South Wales seat of Richmond, a seat held since the inaugural 1901 federal election by conservatives, and by the National Party since it first contested elections at the 1922 federal election. The seat was held by Charles Blunt, who had recently been elected leader of the Nationals. Caldicott as a federal independent candidate, received 23.3 percent of the primary vote. On the sixth count, Caldicott had 27.4 percent of the vote, with Blunt at 43.2 percent and Labor candidate Neville Newell at 29.4 percent. Caldicott was eliminated, and more than three-fourths of her preferences flowed to Newell. This enabled Labor to take the seat for the first time in its history, on 50.5 percent of the two-party preferred vote, a swing of 7.1 percent.[15] This marked one of the only three times a major party leader lost his own seat at an election, the others being Prime Ministers Stanley Bruce at the 1929 election and John Howard at the 2007 election.

Caldicott tried to enter the Australian Senate in 1991, attempting to win Democrat support to replace New South Wales Senator Paul McLean, who had recently resigned. However, the party selected Karin Sowada to replace McLean, as Sowada had been number 2 on the Democrat Senate ticket in the 1987 federal election.

Honors and awards[edit]

Caldicott has been awarded 21 honorary doctoral degrees and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling in 1985.[16][17] It is important to note that nominations for the Noble Peace Prize are supposed to remain confidential for 50 years after the nomination.[18] In 1982, she received the Humanist of the Year award from the American Humanist Association.[19] In 1992, Caldicott received the 1992 Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston for her leadership in the worldwide disarmament movement. She was inducted to the Victorian Honour Roll of Women[20] in 2001. She was awarded the Lannan Foundation Prize for Cultural Freedom in 2003, and in 2006, the Peace Organisation of Australia presented her with the inaugural Australian Peace Prize "for her longstanding commitment to raising awareness about the medical and environmental hazards of the nuclear age". The Smithsonian Institution has named Caldicott as one of the most influential women of the 20th century.[21] She is a member of the scientific committee of the Fundacion IDEAS, a progressive think tank in Spain. She serves on the Advisory Council of the Nuclear Age Peace.[22] In 2009, she was designated a Women's History Month Honoree by the National Women's History Project.[23] In November 2019 she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award Foundation by Physicians for Social Responsibility.


Books by Helen Caldicott[24]
Title Year of Publication Publisher(s) ISBN Role
Nuclear Madness: What You Can Do! 1978 (revised 1994) W.W. Norton & Company ISBN 0393310116 Author
Missile Envy: The Arms Race and Nuclear War 1984 William Morrow & Co ISBN 9780688019549 Author
If you love this planet 1992 W. W. Norton & Company ISBN 9780393308358 Author
A Desperate Passion: An Autobiography 1996 W.W. Norton & Company ISBN 0393316807 Author
Metal of Dishonor: How Depleted Uranium Penetrates Steel, Radiates People and Contaminates the Environment 1997 International Action Center ISBN 0-9656916-0-8 Author
The New Nuclear Danger: George W.Bush's Military-industrial Complex 2002 (revised 2004) The New Press

Scribe Publications (Australia)

ISBN 1565847407

ISBN 0908011652

Nuclear Power is Not the Answer 2006 The New Press

Melbourne University Press

ISBN 978-1-59558-067-2

ISBN 0522 85251 3

War in Heaven: The Arms Race in Outer Space 2007 The New Press ISBN 978-1-59558-114-3 Co-author with Craig Eisendrath
Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy 2007 RDR Books ISBN 978-1571431738 Author of Afterword (author is Arjun Makhijani)
If You Love This Planet: A Plan to Save the Earth 2009 W.W. Norton & Company ISBN 978-0-393-33302-2 Author
Loving this planet 2012 The New Press ISBN 978-1-59558-067-2 Editor
Crisis Without End: The Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe 2014 The New Press ISBN 978-1-59558-960-6 Editor

Sleepwalking to Armageddon, 2017

(The New Press)

Documentary films[edit]

Caldicott has appeared in numerous documentary films and television programs.[25] In the early 1980s, she was the subject of two documentaries: the Oscar-nominated 1981 feature-length film Eight Minutes to Midnight: A Portrait of Dr. Helen Caldicott and the 1982 Oscar-winning National Film Board of Canada short documentary, If You Love This Planet.[26]

A 2004 documentary film, Helen's War: Portrait of a Dissident,[27] provides a look into Caldicott's life through the eyes of her niece, filmmaker Anna Broinowski.

Caldicott is featured along with foreign affairs experts, space security activists and military officials in interviews in Denis Delestrac's 2010 feature documentary Pax Americana and the Weaponization of Space.

The 2013 documentary Pandora's Promise also features footage of Caldicott interspersed with counter-points to her assertions regarding the health impacts of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Title Director Production Company Year
The World Awaits Don Haderlein 2015 (in production)
The Oracles of Pennsylvania Avenue Tim Wilkerson 2013
United Natures Peter Charles Downey United Natures Independent Media 2013
Pandora's Promise Robert Stone Robert Stone Productions, Vulcan Productions 2013
Democracy Now! (TV Series) Democracy Now 2011
The University of Nuclear Bombs Mohamed Elsawi, Joshua James 2010
Pax Americana and the Weaponization of Space Denis Delestrac Coptor Productions Inc., Lowik Media 2009
Difference of Opinion (TV Series) Australian Broadcasting Corporation 2007
Poison Dust Sue Harris 2005
Fatal Fallout: The Bush Legacy Gary Null Gary Null Moving Pictures 2004
Helen's War: Portrait of a Dissident Anna Broinowski 2004
American Experience (TV documentary) WGBH 1998
In Our Hands Robert Richter, Stanley Warnow 1984
If You Love This Planet (short) Terri Nash National Film Board of Canada 1982
Eight Minutes to Midnight: A Portrait of Dr. Helen Caldicott Mary Benjamin 1981
We are the Guinea Pigs Joan Harvey 1980

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Helen Caldicott Biography (1938-)".
  2. ^ Dullea, Georgia (2 June 1979). "Pediatrician believes babies more susceptible to radiation". The Index-Journal. Greenwood, South Carolina. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  3. ^ "CV - Helen Caldicott, M.D." Helen Caldicott. Retrieved 4 August 2017.
  4. ^ A Desperate Passion
  5. ^ Sheldon, Sayre (October 2004). "A Brief History of WAND". WAND Education Fund. Archived from the original on 27 July 2015. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
  6. ^ Fells I. Nature, 1994, volume 370, 7 July, p.27
  7. ^ "If You Love This Planet weekly radio program archives". Retrieved 6 May 2009.
  8. ^ H. Caldicott, Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2009, volume 20, page 151
  9. ^ Monbiot G. Nuclear opponents have a moral duty to get their facts straight. The Guardian, 14 April 2011
  10. ^ Monbiot G.The unpalatable truth is that the anti-nuclear lobby has misled us all. The Guardian, 5 April 2011
  11. ^ Caldicott H. How nuclear apologists mislead the world over radiation. The Guardian, 11 April 2011
  12. ^ Foreman M. R. StJ. "Reactor accident chemistry an update", Cogent Chemistry, 13 March 2018, volume 4, article 1450944, Reactor accident chemistry an update
  13. ^ Fukushima’s Ongoing Impact Archived 10 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine; Physicians for Social Responsibility; 28 September 2014
  14. ^ Dan Drollette Jr (2018) A conversation with Helen Caldicott, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 74:3, 177-184, DOI: 10.1080/00963402.2018.1461976
  15. ^ House of Representatives results, 1990 NSW: Adam Carr's election archive
  16. ^ Caldicott Biography; U.S. National Library of Medicine
  17. ^ Curriculum Vitae; Caldicott Website; 12 January 2015
  18. ^ Nomination and Selection of Peace Prize Laureates. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2019. Sun. 22 Sep 2019. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/facts/nomination-and-selection-of-peace-prize-laureates>
  19. ^ "Remedy for Global Instability – a Public Lecture by Dr Helen Caldicott". 12 November 2016.
  20. ^ "Victorian Honour Roll of Women 2001" (PDF).
  21. ^ Anti-nuclear Activist Dr. Helen Caldicott to Appear; Cape Cod Today; 28 March 2012[dead link]
  22. ^ Advisory Council; Nuclear Age Peace Foundation; 20 February 2014
  23. ^ "Honorees: 2010 National Women's History Month". Women's History Month. National Women's History Project. 2010. Archived from the original on 28 August 2014. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  24. ^ "Books". Trove. National Library of Australia. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  25. ^ "Helen Caldicott". IMDb. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  26. ^ Nash, Terre (1982). "If You Love This Planet". NFB.ca. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 30 April 2009.
  27. ^ "CBC The Passionate Eye Sunday Showcase: Helen's War, Portrait of a Dissident". Archived from the original on 15 January 2006. Retrieved 15 January 2006.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)

External links[edit]